Before her sudden death, his coworker sent him 14 inspiring notes across the world.
10 years ago, JP Caudill couldn't run a mile. Recently, he ran seven marathons in seven days across all seven continents.
By the time we hit 30, many of us are wrapping up whatever athletic accomplishments we'll ever set out to achieve. Caudill was just getting started.
"I knew running was something I was bad at and didn’t enjoy," Caudill said. "So, I just a set a goal of one mile on the treadmill at the gym."
A few weeks later, he hit his goal and had the itch for running. A few years later, he ran his first marathon. And now, just after his 40th birthday, he pulled off a dramatic feat of running 183 miles in less a week from Cape Town to Miami. Along the way he raised over $10,000 for pancreatic cancer research.
As he began his epic journey, he found a huge surprise that ended up serving as a powerful source of inspiration: his co-worker Koren Pandelakis-Dunn had quietly reached out to his friends and family to create personalized notes at the beginning and end of each marathon race. She even wrote one herself.
"The remarkable part, aside from her doing this in the first place, is that she took the time to find friends and family she didn’t know whatsoever — even my parents!" Caudill said.
All photos courtesy of JP Caudill.
Caudill has learned to use loss as a motivation for good deeds and personal growth.
After Caudill's grandmother passed away from pancreatic cancer 10 years ago, his family went to visit her sister in Germany. "I felt horribly out of shape," he said about walking around with his family during the visit. "I came back and wanted to do something about it."
After signing up for the World Marathon Challenge, he decided to use the event to launch a fundraiser on behalf of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.
First, Caudill reached out to friends, family, and coworkers. Then, he handcrafted purple candles, set up prize auctions, and even coordinated with a local brewery to create his own special fundraising brew, which he says was "by far" the biggest draw. By the time the marathon challenge began, he'd hit his goal of $10,000, and the donations are still coming in.
"I know it's just a drop in the bucket of what is needed for this research," he says, adding that he hopes his story will help raise awareness.
Pandelakis-Dunn knew that Caudill was taking on an incredible challenge and like so many people around him she wanted to help.
That's when she began collecting the letters to send to him on his journey.
However, just two days after he returned home from his continent-hopping challenge, he was hit with tragic news: His co-worker Pandelakis-Dunn had died suddenly and unexpectedly of an illness. The notes were literally the last time he would communicate with her.
"I never got a chance to see her and tell her how awesome that was," Caudill says.
The notes JP received.
We're all capable of making a difference when we're motivated.
Despite his incredible accomplishment, Caudill is quick to emphasize that all it takes to make a difference is staying focused on a goal larger than yourself.
During times of doubt, he leaned on the promise he'd made to raise money for cancer research and often thought of those notes Pandelakis-Dunn had arranged for him, knowing he'd only get to see the next message if he completed his current race and made it to the next stage.
"I am and will always be so grateful for what for Koren did for me and for all the incredible encouragement I received from my family & friends through the notes," Caudill says. "It made each Marathon and the Challenge so much more special than it already was."