May, from Kingsport, attended Sullivan South High School and now works for Property Experts. He started out his running career as a short-distance sprinter, mostly doing the 200-meter and 400-meter dash. When he got to East Tennessee State University and trained under legendary coach Dave Walker, things changed for May.
He began to run the middle distance events like the 800 and the 1,500 meters and found out that he was good at both. Quite good, in actuality.
“My bread and butter I thought was the 200 and 400, but I discovered that I had a better gas tank than I thought I did. That was in part to being under coach Walker,” he said. “He put me on the van with the cross country team in the fall during my sophomore year. It was brutal with those guys out there in the woods. I was at ETSU from 2000 to 2004 and we had solid cross country teams back then.”
May has range at all distances with personal bests of 10.42 seconds for 100 meters, 21.83 for 200 meters, 47.79 for 400 meters, 1:48.51 for 800 meters and a 4:25 full mile.
“When I got to ETSU, Walker had just come out of his first retirement. He was going through his chemotherapy during one of his fights with cancer,” he said. “It was something to watch him get in that van with no air conditioning in the late summer and watch us do the workouts. He was weak and sometimes he’d come straight from chemotherapy treatments and get on that van. He was a very old school, tough guy.”
Everything changed for May in March 2015.
He had a case of appendicitis and had to get his appendix removed.
“The surgeon went in there and while he was doing the appendectomy, he thought that something wasn’t right,” he said. “They ran some tests on my colon because it was in the same area. He pulled a sample and sent it off for testing.”
He said the doctors kept him over the weekend and came into his room on Monday, March 9, to give him an update at 11:35 a.m.
It was cancer.
May had stage four colon cancer and the doctor said he had one year to live.
“At that moment, time just slowed down. It kind of came still. You don’t usually get an expiration date and especially at a young age. I was 35 and it was overwhelming,” he said.
The medical professionals took out nearly three feet of his colon and he did six months of tough, regimented chemotherapy treatments.
“They pounded me with the chemo because I was young and didn’t have any pre-existing conditions,” he said. “The oncologist said he was going to give me the maximum amount of chemo that he could give me.”
May has finished all of his hard chemo treatments, but still has to go back regularly for CT scans and checkups to make sure nothing else is hanging around. His official remission date is set for November 2020.
“It changed my outlook on life quite a bit. I try to live every day to the fullest and love the people around me more,” he said. “I discovered the bike during my chemo treatments because I was too weak to run. Brad Yewer helped me out on that and he was a great motivator. He would check on me and give me a little push. He said it was low-impact and wasn’t as taxing as running.”
Almost two years later, May has been going hard on the bike and brought a runner’s mentality to it. Cycling is an entirely different sport from running, even though they are both endurance sports. May said that biking was his best outlet while doing treatments since he could not run.
“As endurance athletes, when our brain says that we can’t go much further, we can just push through that and keep going,” he said. “During chemo, when your body was done, it was done. There was no push and there was no second wind. Starting cycling was about the same way. It was hard to start.”
May said that Walker was a big inspiration to him during his chemo and he thought a lot about his coach when he would be in the van after treatments.
“I would say to myself ‘If coach Walker could do it, so can I,’ ” he said.
Nowadays, May is back to running and has a partner with him that he didn’t previously: his son, Taylor.
Taylor is 9 years old and, according to Michael, has shown a real interest in running recently and has done a few community track meets. He done quite well in track, even after experimenting with about every other sport.
“I never pushed it on him, even though that’s what I wanted,” he said. “He’s done really well in every sport he’s tried, but he’s just a little bit quicker than the other kids, I feel like. It’s amazing for him to come to me and ask me to teach him to get better.”