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The Unconventional Art of Winning the Day 

By: Suzanne O'Brien, Rob & Rich Shaver

Rob Shaver, a retail sales specialist at REI in San Antonio, lives life with a simple formula he calls winning the day. His version is to get out in nature and jog, which has led to a recent run streak of 460 days that started last May after his third bout with an aggressive cancer. In the past year, Rob has run a trail half marathon, 50-miler, a 50k and completed the Cocodona 250 virtual race in four weeks, finishing in seventeenth place. Last month, along with his brother Rich, Rob represented First Descents in the TransRockies Run. We touch based with them after the event to learn a bit about Rob and Rich’s adventure, and experiences out living it while navigating a cancer diagnosis.

What’s your definition of winning the day?

Winning the day is relative. It can be as simple as getting to the bathroom during chemo or learning to play the guitar or cross stitch or getting back on your bike. For me or anyone else, it’s where you find beauty and meaning. Embracing that is where we win the day.

Why is it important for you to keep moving?

Suffering provides perspective for me. If I’m suffering, there’s someone out there who’s suffering more. It’s not going to stop me from winning the day. I’ll just do it no matter what. So, each day, I get outside and run, to empower myself and encourage others.

For those of us who’ve been through chemo and in the hospital, you just desire to get outside and enjoy yourself. Doesn’t matter how slow or fast you move, you just appreciate the sun on your face. 

Talk about the time when life changed dramatically for you.

Sixteen years ago, I was diagnosed at 28 with stage four Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare childhood and young adult cancer. But I kept moving forward. The one constant in my life is a love for being in nature. After several months of grueling inpatient chemotherapy, removal of my left scapula and radiation on my left lung that left it permanently damaged, I got back outdoors. I was so grateful to be out of my hospital bed, back in nature. While I was out there, I was able to run an ultra-marathon and a 25k. 

For those of us who’ve been through chemo and in the hospital, you just desire to get outside and enjoy yourself. Doesn’t matter how slow or fast you move, you just appreciate the sun on your face. 

How did your outlook shift?

It’s kind of like water, you have to embrace uncertainty. Trying to find this balance between being so thankful for every day and giving my best effort. I’m definitely not thinking I’m anything special. There’s this dichotomy of going for it while doing the best I could in a given day. Being a compassionate human because of enduring so many difficult things physically, like days when I coughed more of the day than I didn’t cough. Not being able to walk. Left arm doesn’t work. You’re different.

As difficult as it is, there’s an overwhelming gratitude. When you’ve lived in a hospital for weeks at a time. Observing a flower has a deepness. Growing tomatoes. My food tastes better—I appreciate life more.

How did you get to know First Descents?

At Cancer Con in 2017, I saw the First Descents booth and ended up having some things in common. I thought what they were doing was super cool, so incredible to provide free of charge adventures and opportunities for young people dealing with cancer.

How have you found healing through movement and nature?

When the same cancer returned in 2011 in my lower back, it cracked the vertebra, greatly affecting my ability to walk until it healed. The more I moved, the better I was. During this time, my brother, Rich, and I backpacked a few hundred miles of the Appalachian Trail though the trek wasn’t easy. We were up in Vermont. I was giving it everything, but was struggling and so weak. At one point, we had to leave the trail.

Continually moving and experiencing nature has been a massive part of me dealing with cancer all these years. No doubt about it. 

Describe your relationship with your brother, Rich. About you, he says, “I have an amazing brother, who despite the odds has prevailed and won the day more times than I can count.” How has Rich supported you? 

My brother has been with me this entire time. He’s been a caregiver, a companion and a best friend. He’s taken me to chemotherapy, he’s sat by my hospital bed, he’s tried to tell our story. We adventure together. I’ve slept in a tent with him so many times I can’t even count. When things have been physically rough, he supported me, like literally supported me.

How did you get started on this current run streak?

In 2019, when my brother and I were working at the Flagstaff REI, I began to experience health issues. Tests showed that the cancer had come back. So, in 2020, I started another harsh chemotherapy regimen, landing in the ICU. I recovered, got back outside and just haven’t stopped. I started shuffling around the block, seeing what people had in their gardens, then shuffling a little farther the next day. If I could do it today, I could do it tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. Today I run 50 to 80 miles a week.

So you are committed to continuing to move, even when you’re in pain?

My level of strength and endurance defies scientific consensus. I’m doing better now than what my family and medical community could have hoped for. I just happened to live a lot longer than they thought. Diagnosed at stage 4 in my 20s, I never thought I would be 30. I’m 45. 

Even after four chemotherapy regimens and more than 60 radiation treatments (which is twice the usual lifetime amount), I jog each day with permanently damaged areas to my body, in pain—while getting stronger. My body says, “If this is what you’re asking of us, we’re going to do it.”

Who or what keeps you going?

I definitely try to draw on something greater than just me. The courage of people in my life who have died from cancer—their strength makes me stronger. Whatever I’ve been able to do, I want to give a good effort because of them. I think of the good things they would be doing if they were here.

What advice do you have for others facing a bleak prognosis?

You don’t have to feel like this is it. When there is uncertainty or discomfort, seek beauty, find meaning and stay there. The thing that has empowered me can empower you. You can keep trying. You can.

What was it like to run the TransRockies for First Descents?

It was epic!!! We decided to finish the three day (60 mile) option and we still felt relatively okay afterward. It was quite an experience. Rainy, foggy, hot, freezing (chance of snow on day 2). So beautiful and so fortunate to be able to do it. I’m just glad to have the ability, despite all the things I’ve been through, to go out and experience it and share it with my brother.

Excited to learn more about TransRockies?

Check out this epic video highlighting the six life-changing days of the TransRockies Run, and First Descents’ team of silly, sensitive, swift runners!

Reach out to [email protected] to learn more or join the 2022 team!

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