What Happened to Tommy Rivs? The Latest On The Ultrarunner’s Health

Ultra-running professional Tommy Rivers Puzey suffered from a very serious, mysterious illness first thought to be COVID-19 in 2020.

In this article, we will recap what happened to Tommy Rivs, how he is doing, and how the running community has responded – and how you can support him.

Who is Tommy Rivs?

Thomas Rivers Puzey, also known as Tommy Rivs, is a professional ultra-runner, accomplished marathoner, speaker, iFit trainer, physical therapist (DPT), husband to Stephanie Puzey, and father of three girls.

He is also an anthropologist, linguist who speaks 5 languages, and licensed massage therapist who works on some of the best endurance athletes in the world. 

Rivs name appeared in headlines throughout the running community after contracting what seemed to be a mysterious respiratory illness in the summer of 2020, first thought to be COVID-19.

Later, Rivs was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of lung cancer.

How Is Tommy Rivs Doing Right Now?

Rivs turned 37 this summer, a year after being diagnosed with a rare form of lung cancer.

The fight for life still rages on for Rivs, who continues to defy the odds. The battle is not over and there’s still a long road ahead. A 37 mile run in honor of his birthday was held this past July. 

His motto is: Not Today.

Rivers and his wife Stephanie post regular updates written in moving prose about Rivers’ battle with cancer on Instagram. 

Related: The Badwater 135 Explained

What happened to Tommy Rivs?

In the summer of 2020, during the pandemic, Tommy Rivs was admitted to the ICU with respiratory issues.

After several weeks of testing and a lung biopsy, doctors discovered the presence of cancer. 

What disease does Tommy Rivs have?

Specifically, Tommy Rivers was diagnosed with Primary Pulmonary NK T-Cell Lymphoma, a very rare and aggressive form of Lymphoma.

Primary pulmonary NK/T cell lymphoma is extremely rare, and only a few cases have been reported so far. Its diagnosis is mainly dependent on open-lung biopsy

Rivers was moved to a hospital in Scottsdale, AZ, where he received chemotherapy under the guidance and expertise of some of the leading lymphoma physicians in the world.  

Related: Guide to UTMB

What is the survival rate of Primary pulmonary NK/T cell lymphoma?

Prognosis is variable, with long-term survival ranging from 20% to 80%. Patients with early-stage and “non-bulky disease” tend to have a better prognosis, according to one study.

Did Tommy Rivs have COVID-19?

No, Tommy Rivs did not have COVID-19.

In the summer of 2020, Tommy Rivs suffered from an unknown respiratory illness and pneumonia-like symptoms.

Rivs did a drive-through Covid-19 test and waited five days for the results, which came back negative. 

He took additional COVID-19 tests but all came back negative. He was eventually checked into a Flagstaff, Arizona hospital where he was finally diagnosed with a rare form of lymphoma. 

Is Tommy Rivs in remission?

Yes, Tommy Rivs is in remission. 

About six months after Rivs was diagnosed with cancer, he entered remission. He reportedly has lost more than 80 pounds from his once muscular frame going from 180 to 98 pounds.

Is Tommy Rivers cured?

No. Tommy Rivers is not cured. It is reported there is a 90 percent chance his cancer will come back. 

The lungs of the endurance athlete were at 20 percent capacity when he entered remission, disqualifying him for a lung transplant. Instead, Rivs was moved to a rehab facility to build his lungs and strength back. 

What is the latest health update on Tommy Rivs?

Rivers and his wife Stephanie post regular updates written in beautiful prose about Rivers’ battle with cancer on Instagram. 

How is Tommy Rivers doing?

In March of this year, Rivers wrote about his journey to rebuild his lungs and how he is feeling:

“Every breath is a struggle, but these anemic lungs are still my own and that is a privilege I have to acknowledge…A body that writhes at times, and aches all the time, but nonetheless a body that works if I work it, so what have I to whine about?

…Pain is a gift if I see it as a communicator. It makes no sense to cuss it than it would be to cuss the only m ap to improvement just because I didn’t like the arch of the path….Progress is slow but even inches are measurable so why doddle?”

