The car pulled up around in the early hours of a recent Saturday morning in Emmitsburg, Maryland. Tommy Laudani, 17, waited in the car for his friends who were running late. They didn’t always come to Tommy’s races, but today was his last as a high school cross country runner for Delone Catholic High School, so they wanted to be there.
Last November, Laudani wasn’t feeling well. After a standout sophomore season, he could not return to form as a junior and he had a pain in his abdomen that he couldn’t explain.
“My fastest time sophomore year was a 19:32 and then I was doing 22s and 23s junior year,” Laudani told Runner’s World over the phone. “I didn’t know what was happening and my abdomen was hurting all of the time.”
After the season, he was diagnosed with a desmoplastic small round cell tumor, a rare and aggressive form of cancer.
Track is his favorite sport. He loved the mile and was bummed to miss his junior season. Instead, he had two major surgeries and began chemotherapy and radiation treatment. He was not allowed to lift weights. He was allowed to run, but his endurance was altered by treatment.
Between hospital trips and treatment, there was little time for running. Even when he did run, he couldn’t go full speed.
“We do a running camp in the summer and I got to a point where I nearly passed out,” Laudani said. “My coach pulled me aside. He made me take pictures instead. That was pretty rough.”
He could not train as much or as fast as his teammates, but he was still determined to run in the fall. After working out a plan, Laudani was allowed to run three cross country races as a senior, all taking place in the course of a week and a half. Laudani has surgery scheduled this week, so he wanted to squeeze in as many as he could.
Leading up to the events, Laudani was only partially able to practice. He’d run as much as possible and then his coaches would significantly pull him back days before the race so he’d have enough energy to complete the race and accomplish his goals.
His goals were far off his 19:32 PR. All he wanted now was to finish and run under 40 minutes. The first race was September 7, and he was able to accomplish both of his goals with a time of 34:24.
Though proud of his performance, the slow pace and his place in the race was new territory for him.
“It was tough slowing down,” Laudani said. “I’ve never finished in last place. I’m used to running with people around me and when you’re the last runner you’re by yourself. I had to constantly remind myself that I could finish.”
Another race passed and again he finished. Then came the hot Saturday morning this past weekend. His last race. He had woken up early to pick up his friends on his way to the Ben Bloser Invitational in Newville, Pennsylvania.
Once at the venue, Laudani prepared himself for his final stand. Despite the heat, he went out strong. He felt good so he went faster. On the back stretch, he even passed people.
As he approached the finish line, his team, his family, and his friends awaited him. They cheered and roared as he came down the chute. They donned shirts that had inspirational words like “courage” and “strength” designed with a definition below it. The definition was “Tommy Laudani.” He finished with a time of 30:45 and 470th out of 481 runners.
He attended classes this week before making the trip up to New York for his surgery on Wednesday.
He ran his best mile—5:15—his sophomore year. His goal then was to break five minutes by the end of his senior year. Once he gets his full strength back, he plans to tackle that goal head on.
“I’m not going to use cancer as an excuse to stop running,” Laudani said. “That’s not who I am. I don’t make excuses for things. If I sit back and I see people with my condition that actually can’t run, that is a waste of my ability to run.”
This article first appeared on Runner's World.