Serious health issues lead Fleet Feet training program participant to run first marathon

The Tulsa World profiled Jim Volinic, member of the Fleet Feet Tulsa M5 training program, about overcoming prostate cancer and heart surgery in the same year, which set him on a path to accomplishing a life goal - running a marathon.
By KELLY HINES World Sports Writer

Published: 11/20/2011  2:44 AM

Sometimes setbacks end up having a reverse effect.

James Volinic, a 59-year-old from Tulsa, faced a pair of major health problems two years ago and wound up in the best shape of his life.

When he participates in Sunday's sixth annual Route 66 Marathon, it will be his first marathon.

"This would be one of my bucket-list things to do," Volinic said. "It's kind of like I'm a new person. It gave me a lot of opportunities to do something new."

In February 2009, Volinic learned he had prostate cancer. Don't worry, one doctor said; if you're going to have cancer, this is the best type to have. But to Volinic, it "sounded like death."

"It was kind of mind-boggling at first," he said. "When you're told you've got cancer, it's are you going to die or what?"

Volinic knew nothing about prostate cancer but started doing his research. He learned from a friend about robotic surgery, a rare form of treatment at the time.

He successfully had the procedure two months after the cancer was discovered. Recovery time was a month off work.

"You couldn't lift anything for six weeks, but you could walk," Volinic said. "So I just started walking down the street, walking down the block. Eventually ... I got up to riding (my bike)."

So he thought he was making strides with his health. But three months later, chest pains led to a doctor visit and more bad news – he needed heart surgery.

Volinic had 100 percent blockage in the "widow" vein and 84, 87 and 94 percent blockage in the others. He immediately was scheduled for quadruple-bypass surgery the following morning.

After five days in the hospital, he again started walking. Two weeks later, he was up to a mile in the morning and a mile in the evening.

Volinic started setting goals for himself, careful not to overdo it but letting his competitive side carry him. He participated in the Komen Race for the Cure 5k three months later, and more followed.

"I couldn't really run, so I just walked," he said. "My walk became a fast walk."

At one 5k, a woman came up to him afterward and said he inspired her to become more active.

"She said I was the fastest person (she'd) ever seen walk and said 'I hope someday I can walk as fast as you,'" Volinic said.

Eventually, he really got into running and started training with Fleet Feet. Each time he hit a goal, Volinic immediately looked ahead to the next.

"I did a half marathon last year, so let's see if I can do a full marathon this year," he said.

On Sunday, Volinic will be at the start line with his M5 training group, ready to check off a big feat from his bucket list.

"I will not be last and not first, but I will do the 26.2 miles," he said.

Although the accomplishment will be huge, for Volinic it represents how far he's come.

"There were several classmates I had that died from heart problems in the last five years, so I feel fortunate to be here," he said. "I feel really blessed. I just thank everybody who helped me through my endeavors."

His health problems were a wake-up call and now he constantly encourages men to get tested for prostate cancer.

But the bypass procedure helped him rediscover his priorities.

"People that have had heart surgeries, we have our own story," he said. "Part of what I've had some of them say to me is, 'Have you figured out why you're here? Because it would be so easy not to be here.'"

Volinic concluded he was "here" for his family – the love of his life, Alice; his daughter Jamie and granddaughter Lucy. They will be there for him when he crosses the finish line at Sixth and Main in downtown Tulsa on Sunday.

And that's when he'll turn his thoughts to the next challenge – a triathlon.

"The marathon is the next step of whatever else I want to do," he said.

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