What is Tommy Rivs like?

According to one of his ambassador pages:

Rivs loves the ocean and finds solace in the mountains.

He believes in change, progression, music, fruit snacks, books, beards, struggle, tolerance, smiles, balance, and the law of the harvest. He loves his girls… 

He believes that analyzing your happiness is counterproductive.

He believes that analyzing others’ “energy” is passing judgment.

He believes that food should look beautiful and taste good.

He’s not a big fan of loud noises, big trucks, or narrow minds. 

He believes that most people and situations respond best to love.

He believes in endurance athletics.

He feels that they provide a microcosmic view of the universe and helps him to better understand his place in it.

His favorite workout?

“Long swim. Long bike. Long run.”

What motivates you? “Love.”

How old is Tommy Rivers Puzey?

Tommy Rivs is 37.

Where does Tommy Rivers live?

Rivs’ hometown is Flagstaff, Arizona.

What are Tommy Riv’s running achievements?

Tommy Rivers has won or was a top finisher in many ultra races. Some of Rivs’ running achievements include:

  • In 2018, Rivs finished first in the Flagstaff to Grand Canyon 55k
  • In 2017, Rivs  ran the Boston Marathon in 2 hours and 18 minutes, finishing 16th overall. 
  • In 2016, Rivs won the Arizona Rock & Roll Marathon. 
  • In 2016, Rivs finished 6th in the Run Rabbit Run 100 miler
  • In 2016, Rivs finished 1st in the TransRockies 120 miler. 
  • In 2015, Rivs finished first in the Paatuwaqatsi 50k Run. 

How did Tommy Rivs train?

Rivs shared his training schedule on the Art and Science of Running podcast.

His weekly runs include a 20-mile run where he’d eat a burrito in the middle.

He also ran the Grand Canyon every week.

He also ran regular strides and did race-specific work at a hard effort. 

Related: Running Terrain Explained

Rivs said he tries “to find a way to make training a part of my everyday life. Figure out ways to make training not be something that you dread and something that you enjoy.”

This attitude toward training started when he would run commute during graduate school, running 24 miles every day. 

What does Tommy Rivs eat?

During his training days, Rivs would eat mostly plants.

He described his eating philosophy as mirroring the work of Michael Pollan: “Eat food, mostly plants. But not too much.”

He said he’d pay attention to his cravings.

If he is craving something sweet, for example, it means his body is in need of carbohydrates.

What supplements does Tommy Rivs take?

During his training days, Rivs would take the following supplements to keep his body healthy to endure his 100+ mile training weeks: 

What is a typical training day like for Tommy Rivs?

When Tommy Rivs was training, he said he would: 

“Wake up, get caffeinated and hydrated (sip some sort of hot caffeinated drink for a couple of hours while I read). Might drink simple electrolyte drink. Recovery will be quicker if I don’t get dehydrated. Eat bananas + walnuts. Run. Recovery shake with Ultragen, bananas, berries, peanut butter, etc. Half gallon.”

Related: What is Ultra Running? The Ultramarathon Explained

How can I help Tommy Rivs?

Tommy Rivs and his family have set up a GoFundMe page to help pay for his medical costs. You can support him and get updates at his GoFundMe page.

In his own video, Rivs asked for support but not for himself but for the Navajo Nation, by providing emergency assistance to families through an organization that is dear to him, Ajooba’ Hasin, Families to Families: 

“If there’s an opportunity to help, if you can help, whatever that means — if it’s financial, if it’s just spreading the word, the Navajo Nation needs help out here, and the more that we can do collectively, the bigger difference it will make in people’s lives.” The Navajo are an Indigenous group based primarily in Arizona. 

You can make a donation here.

Interested in Ultra Running? Check out my Ultra Running training resources!

Whitney Heins
Whitney Heins is the founder of The Mother Runners and a VDOT-O2 certified running coach. She lives in Knoxville, TN with her two crazy, beautiful kids, pups, and husband. She is currently training to qualify for the 2024 US Olympic Trials marathon.

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