Cancer can’t stop SDSU student

by J.D. Hodges

Every student on campus has a story.  Some stories make you feel good while others can be tough to hear. Kinesiology senior Clay Treska has one that’s inspiring.

Treska has overcome cancer twice, completed the hardest endurance race in the world, The Ironman Triathlon, and now is a tireless advocate for cancer patients who wants to “revolutionize cancer care.”

A tough decision

Raised in the South, Treska went to several different high schools because of self-admitted discipline problems. He eventually ended up at a military academy.  After being expelled from the military academy and having a run-in with the law, he was told to make a choice between the military or jail.

“So I chose the military,” Treska said.

Treska worked in counter-intelligence in the Marines.  There he was known as a “spook.”  He was taught how to find out information on the battlefield, and these skills helped him later in his fight against cancer.

“With my counter-intelligence background I was able to do a lot of detective work and snooping around, and found out there were a lot of different types of options and treatments and methods to help me,” Treska said.

Bucket list

There were always two things Treska wanted to do before he died, and the urgency to do them grew after his first bout with cancer—go to college and complete the Ironman Triathlon.

Both of these dreams started with his father.


“To my father, getting an education was huge,” Treska said.  “He has leukemia now and hopefully, he will be alive when I walk across the stage, but we don’t know yet.”

Treska will be the first person in his family to get a college degree.

When Treska started school he originally wanted to study physical therapy to help cancer patients reach success. Treska then changed his major because he felt that a public health degree would lead him to more powerful jobs, allowing him to assist even more patients.

His dreams of completing the Ironman Triathlon were also inspired by his father.


“I was with my father and I saw a guy with the Ironman tattoo on his calf,” Treska said. “My father explained to me that it’s the world’s hardest endurance race and people who do that race get that tattoo on their calf. That became a bucket-lister.”


The Ironman is a grueling physical event.  Competitors swim 2.4 miles in the ocean, bike 112 miles and then run a marathon, 26.2 miles, all in one tortuous day.

Did he get that tattoo after his Ironman?

“Oh yeah!  The very next morning I got it,” Treska said.  “My coach made an appointment for me. She knew I was going to finish it. I didn’t know it, but she knew.”

Giving back

Instead of traveling during his winter break, Treska stayed in San Diego and spent it with cancer patients.

“My advocacy work is my heart and soul,” Treska said. “The best thing about my advocacy work is that I can bring people together. For example, a 6-year-old child that I am advocating for now, she needed a drug that’s in clinical trials. The problem with that is that you don’t know anything about the drug, but it just so happens to be that I am friends with the lead scientist who manufactures that drug at Pfizer Inc. This is all by chance, but that is an advocacy home run.”

Treska is driven to help other cancer patients because he understands what they are going through.


“I went through an unnecessary amount of suffering, between counter-intelligence training, being a Marine, going to war—suffering isn’t anything foreign to me, but I’m saying this was an unrealistic amount and if there’s something I can do to ensure other people don’t have to go through that, it’s the right thing to do,” Treska said.


Treska is involved with two grassroots organizations that deal with cancer. Julia’s Journey tells the story of a 6-year-old-girl who is fighting cancer now, and the other is PMP Warriors, which helps raise awareness about a rare form of cancer.

“Right now I am just an intern, but in the long term I want to be able to revolutionize cancer care,” Treska said.

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