Run a marathon? That was never really in the planning. But to run ‘New York’ along with his childhood hero Rob Druppers to help fight cancer? Well, as a survivor of cancer you can hardly say no to that. And so Imares researcher Martin Baptist is on the eve of the longest race of his life.
Baptist looks relaxed enough in his tiny, chockfull office on Texel. Outside the sun is shining. The weekend is ahead and he's got a long-distance race of thirty kilometres on the programme. It is quite a daunting prospect as he has never run that far before.
Baptist is one of the more than 38,000 runners who will leave the starting line in New York on 7 November. Together with eleven well-known and less-well-known Dutch teammates, he'll be flying the flag for Run for Kika. A team with a mission: to raise money for a new research centre for childhood cancer. The runners include ex-top sportspeople such as runner Rob Druppers, hockey player Marten Eikelboom and triathlete Gregor Stam. Also running are actor Bas Muijs (GTST), actor and writer Elle van Rijn, and oncologist Huib Caron from the Emma Children's Hospital in Amsterdam. At first sight, scientist and VHL lecturer in Marine Ecosystems Management Martin Baptist seems a bit of an odd one out.
How did they find you?
'The idea for the sponsored run came from Gaius Voute, the son of the famous Professor Voute, childhood cancer specialist at the Emma Children's Hospital. Voute was a keen runner himself and had run the New York marathon. In honour of his father, Gaius came up with the idea of running the New York marathon for Kika (Children for cancer). Then they looked for a few Dutch celebrities to join in. And they also wanted a cancer survivor.'
'Yes. I'm the Lance Armstrong on the team. As a child of thirteen I was treated by Professor Voute. And since then I go to the Amsterdam Medical Centre once a year for a check-up. There is an outpatients' department there that is doing research on the long-term effects of childhood cancer treatment. So they know me. And they know that I run.'
What sort of cancer did you have?
I had a melanoma, a malignant mole. The advantage of a melanoma is that it is on the skin, so it is visible. There was a strange pimple on my back. The disadvantage is that it is a very aggressive form of cancer that metastasizes and is hard to treat. Chemo does not work at all well on the secondaries that spread beneath the skin. I had secondaries in my lymph glands. I was saved with the help of operations and chemotherapy.'
How was it for you to have cancer as a child?
'You just go through it all. I was never told how serious it was. Physically I got back to normal fairly fast, but mentally it was a lot tougher. The worst of it only came later, with a nagging fear that it will come back. Two years ago I got another melanoma. They spotted it at a check-up at the AMC. They cut it out again, and luckily there were no secondaries.'
Do you live with a constant fear that it will come back?
'I wouldn't put it as strongly as that. It's more a kind of insecurity. It seems I have a talent for cancer. On top of those two melanomas, I have already had three abnormal moles removed. They have now checked my DNA for abnormalities in particular genes. I have just heard that they didn't find any. Which is good news, for my children too.'
Are you a marathon runner actually?'
No. I do half marathons though. I've been running since I was a child. I run quite easily, even if I don't train much. Without showing off, I can say that I have some talent for it. But I had absolutely no intention of running a marathon yet. I only wanted to do that when I was 42. I am 38 now. But for Kika I am happy to change my plans. And after all, New York is the marathon.'
And you will be running with Rob Druppers.
'Yes, my boyhood hero! I even asked for his signature as a kid - in 1983, at the Sprintcross in Breda. I've still got a photo of it. And now we are going to run a marathon together!'
How ready are you?'
I still have to do a seriously long-distance run. You have to train your body to burn fat. Colleagues then immediately ask, 'where is all that fat that you are supposed to burn?' Then there is the question whether I will stay in one piece and be able to do the stamina training. But even if I have to crawl to the finish line...'
Will it be the race of a lifetime?
'Lots of people have a good reason to want to run the New York marathon. But I've certainly got a darn good reason to do it. It's a very emotional thing. In that sense you could call it the race of a lifetime.'