It was only two weeks after Craig Savill signed up for last year’s Ottawa Race Weekend half-marathon that he was diagnosed with Stage 3 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
The decorated Ottawa curler faced some dark thoughts — preparing his wife Karen Cumberland for life without him and checking his life insurance — before he committed to his chemotherapy treatment.
“That was really sort of my darkest point,” he said. “We tried not to focus on the negative. It creeps up every once in a while, obviously. We were pretty positive and said: this is our journey, let’s just go with it.”
Cumberland said the reality of the disease and the effect it was having on her husband’s health became clear when he decided to give up his bib for the 2016 race.
“I remember thinking that was a poignant moment,” she said. “It sort of hit me that things had really, really changed for us.”
Before being diagnosed with cancer in late 2015, Savill had won four world curling championships: two as a junior, and then two more throwing lead rocks for Glenn Howard’s rink in 2007 and 2012.
Savill said he focused on staying positive over his months of chemotherapy, drawing on support from his former teammates.
All the while, the idea of running the half-marathon stuck with him.
“I’m a really goal-oriented person, I have been through my curling career,” he said Saturday. “One of my goals was to get back in shape to be better than I was before I had this cancer and to run this marathon. That was always in the back of my mind.”
Last May, he was declared cancer free.
Rang the Victory Bell for reaching today’s milestone and to remind others to never lose hope! #chemodone #nailedIt pic.twitter.com/ge5FDaCuQX
After getting the good news, Savill said he went back to the gym right away.
“I lost a lot of strength and cardio,” he said. “I was going to the gym four or five times a week, moving as much as I could, and I had to start slow. It builds back but it takes a long time to come back.”
Savill has also been curling again, and was recently announced as the fifth for Manitoba-based Reid Carruthers’s rink. In the last three months, he’s been focusing on improving his cardiovascular health.
“There’s lots of people who say you can’t fake a half-marathon,” he said.
As well, Savill’s been sticking to a regular training schedule with his wife.
“It’s obviously been hard to come back almost from ground zero,” Cumberland said. “I think he’s probably fitter now than he’s ever been.”
As part of this weekend’s race, Savill is raising money for the Ottawa Integrative Cancer Centre, which offers a holistic approach that complements traditional medical treatments for cancer.
The centre has also recently received fundraising support from former Ottawa Senators’ general manager Bryan Murray. who is fighting colon cancer.
But, most of all, Savill is sharing a message of hope.
“I want to give some inspiration that have gone through cancer or are going through treatments right now,” he said. “There’s light and the end of the tunnel, and if you fight and be positive, look what you can acheive.”