Don Lichi is calling his participation in Saturday’s Akron Marathon “The Comeback.”

“I was training for this event five years ago, when my spine fell apart and I was diagnosed with cancer. I spent eight months in a wheelchair and four months on a walker, not knowing if I was going to make it,” said Lichi, a licensed psychologist and vice president of Emerge Counseling Services. “This is like closing the loop. I still have cancer. I’m still taking chemotherapy — it’s indefinite. But it’s manageable right now and my numbers are good.”

Lichi, 64, was preparing in November 2011 for his 12th marathon run when he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, cancer of the plasma cells in the bone marrow. After more than 20 treatments and a stem cell transplant, he was up and running in the Spring of 2013 and completed a half marathon during the fall of the same year.

Since then, he’s completed two half marathons. And he has decided that this will be his last full marathon.

“This is the capstone and I will be running with a real heart of gratitude. I am thankful to God, my family — especially my wife, Marcie — my friends and the community for all of their support and a great medical staff. I wouldn’t be here without them,” Lichi said. “This is also an opportunity to give back by raising some money for a great organization – RAHAB.”

Run helping women

RAHAB (Reaching Above Homelessness and Brokenness) Ministries, helps women who have been rescued from the sex-slave trade. Via a partnership, Emerge provides counseling for the women living in the local RAHAB safe house.

Lichi will be among more than a dozen marathon participants “Running for RAHAB.” The Running for RAHAB team is raising money for the counseling received by RAHAB participants.

Becky Moreland, RAHAB founder and executive director, said that Emerge has provided the most effective counseling to her clientele in the last two years, since the safe house was established.

Emerge is a full-service, Christian-centered mental health outpatient center, located on Mull Avenue in Akron.

“Emerge understands that helping our women heal is a marathon — it’s not a quick fix. The top-notch trauma therapists there are committed to creative and innovative ways to get our women the healing they need,” Moreland said. “Dr. Lichi, himself, is just a model person that people in this community look up to. He is an example of how to face challenges with grace.”

John Palmer, president and CEO of Emerge, agreed. He said it is fitting that Lichi is part of a team that is raising money to help encourage and heal women who have endured suffering and adversity.

“Dr. Lichi’s presence on Saturday will be a testimony to God’s grace and to his perseverance and positive spirit,” Palmer said. “He has persevered with joy and relied on God’s grace in spite of the challenges he has faced. He is a great example and a great inspiration to others – to run, to persevere through difficulties.”

Friends get inspired

Lichi’s friends and running partners agree that he has been an inspiration to them. In fact, two of them — John Wilson and Logan Shellenberger — admit that they would not be participating in the marathon, if it weren’t for Lichi.

Shellenberger, who has known Lichi for 35 years, said he has been inspired by Lichi’s unwillingness to give up.

“He was on the brink of death and figured his running days were long behind him and now he’s back out there and I will be very grateful if I can keep up with him,” said Shellenberger, 47. “The only reason I’m doing this is because he’s a good friend and I want to be there to support him. He’s said this will be his last marathon. It’s my first, but I think it’s about to be both of our last — this is going to be an insane amount of work.”

Wilson, who is a more seasoned runner, has run with Lichi in six previous Akron marathons and his three half marathons in 2013, 2014, and 2015. He said he was ready to hang up his marathon running shoes, until Lichi decided he was going to try it one last time.

“This one means so much more because of his recovery and how miraculous it has been and because of his determination to overcome his illness. I told myself, if Dr. Lichi can do it, I can do it,” Wilson said. “When I look back on the journey God’s had him on and how God answered prayers, his has been a story of encouragement and inspiration.”

For more information about the Running for RAHAB initiative, go to www.emerge.org or call 330-968-0379.

Colette Jenkins can be reached at 330-996-3731 or cjenkins@thebeaconjournal.com. She can be followed at www.twitter.com/ColetteMJenkins.