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Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets alumnus Jim Godek competes in Ironmans while battling brain cancer

September 12, 2016

Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets alumnus Jim Godek crosses the finish line of Ironman Lake Placid.

Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets alumnus Jim Godek crosses the finish line of Ironman Lake Placid.
Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets alumnus Jim Godek crosses the finish line of Ironman Lake Placid. Photo courtesy of Jim Godek.

When Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets alumnus Jim Godek gets a chance to talk with cadets, he always reminds them about the importance of friendships.

“The biggest thing for these cadets, other than school and staying out of trouble, should be making friends with their corps mates,” said Godek, of Virginia Beach, Virginia, who graduated in 1987 with a degree in business management. “Here I am 30 years later and depending on the friends I made in the corps to get me through what I’m going through.”

Godek has brain cancer.

Specifically, he has Stage IV glioblastoma multiforme, an aggressive malignant form of brain cancer with no cure.

Those friends will be alongside him, as they have been since their days in the corps, on Saturday when Godek leads the corps’ alumni onto Worsham Field as part of Corps Homecoming and Military Appreciation Day.

“It’s been 30 years since we were the freshman class. It’s been a wonderful thing,” Godek said.

After graduation, he flew E-2C Hawkeyes for the U.S. Navy, where he spent 12 years on active duty and another 11 in the reserves, retiring as a commander. He also is a commercial pilot for Southwest Airlines, where he remains employed today.

Along the way, he discovered a love for triathlons.

“I used to always run, even in college. Someone recommended a triathlon, and I did it to try something different,” Godek said.

He trained in every city he flew into as a pilot.

“I didn’t want to just go sit in the hotel room. I’d put my running clothes on and go run 12 or 13 miles in a city,” he said. “I’d see things in that city that other people would never see. I just loved it.”

Today, he still runs — and bikes and swims — as he fights the disease.

Doctors diagnosed his cancer on April 20, 2015. After surgery to remove the tumor, doctors gave him 12 to 18 months to live.

“Even though it was devastating to hear that your life has been reduced to a number, I was not going to let it define me,” Godek said. “I wanted to live for me, my wife, and family, and it was time for me to fight for life and beat the odds.”

He started chemotherapy and radiation treatments while he trained for the next race.

Since then, he’s completed several 5k, 8k, and 10k events plus four half-marathons, two half Ironmans, and one full Ironman. He’s currently training for Ironman North Carolina on Oct. 22 in Wilmington, North Carolina.

“I have to have something planned ahead of me. It gives me a goal and something to do,” Godek said. “If I had nothing, I don’t know what I would do.”

In March, the cancer returned. Doctors increased his treatment regimen, and MRIs show the tumor is stable, Godek said.

“I continue to have treatments every two weeks for four hours,” he said. “Cancer is a tough road, but the only way I know is to fight my way through it.”

Throughout it all, those close friends he met in the corps have provided encouragement and emotional support. That’s why Godek always reminds cadets about the importance of friendship.

“Keep up with people and take care of your friendships,” he tells cadets. “You never know what will come up and when.”

Corps Homecoming will include many events for cadets and returning alumni, starting with the fall 2016 Gunfighters Panel on Thursday in Burruss Auditorium. Corps alumni will share their experiences and leadership challenges with cadets.

On Friday, cadets will gather for a formal retreat ceremony on Upper Quad, followed by a dinner for the current cadet leadership and visiting alumni. On Saturday, alumni who have endowed Corps of Cadets scholarships will attend the annual Corps of Cadets donor breakfast with the cadets who are the recipients of their generosity.

The Hokies face Boston College at 3:30 p.m. Saturday. Corps alumni of all ages will march on the field — led by Godek — at halftime. Be sure to cheer loudly.

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