Battle to cure cancer soars to new heights |

Battle to cure cancer soars to new heights

Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

Life has been an uphill struggle for Alex Arnfield.The 60-year old Brit was diagnosed with colon and liver cancer nearly 2 1/2 years ago. He’s endured countless operations and intense chemotherapy that’s weakened his body; he’s battled deep-vein thrombosis, or blood clots, as a result of treatment. Though part of his colon and 55 percent of his liver have been removed, Arnfield said Sunday he feels as good as ever – one can’t help but believe his genuine smile. It’s been nearly six months since Arnfield stopped chemo; his latest cancer scan in June was clean.What did he do to celebrate the positive prognosis? Arnfield – along with 85 other cancer survivors, relatives of victims and supporters – scaled Aspen Mountain Sunday morning. Carbondale’s Brian Johnson won the inaugural Go Vertical Aspen, a fundraising event to benefit the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation, completing the 3.3 mile trek in 53 minutes, 33.1 seconds. Manitou Springs’ Elyse Adelson (1:02:20) finished first among women and seventh overall.”This walk was the culmination of my treatment and the long road to recovery,” said Arnfield, who finished the climb in a little more than two hours. “I felt like I was about to pack it in a few times, but I am so pleased to have gotten up here.”Arnfield could never have imagined he’d be standing in triumph 11,212 feet above sea level just a few short years ago. He remembered being perplexed by the diagnosis. After all, cancer was nonexistent in his family, he was fit and never smoked. “Nobody could tell me why,” Arnfield said. “It was one of life’s mysteries. It was very disappointing really. It took a long time to recover.”

Once the lingering effects of the disease diminished in December, Arnfield began exercising again. He started walking up the rolling hills of northwest England’s Lake District National Park. Sunday, he took his recovery one step further.

To celebrate a new lease on life, his 60th birthday on July 13 and to thank a friend from Aspen who helped him during some difficult financial and emotional times, Arnfield made his first trip to Aspen. He admitted he wasn’t used to the altitude, but he managed to finish in 64th place. It was a resounding success, Arnfield said, given the tribulations he’s endured the past 30 months. Arnfield figures he’s one of the lucky ones his cancer story ended with a rare happy. Johnson, a Highlands ski patroller, may have run with light feet up 3,267 vertical feet Sunday, but he carried a heavy heart. Johnson, a past America’s Uphill champion, had memories of a friend with him on the ascent. “I want to dedicate this to [Eric Smith]. He was lost in his prime,” Johnson said. “They detected the cancer early, but it spread so quickly. I still think about it all the time.”I was thinking of him the whole way.”Johnson jumped out in front of the pack at the start above the gondola plaza, and maintained his advantage on the climb up Little Nell. He struggled on Spar Gulch, where competitors had to pick their way through a field of baseball-sized rocks. Still, he had distanced himself from his closest competitor, Aspen’s Erik Skarvan, by more than one minute.

It was a lead Johnson would not relinquish. Skarvan finished second, 1:15 after Johnson.”I knew Brian wasn’t going to lose the gap. He had such a nice and steady pace going,” Skarvan said. “I was able to jog about half the course, but when I went to the power hike, it was to my disadvantage. “It was a good route, a good race and a good cause. I wanted to come and support it any way I could.”The sentiment was mutual among participants. Race organizer Colt Landreth, the man behind Go Vertical events in Chicago and Boston, said he was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support. Local businesses stepped up to provide raffle items. And while only 57 people had registered online at day’s end Friday, the starting line Sunday at 7:30 a.m. was packed with eager participants.”I’m really moved by the support,” said Landreth, a real estate developer from Chicago. “We outperformed everyone’s expectations.”The idea for Go Vertical was first forged while Landreth snowshoed Ajax. The fundraiser was started five years ago when 125 participants climbed the stairs of Chicago’s Sears Tower – this November, 2,000 will take part.

Landreth endeavored to organize an event in Aspen to help raise cancer awareness throughout the country. To date, the Damon Runyon Cancer Foundation has provided Colorado researchers with nearly $3 million in funding.Landreth estimated Sunday’s event will raise $15,000 for the foundation. He’s hoping that, with continued support, stories like Arnfield’s will soon become the norm.”When I first climbed the mountain on snowshoes, I remembered looking at it in a completely different way,” said Landreth, who completed the climb in 1:47.57. “To be back here where the idea was started is incredibly rewarding.”Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is

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