Kenny Capps, weary but home after a hard run across NC
There is plenty of symbolism in Kenny Capps' cross-state journey. Running the equivalent of a marathon every day can be as grueling as fighting cancer. Capps has done both, knowing that, even as he took on these seemingly impossible tasks, the battle became increasingly uphill as time went on.
None of that seemed to matter to the Black Mountain man and multiple myeloma patient May 22 as he readied to run up Clingman’s Dome. He was about two days away from the end of his 1,175-mile run along the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
Starting from the Outer Banks on April 1, Capps averaged 22 miles each day for the 53 days it took him to make it back home. The 46-year-old and father of three did it all while taking chemotherapy medication, a fact not lost on Dean Hart, who with Chuck Dale served as the crew for Capps' run.
“The weeks he takes his chemo, you can look at his face and see what it takes out of him,” Hart said May 22 at the Clingman's Dome trailhead as he checked out Capps' physical condition. “He’s not just tired, he’s literally sick and tired. But every day he gets up and puts one foot in front of the other and knocks out our goal for that day.”
Hart, a paramedic and retired U.S. Marine who since 2005 has crewed some of the world's toughest road races, had to get Capps on the road each morning and meet him at various points on the trail with supplies.
“We typically get up around 5 a.m. and are packed and out the door by around 6:30 (a.m.),” Hart said. “He’s not just running. He’s fighting this disease and running, and it’s not just the cancer, it’s the side effects of the medicine too.”
In 2015, Capps was diagnosed with a blood cancer that causes cancer cells to accumulate in the bone marrow. Later that year, he received a bone marrow transplant that he described as “mostly successful.” A lifelong endurance athlete, he was forced by the treatment to give up ultramarathon running and biking for a year.
When Capps was able to run again, he decided to make the journey across his native state to raise awareness of multiple myeloma and money to treat it. He is still short of his goal of $117,500, but the experience has been cathartic, he said.
“It’s almost like my own personal Make-A-Wish run,” Capps said May 22 as he prepared to battle muddy trails and intermittent rain up Clingman's Dome. “I’ve been inspired each day, and hopefully I’ve been able to inspire others.”
Capps spent as many as 12 hours a day on the trail. After most days he would retire to an RV camp that Dale had set up. Capps' days were grueling, Hart said, so he would try to get Capps a hot sandwich - a special treat - whenever he could.
“He goes through like eight to 10 energy bars a day,” Hart said. “We also make him wraps that he can eat as well. But when I can get my hands on a good sandwich, I try to get him one.”
Hart spoke while Capps, already halfway into a 30-mile day, ate. Nearby was the sport utility vehicle that is never more than a few miles from Capps, stocked with medical kits typically found in ambulances, as well as water, food and gear for changing weather conditions.
Between bites, Capps said he was not sore but that, 100 miles away from his finish line in the Smoky Mountain National Park, he was definitely tired.
“Mentally I’m probably a little duller than I normally am, but that bar already starts a little low,” he said jokingly. “Emotionally, I’d say I’m pretty emotional.”
The ability to keep his sense of humor and to approach each day with a positive attitude is what sets Capps apart, Hart said. “Anyone else who does something like this (run), it becomes central in their lives,” he said. “But for Kenny, dealing with the disease he’s dealing with, it’s just a run. He has an amazing perspective.”
On May 19 and 20, as he traversed the Blue Ridge Parkway north of Black Mountain, Capps was joined by several runners from town. “It felt fantastic to know that people out there in the world are paying attention,” he said. “It was humbling to see people from home show up to support me.”
One of those people was Collin O’Berry, who hiked out to meet Capps on May 22 to join his longtime friend for 14 miles of mountain trails. “I wanted to make sure to come out here and support what he’s doing,” O’Berry said before leaving to meet his friend.
Signi Goldman, an acquaintance of Capps, met Capps at the Clingman Dome trailhead to join Capps and O’Berry for a mile or two.
On Thursday, May 31 at 7 p.m., White Horse Black Mountain is hosting a "Welcome Home Party" for Capps (tickets - $17 advance, $20 door - are available at whitehorseblackmountain.com). All proceeds will go to Throwing Bones for a Cure, Capps’ pending nonprofit organization that strives to make more people aware of multiple myeloma. During the event Capps will tell stories from his run. There will also be a slideshow and musical guests.
Nearing the end of his cross-state run, Capps on May 22 was ready to get home, he said. He contemplated the similarities of two months of fighting cancer and running marathons daily.
“I’m all about running metaphors,” he said. “I think it's pretty simple: each day is a choice - you can choose to live or not. And for me, this is living.”