Adam Casey survived stage IV cancer and celebrated with an epic adventure.

By Talia Lakritz / Insider
December 16, 2016
After kicking cancer, this former Marine celebrated by racing over 10,000 miles across Europe and Asia
Credit: Courtesy of Adam Casey

This story originally appeared on

It's difficult to tell where Adam Casey's story begins.

Perhaps it's when he met a girl who changed his life and inspired him to start a nonprofit called I Do It For Her, helping at-risk youth in St. Louis receive a better education.

Or when he enlisted in the military and became a First Lieutenant Infantry Officer in the Marine Corps.

Perhaps it's when he was diagnosed with stage IV cancer.

Maybe it's when he entered remission, and celebrated by racing 10,000 miles in the Mongol Rally and got halfway through the Mongol Derby before the wild horse he was riding bucked him off and broke his ribs.

Perhaps Casey's story hasn't even begun yet. But it certainly isn't over.

When Casey was a 20-year-old football player and student at the University of Missouri, he met a girl who inspired him to push himself and reach his full potential.

"I understood that I would have to become someone worth loving, someone of value, someone better than I ever thought possible," he said in a TEDx talk entitled "Why you should fall recklessly in love."

He enlisted in the military after graduation as part of this effort, reaching the rank of First Lieutenant Infantry Officer in the Marine Corps.

"I figured if I'm going to do something, I'm going to do it all the way," he told INSIDER.

While serving in the Marines, he received a devastating diagnosis: stage IV advanced lymphoma.

After six months of chemo, organ failures, and close calls, he entered remission and started looking for appropriate ways to celebrate.

The Mongol Rally, a 10,000 mile ride across Europe and Asia, and the Mongol Derby, a race on semi-wild horses through the Mongolian wilderness, both fit the bill.

"Before I had cancer, I liked to test my physical limits," he said. "When I saw this adventure... it was in the mindset of 'my body turned on me, I don't know when it's going to turn on me again, so I'm going to get as much use out of it as I can.'"

The Mongol Rally begins at various points around Western Europe and ends in Mongolia, but where teams go in between is up to them.

Most racers pass through Russia, Turkey, and Ukraine, and take pride in the fact that virtually none of the routes are smooth or safe.

"It was actually really surprising how well the car held up in the long haul," Casey said of encountering rough roads that would send the car flying.

Casey drove with his dad in small car that they purchased for less than $1,000.

"It was important for my dad and I to have that time, that forced proximity in such a closed area," he said.

They hit a snag at the border of Russia and Estonia where they were denied entry, so Casey had to leave the car and fly into Mongolia to begin the Derby.

"We didn't ditch the car, but I got the best Airbnb review possible because we gave it to our hosts in Prague," he said.

In the Mongol Derby, riders gallop 621 miles (1,000 km) through the Mongolian-Manchurian steppe.

It holds the Guinness World Record for the world's longest horse race. The exact course changes every year and is kept secret until the start of the Derby.

The semi-wild horses are "tame enough that you can put a saddle on them, but wild enough to not want people on that saddle."

Casey spent a year training for the Mongol Derby, but had no other horse riding experience before that.

"As soon as I hopped on, that thing would just take off," he said. "For 10 miles, this thing did not stop — full gallop. It was unbelievable."

When Casey's horse threw him off and broke a few of his ribs, he continued riding for three more days until it bucked him off again and ran away with his saddle.

"I want to heroically say I would have kept riding, but bottom line, my saddle was gone and they said, 'You're pretty jacked up as it is. You don't have a horse, you don't have a saddle, you don't have a GPS, so we're going to pull you.'"

"I got a little over halfway," he said. "It's still a bitter taste in my mouth."

Casey now lives in Boulder, Colorado, where he's back in school studying computer science.

He hopes to qualify for the Boston Marathon next year, and has his eye on the notoriously difficult Jungle Marathon through the Amazon rainforest.

Out of all of Casey's accomplishments and adventures, his work with the nonprofit he founded called I Do It For Her still ranks above all else.

He hopes to motivate others to take risks to become their best selves, just as the organization's namesake did for him.

I Do It For Her provides scholarships to at-risk youth in St. Louis, as well as wish-granting resources to help individuals accomplish a lifelong goal.

"Take the risk in whatever you want to do in life, because ultimately it will make you better, whether you succeed or fail," he said.

"I've got plenty of failures. But those few and far-between successes — man, they feel really good."