The Tears of a Clown

Now if there's a smile upon my face…

A Special Day: James Murtha

Today is a special day. It’s five long years since a friend of mine finally ceased chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment for cancer. James didn’t just beat cancer he annihilated it, in his own inimitable way. I’m sure he won’t mind me quoting him here when I repeat what he has to say this day.


“If I was any better I’d be up on charges. Its got to be a crime to feel this good.”

In these days of increased awareness about charitable organisations through coverage by the media, it’s sometimes easy to become hackneyed in one’s views on the subject of charity due to that wide exposure. Every so often however, a story comes along that is so moving and portrays such emotion and human spirit that it is impossible to ignore. I hope to humbly relate just such a story to you here today.

I’d like tell you the story of a gentleman by the name of James Murtha of Burbank, California – Jim, a lion of a man and one who those who are aware of his story are proud to know. Jim is a former US Marine. These days he is the proud father of four daughters and works for the Disney Corporation. His allegiances to the football clubs, Hibernian FC in Scotland and Dundalk FC in Ireland were forged by his Irish heritage through his father. James is a man who never forgot his roots and how important they are to him.

James’ courageous fight against cancer and amazing recovery against very long odds has been extremely well documented elsewhere. This terrific and uplifting story of the strength of the human spirit cannot be bettered by anything I write so I will kindly suggest that you spend a few moments reading those words. Please prepare to feel humbled.

As befits a man of Jim’s character, he decided that having beaten off the challenge of a life-threatening illness, he needed another test. He chose the lure of the great event – the marathon, in order to fulfill his next achievement and set off on the long road to the ancient event. Dublin was to be the chosen arena for his challenge.

As will be noted from the story linked here, James has several difficulties that for him made the 26.2 miles an even more arduous and exacting proposition than for the rest of us. His requirement for constant drinks due to his body’s inability to create its own saliva being just one of them. May I ask you to try to consider that difficulty for just one moment?

The challenge of the marathon is one that many, especially in the past three decades, have risen to. The boom in running arising from interest in the United States back in the 1970s has travelled full circle and back over that time. Along the way, it has encouraged and allowed a lot of people to experience and understand exactly how it feels to suffer the discomfort, pain, joy, anguish and sheer naked achievement of the classic distance. Indeed, one of the reasons that I was drawn so to Jim’s story is the common bond that we forged as pals, via the Hibees Bounce website, through an interest in the marathon, I myself having competed in four such events. Like most other runners, after having felt all the emotions and feelings surrounding the marathon, I was pleased to be able to talk about those things with James. It was strictly a two-way deal however. I think I learned far more from James during those long, typed conversations than he did from me.

Jim, not content with completing the distance the easy way, took the hard road by walking over 26.2 miles of the streets of Dublin where his marathon was held. Make no mistake that was no mean achievement. Imagine the pain endured in the marathon and then doubling that discomfort over such a duration. It should also be noted that when James walks, he walks more quickly than most are ever likely to run!

There was a further poignant turn in my chats with Jim. At that time another old running friend of my own, Les Skinner, passed away after a brave fight with cancer and leukemia. When I mentioned this to James he assured me that Les’s name would be commemorated on his purple ‘survivor’ t-shirt towards the end of the race. Les’s widow was extremely moved to hear that her late husband would be appearing in one last race.

Jim finally prepared himself in Ireland, the country of his heritage, readying himself ready for the big day. I am perfectly sure he was excited and waiting impatiently for the day of the marathon to come around – a bundle of nerves in fact as every other marathon entrant I’ve known has been. These were some of his salad days, the days he had trained long and hard for. All the sweat, toil and pain that every marathoner knows would have been in his mind, overtaking all his thoughts. The sound of the starter’s gun will have played through his mind countless times.

One can truly find oneself when running or walking long distances – out there alone, whether it’s on the country lanes, on the beach, through the forests as in the county I live in, or negotiating a series of busy city street intersections. Alone in one’s thoughts, and in the challenge lying ahead. Never giving in and never to yield. Rain, wind, storms, pain, injury. When your body says ‘no more’ – but you won’t allow it to.

Jim was well supported in his cause and his date with destiny in Dublin’s fair city. If anyone ever deserved our support it, was surely him. It was my pleasure to report that James completed the Dublin City Marathon in 7hrs and 11mins – well done James!

Indeed there is something about Jim’s achievement that endears me to the soul of Hibernian FC, the football club that both James and I follow. A doggedness and determination to overcome almost impossible odds. In James Murtha we have a man among us who exemplifies those qualities.

Ladies and gentlemen, James Murtha, a lion and a survivor.


March 14, 2008 - Posted by | Sporting Tales | , ,


  1. […] is that he is a cancer survivor, not once but on two occasions. His incredible story is discussed here. The forum question that Jim was replying to was  ‘What impresses you?’ Apart from being […]

    Pingback by The Marathon Diaries: The Inspiration of Terry Fox « The Tears of a Clown | August 16, 2009

  2. That is Greaat News I.m not sure when this happened but I’m happy for you Jim and Your Family ………….Way to go COUSIN

    Comment by James Murtha | November 13, 2011

  3. […] A Special Day: James Murtha The Tears of a Clown […]

    Pingback by Rest in Peace, James Murtha « The Tears of a Clown | August 12, 2016

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