Kevin Larson has run Boston Marathon before but this year will be far more special for him. Not only is he running with his wife, Betsy Larson, he also will be running cancer-free today.
Less than one year after being diagnosed with testicular cancer, Larson qualified for the Boston Marathon.
Larson, 40, of Altoona, said he was training for a fall marathon in the summer of 2017 when he began feeling some discomfort in his groin and experienced some urinary issues.
“I just didn’t feel right,” he said. “I had a very dull side pain.”
One of his testicles felt firm and was slightly larger.
“But there was no pain associated with running,” he said.
Kevin told Betsy about his discomfort, and she insisted he go and get checked out. He saw a doctor in late August.
“He had an ultrasound done, just to make sure we weren’t missing anything,” Kevin Larson said. “They called back, the same day. The urologist said it was cancer.”
The news struck them both hard.
“Betsy broke down,” he said. “I was in shock. (The doctor) said, ‘Let’s get it done tomorrow. We want to get this out of you.”
Betsy Larson agreed it was a shocking diagnosis; Kevin was just 38 at the time.
“You hear ‘cancer,’ and you immediately think the worst,” she said.
It was a nerve-racking night.
“I didn’t think so much about me but my family,” he said. “I had no doubt I was going to get through it.”
Kevin had surgery less than 24 hours after his first appointment. The surgeons made an incision into his abdomen, as they remove potentially cancerous tissues from inside the body as well as the testicle. The surgery lasted about 45 minutes.
While the surgery went well and Kevin was resting at home just a few hours later, he then had to wait to hear if the cancer had spread elsewhere in his body.
“You’re sitting there, waiting to find out the next step and if it had spread,” he said. “It was a huge relief when we got that call. I had the lesser-common type of cancer. Luckily, it wasn’t as aggressive. I didn’t need treatment, because it was contained in the testicle.”
Kevin opted not to take pain medications, and he missed a week of work.
Even though he is cancer-free, Kevin will have a blood draw every three months, and a CT scan a year for the next five years.
As for running, he began the road to recovery, taking more than a month off working out. For a dedicated runner, that was a challenge.
“Running, I’ve been doing it my whole life,” he said. “If I don’t do it, I don’t feel like myself. I get irritable; I get short.”
He eased back into running in October. He competed — and won — a race in the Menomonie area that fall.
They decided to train for Grandma’s Marathon, which goes from Two Harbors, Minn., to Duluth, Minn., in mid-June. Kevin Larson finished in 3 hours, 1 minute, and Betsy Larson finished in 3 hours, 34 minutes. They both qualified for Boston Marathon.
Mike Olson, an avid runner from Altoona, is impressed with Larson’s recovery.
“I’ve always known Kevin as incredibly determined,” Olson said. “I’ve raced against him for years. It’s an amazing story to hear he can bounce back that quickly.”
Olson praised Larson for being a positive competitor in the local racing scene.
“At the end of every race, he always has the biggest smile, and wanted to talk about his next race,” Olson said.
Wade Zwiener, an area runner who also has been a race director, said he sees Larson routinely on the loosely organized runs from Owen Park on Saturdays.
“I think of his smile and his attitude, which is so great,” Zwiener said. “He’s so friendly and outgoing. It’s always great to see him at a local race. He’s just very gifted as a runner.”
About two dozen people from across western Wisconsin have signed up for the race, which features about 30,000 runners this year, the marathon’s website states. Boston Marathon competitors qualify based on a combination of their time, age and gender.
Running as a family
Kevin Larson is an Altoona native, graduating from Altoona High School in 1997. Betsy, 37, grew up in Hartland, and graduated from Hartland Arrowhead High School. They met in college, as they both raced in cross country at UW-Eau Claire, and they each were team captains. Kevin Larson held the school record in the 800-meter dash for several years.
Boston Marathon will mark Kevin’s 10th marathon, including his second time at Boston; he competed in 2016 as well. This will be Betsy’s 8th marathon, and her first-ever Boston Marathon.
“All my friends ran Boston in college,” Betsy Larson said. For 20 years, it’s been on my bucket list. But it was eight years since I had last run a marathon, before I qualified.”
The Larsons have two children: 7-year-old Elodie and 4-year-old Beckham. Betsy said she continued to compete in smaller races and half-marathons but stopped running the longer distances after becoming pregnant the first time.
“The training is different when you have two kids,” Betsy Larson said. “You just can’t go when you want to go.”
So that meant figuring out a schedule that enabled them both get in training runs. Kevin works at Mason shoe company in Chippewa Falls, and Betsy owns and operates Elements Salon Studios in Chippewa Falls.
“We basically alternate long-run days so we can get through it,” Kevin Larson said.
However, Betsy said she felt strong as she worked up the miles to prepare for her first marathon in eight years.
“For me, it was easier to qualify at (age) 37 than when I did when I was 22,” she said.
Kevin Larson dreaded the thought of not being able to run with her again.
“It’s such a big part of our relationship,” he said. “Losing that would be tough.”
Larson is thrilled they now get to compete together.
“For me, it’s that we can share this together,” he said. “I don’t know how many husband and wife combos can say they ran it together the same year. And we trained in the worst year possible.”