LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - As John Holland lay in a hospital bed in January, he was already planning to run in his 40th Kentucky Derby Festival miniMarathon this Saturday.
Holland, who needed a permission slip from his mother to run in the inaugural 1973 event, has been in every race since then except one. He's run through personal tragedy and overcame heart surgery three months before this year's event to train and compete again.
"The surgery was pretty serious, they say some people don't survive it," Holland said. "I thought, if I ran this year, I'd run for the people who didn't survive that surgery, and maybe the people who had heart problems who couldn't run."
Holland ran for several years as part of a family tradition with his three brothers. A Louisville Courier-Journal article written in 1983 about the boys said they enjoyed competing against each other in the race.
Their father stirred the competition.
"Just like the horses, he would rank us from top to bottom -- first, second, third and fourth," Holland said about his father, who died in 1981.
The brothers continued to run until Holland's brother Joe, a Louisville firefighter, died of a brain tumor in 1988.
John Holland kept the runner's bib and finishing certificate from those years in memory of his father and brother.
And he kept running -- except one year, when he was taking a final exam.
At his Louisville home on Friday, Holland displayed the certificates, T-shirts and medals he'd accumulated over the years. This year's race will be the most special because of what he's had to overcome, he said.
"I think the message for me this year, after having the surgery, is, 'Anything's possible,'" Holland said.
His daughters, Sarah and Kristen, call their father an inspiration. They've been watching him race since they were infants.
"It's pushed me to be a better person, to always go for my dreams, and to never give up on them," Sarah Holland said.
"He never quits anything, he always finishes," said Kristen Holland, recalling the year that the family encouraged John to drop out of the race because he looked sick. "My mom was yelling at him, telling him to get out of the race, but he wasn't going to drop out."
John Holland said he isn't the fastest runner over the 13.1 mile race. But after all these years, perhaps he is the most durable, he said.
"Right now, after everything I've been through, there's no end in sight," he said.
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