Milroy sailor beats deadly disease

Michael Kline hammers endurance challenge

Submitted photo
With cancer in remission, Michael Kline, of Milroy, successfully completes a marathon.

“Every man dies. Not every man truly lives.” – William Wallace

MILLINGTON, Tenn. — In September of 2002, Lt. Michael Kline, from Milroy, Pennsylvania, was married, assigned to Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron Four, and looking forward to a long and healthy life, despite experiencing what he thought was nothing more than a cold.

One day while the squadron was standing in formation, he passed out. Medical personnel came to the conclusion that it was just dehydration, but the event provided Kline with his call sign — “Timber.”

The symptoms persisted and became more concerning, and over the next few months Kline made several trips to medical for various issues, including night sweats, weight loss, trouble breathing, coughing, swollen lymph nodes, weakness, dizziness and low blood pressure. In January 2003, a frustrated Kline walked into medical, refusing to leave until someone could identify the problem.

“I couldn’t even walk up a flight of steps without being so out of breath that I thought I would pass out,” he said.

A chest x-ray revealed a tumor — six inches in diameter and three inches thick — crushing his heart and lungs. If that wasn’t bad enough, a biopsy revealed Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Stage IIB. The treatment called for the placement of a port-a-cath — an intravenous catheter — placed in patient for the administration of frequent chemotherapy, blood transfusions, antibiotics, intravenous feeding and for blood draws.

The first port placement didn’t go well and Kline spent a week in the hospital, but things got even worse.

Kline explained, “Because of where the port was placed, I ended up with deep venous thrombosis –a blood clot in my left leg– and spent three more days in the hospital. I did not think I would survive,” he said. “I was extremely swollen from the center of my chest upwards. Life was not good, but one day my wife found an article about an F-14 pilot who had just survived Hodgkin’s disease and returned to flight status.”

That was the day Kline set some positive and optimistic goals for himself, he wanted to survive, fly airplanes for the Navy again, go to test pilot school, run a marathon and finally, to have a child.

Getting back on his feet would be nothing short of amazing. Kline endured eight rounds of chemotherapy, one every three weeks for six months. Because of the blood clot, he took blood thinners for the first month. He couldn’t work out, and lost approximately 60 pounds during the first three months just from the chemo.

“Initially, I was so sick after chemo that I couldn’t go anywhere for a week,” Kline said. “But over time, I would only take the day of chemo and the day after off and work the remainder of the three weeks. I started running after radiation and it was a slow process of trying to get into shape.

Between September 2003 and April 2004, Kline said he slowly progressed to the point where he was running 12 miles on the treadmill “at a very slow pace.”

Things began looking up. After six months of chemotherapy and another of radiation treatment, Kline’s cancer was in remission. Seven months later, in April 2004, he regained his flight status. In July, he was selected for the Air Force Institute of Technology/U.S. Naval Test Pilot School Cooperative program. He graduated from the Naval Test Pilot School in June 2007.

While deployed to Joint Base Balad, Iraq, for a 10-month Individual Augmentee assignment in 2008, he started running five miles every day. He lost 40 pounds and ran a half marathon. After returning to the states in 2009, a friend convinced him to sign up for the Marine Corps Marathon, which would satisfy another goal.

“It was my first and I finished it.” Kline said. “I love that race and have run it every year since! The sense of accomplishment from doing something I had never even considered was amazing! If I could do it, then anyone could.”

The following month, the final goal was accomplished when the Kline family adopted a son from South Korea.

Now looking for new challenges, Kline decided to start triathlons with a long-term goal of completing an iron distance (140.6 miles). He ran his first sprint (1/2-mile swim, 13-mile bike, 3.1-mile run) in June 2012 and then ran his first Half Ironman (70.3 miles) in October in 2012.

“I was hooked,” he said. “Once you start doing this stuff, it is addicting. In 2015 when I turned 40, I ran the Virginia Double Anvil (281.2-mile triathlon).”

Now a commander and the aerospace engineering duty officer detailer at Naval Personnel Command, the Milroy native gives most of the credit for his success, both in racing and career, to his family.

“Family is absolutely critical to success,” Kline said, “You must have a supportive spouse who understands that you have very little control over where you go next and she needs to be self-sufficient and able to handle whatever life throws her way while you are not home.”

Kline recently competed in the Virginia Triple Anvil, which is the equivalent of three Ironman triathlons, or 421.8 miles. To accomplish this, he trained for a year, and his love of running gave him a strong base. When he began to focus on the triple, he was running five miles a day.

“I just ramped up the mileage for the three disciplines until I was running 15 miles every morning, swimming 2.4 miles, biking 30 miles every afternoon and lifting weights for an hour before bed,” Kline said. “My life outside of work, was just working out.”

In a typical day, Kline said he would rise at 3 a.m., do 30 minutes of core training and stretching, run 15 miles, then go to work. After work, he would ride 30-plus miles on the bike, go to the YMCA and swim for an hour and a half, then lift weights for an hour, ending the day about 10 p.m. On weekends, Kline would get in six to 12 hours of cardio both days.

“All in all, I ran more than 2,100 miles, biked more than 2,800 miles and swam more than 155 miles in the year before the race,” he said. “It helped that the base had an endurance challenge that started in August and participants had a year to complete it. I finished in 59 days. It kept me focused all the way until race day.”

When the grueling endurance contest was over, Kline had finished the Virginia Triple Anvil with a time of 58 hours and 13 minutes.

“The biggest thing about this race is that I would not have finished if it was not for my wife, Karen. She stayed awake the whole 60-plus hours and kept me on track. There are whole sections of the race that I do not remember.”

When he set the goal of running a marathon, he wanted to do it at the five-year, cancer-free point because he had never really been an athlete, and thought it was the hardest physical goal he could imagine.

In 2003, he was incapable of walking 10 feet to the bathroom. When he completed the Virginia Triple Anvil this year , he swam 7.2 miles, biked 336 miles, and ran 78.6 miles — all within a 60-hour time limit.

“The main reason I do this is to show folks what the human body is capable of,” he said. “You can do anything that you set your mind to,” Kline said.