Pancreatic Cancer Patient, 68, Will Compete in Ironman 35 Years After His First Race

"Several doctors told me I was going to be dead ... and I'm in Ironman shape right now," said Mike Levine, 68.

A 68-year-old California man battling pancreatic cancer will join the grueling Ironman competition, nearly four decades after his first triathalon.

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“Several doctors told me I was going to be dead,” said Mike Levine of San Diego. “And I’m in Ironman-shape right now. It’s hard to believe.”

Levine, whose initial Ironman World Championship was in Kona , Hawaii, in 1982, was awarded the ambassador slot in this year’s race. He is slated to compete with 2,000 of the best athletes in the world on Saturday, despite having Stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

“I hope to inspire other cancer patients and bring awareness to other debilitating diseases,” he said. “You don’t have to sit in bed and wither away because your doctors say things look hopeless. You have to live your life to the fullest. Life is too short to look at it any other way.”

After being diagnosed in 2015, undergoing several invasive surgeries and enduring multiple rounds of chemotherapy, he said he became disillusioned with life. Levine, a lifelong athlete, said he stopped being exercising and spent most of his time on the couch.

“When you’re Stage 4 like me, you have less than a 1 percent chance of living five years,” said Levine, who was diagnosed more than two years ago. “It’s a devastating, debilitating disease.”

Kathleen McCartney, who became famous for her 1982 Ironman win, heard Levine was battling pancreatic cancer and invited him on a bike ride. She'd never met him before.

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She didn't know she had been a big inspiration to his athleticism.

“I was quite intimidated, she was quite a celebrity,” Levine said. “When I did my Ironman, I got in because of Kathleen and Julie [Moss] – watching these two girls. They just captured my imagination beyond belief.”

McCartney said she invited him to bike with her so he would get back in shape.

“I had heard that he had been spending a lot of time on the couch, just kind of giving up on life like most pancreatic cancer patients do,” she told “But at the end of the ride, I really sensed a spark in him. I saw him come back alive again.”

Levine began biking with McCartney every week and also took up swimming, even though his lungs had been damaged from the chemotherapy.

“I could see strength come into my veins and back into my brain, my passions were starting to catch on fire again,” he said. “I was half-joking, I said, ‘You know, Kath, I should think about doing the Ironman again someday.’”

Even though athletes must qualify for a spot in the race, Levine was surprised with the ambassador slot while he was at a party with McCartney over the summer.

“We’re going to be so grateful to be in Kona together doing one of the toughest events in the world,” McCartney said. “And we are positive we are finishing it together. We’re going to run down Ali’i Drive hand-in-hand and just prove to the world that when you have hope and you have dreams, anything is possible.”

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Levine also credits the physical activity for extending his life span. His recent scans have been clear and doctors can’t seem to find cancer cells.

“It’s probably still there,” he said, “but regardless, the training seems to be doing me an awful lot of good.”

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