Hardcore! The Ironman who conquered cancer three times

Seven years after the doctor’s “my best guess is six months” sentence, cancer no longer defines Richard.

*By Jonathan Ancer

In mid-2016, Richard Wright was in a doctor’s room. He’d had surgery to remove a tumour and had gone for a follow-up appointment. He was expecting good news.

After all, he was a top-20 Ironman triathlete in the best shape of his life. Except that he wasn’t. His whole world was about to change with the next sentence that came out of the doctor’s mouth.

“Six months is my best guess,” the doctor told him.

Six months! Richard had a rare form of brain cancer. He skipped the denial stage of grief and went straight to anger.

In his state of shock, he worked out that his last day, according to the doctor’s prediction, was 5 December.

“I suddenly realised that my two little girls are going to wake up on Christmas morning without a dad. This vitriol boiled up inside me,” he recalls.

Richard directed his rage at the doctor.

“How dare you think you can tell me when I’m going to checkout? I am an Ironman athlete. I’m hardcore,” he fumed.

“Right,” Richard told himself later as he started to process the unthinkable news, “I’m going to take the fight to cancer”.

He tried everything: keto diet, ozone and hyperbaric treatment, cannabis oil, chemotherapy, radiation. He realised he had become cancer obsessed.

“Because I was so focused on cancer, my life had become about cancer,” he says. “I wasn’t Richard the dad, athlete, coach who’s into bonsai and, by the way, also happens to have cancer. I had become ‘brain cancer’.”

“I needed to take back my power. I was working towards a goal, a goal that wasn’t cancer. It gave me a purpose.”

When Richard, a single dad, looked after his daughters, Mackie and Bailey, his focus would switch to them.

“I was in pain, but I had to butch up and put on my big boy jocks and pretend everything was okay. I didn’t want my girls to freak out. Cancer comes with so much baggage, and I wanted them just to be kids. So, I put the cancer aside.”

One day, exhausted after radiation, he fetched the girls. Mackie, who was 10, told him she had a project due the next day.

He was wondering how he was going to summon up the energy to help her, when her voice popped up: “Daddy, nobody said it was going to be easy.”

“She was right. It was a turning point for me. I had become a victim and I realised that something needed to change.”

The next day – with stage four brain cancer – he entered an Ironman Triathlon.

“I needed to take back my power,” he says. “If all I could do was walk around the block, that’s fine. I had to control the thoughts in my head, and I was working towards a goal, a goal that wasn’t cancer. It gave me a purpose.”

5 December came and went, and Mackie and Bailey woke up on Christmas Day with a dad.

Richard beat terminal brain cancer three times, completing five gruelling Ironman events in the process, which makes Richard not just extraordinary, but extraordinarily extraordinary.

He’s also authentic, brave, obsessive, intense, creative, unique, tenacious, vulnerable, strong, courageous, grateful, formidable, fallible, impulsive, needy, and a little bit crazy.

If you don’t believe it, just look at his arm. “I am”, reads the tattoo on his right forearm. Over the years, Richard has been adding descriptions of himself down the length of his arm.

“I look at my arm all the time,” he says. “If I’m feeling strong or weak it reminds me that I’m all those things.”

One of the words tattooed on his arm is “change”. It’s a word that comes up frequently.

“Change isn’t easy,” he says. “It’s messy, but it’s inevitable. My big change, cancer, sparked an identity crisis because I had to figure out who I am. I had to change the way I thought about myself, to not be a victim.”

Because he literally didn’t have the time, that change in attitude gave Richard the freedom to be the most authentic version of himself. “That’s a rare gift,” he says.

Seven years after the doctor’s “my best guess is six months” sentence, cancer no longer defines Richard.

He’s been in remission three times, but he’s still battling the disease.

He’s Richard the motivational speaker (inspiring and empowering people all over the world with his poignant story).

He’s Richard the author (he wrote the best-selling book, The Power of Purpose). He’s Richard the entrepreneur (he’s CEO of The Enrichment Project).

He’s Richard the husband (he got married to Deborah). He’s Richard the Lionheart, who is obsessed with bonsai and exercise and, of course, his daughters.

This article first appeared on the Change Exchange, an online platform by BrightRock, provider of the first-ever life insurance that changes as your life changes. The opinions expressed in this piece are the writer’s own and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BrightRock.

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