AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — “I was first diagnosed with cancer in August of 2015 and at the time, I had a good job. I was married. My wife and I had a three year old, and my wife was pregnant with our second son. She was seven months pregnant, and I found out that I had cancer. I was 31 years old,” said Justin Crowley.
Nearing his 32nd birthday, Crowley initially sought medical attention for a pain in his right hip. He described the discomfort level “starting to get greater and greater and greater.” This “discomfort” would turn out to be Stage 3 Synovial Sarcoma.
“Originally, the X-ray did not show anything. Later on, I had an MRI done and the MRI showed a large mass. And it was originally ten centimeters by twelve centimeters by four and a half centimeters.” Crowley continued, “They weren’t sure at first, or what they told me was they weren’t sure at first if it was cancerous, but everything kind of pointed that way.. but they couldn’t be sure until I had a biopsy done. So at the end of August, I had a biopsy done. It was confirmed to be cancer.”
From there, Crowley’s next move was to begin looking at treatments.
“So right after my 32nd birthday, I believe two days after, I started chemotherapy and radiation. After that, in November, November 11th, actually Veterans Day, I had surgery on my right hip, and they removed the tumor, which also included the majority of the muscles in my right hip. All the way from my tensor fascia over to part of my gluteus maximus muscle, some of the hip bone, and anything sort of in that pocket, including small margins around.”
Crowley shared that after waking up from surgery, he became aware that the area that was affected “looked like it was a little larger than what we previously thought.” He went on to explain, “The doctor told me that the tumor had actually started rooting down the back of my leg. So they had to cut down about halfway down the back of my leg and clear that area as well. So from the start to finish, it was about 78 staples down.”
This procedure left Crowley to have to relearn how to use his right leg. “When I woke up, I didn’t- I could wiggle my toes and that was it. I didn’t know, because that- the brain signals that were firing over to those muscles in it. There’s nothing there. And so I didn’t know how to use my right leg at all. So I had to go through rehab, and that was about six months long.”
This impacting not only Crowley, but his family, too.
“I remember after, when I went to go have my surgery done. My youngest son was three weeks old, I think. And so when I came home from surgery, my wife had to take care of a three-year-old, a three week old, and me, because I couldn’t do anything was sit on the couch,” said Crowley.
However, it was his family’s love and support that pushed Justin to continue to make progress and move forward.
While trying to stay positive, it was not until his 35th birthday when Crowley decided to combine determination with motivation and compile a list of five things to get done in the next five years.
“I wanted to spend more time with my family and I wanted to learn how to play the guitar. I wanted to go skydiving. I wanted to compete in an IRONMAN and I wanted to start a podcast.”
As time passed, Justin began to cross these items and goals off his list, one by one. However, one still remained.
For those not familiar with the event, the IRONMAN 70.3 begins with a 1.2 mile swim. From there, athletes go to their transition one area, where they change out of their wetsuit and take off. Next, athletes partake in a 56-mile bike ride. Finally, there is the transition before the run. Once athletes make this transition, they begin the 13.1-mile half marathon. All continuous.
“The only issue I had with the IRONMAN was I couldn’t run. And I- that’s not necessarily an issue because they have, you know, hand-bikes and, and wheelchairs, you know, things like that, but I wanted to be able to at least give it a shot. And after my surgery, the doctors told me that my life would be completely different.”
However, Crowley continued to explain that in some ways it is, in a lot of ways it is not.
“I don’t look at it as having a disability. I just, I may have a few obstacles that I didn’t used to have before. But for the most part, it’s- it’s not debilitating.”
With the right mindset and an eager attitude, Crowley was ready to begin training.
“I would jog in place for a minute or two minutes and just tried to get that motion in, that feel back of what it was like for that foot to impact the ground. And, you know, two minutes turned into five minutes, and five minutes turned into 10 minutes,” said Crowley.
Justin was not training to just walk again, though. Instead, he was preparing to run and compete.
“I gave myself five years and I wanted to get those things accomplished. And Sunday will be the fifth goal. I’ll have accomplished all five in two and a half years. So I’m looking forward to the next chapter.”
On June 27, 2021, Justin Crowley completed the IRONMAN 70.3 in Lubbock, TX, with his family there cheering him on.
On July 28, Justin Crowley joined Ally Coscetti on Today in Amarillo to discuss the completion of the IRONMAN 70.3, along with goals he has set for the future.