Semsel met his wife, Ki, at OU and the couple had two daughters, both of whom grew accustomed to the military lifestyle of moving every few years.
“My youngest daughter, Olivia, lived in eight states before she started her freshman year in high school,” Semsel said.
But his military career not only gave Semsel the chance to see the world, it also helped him develop a unique skill set and strength to overcome hardship.
“After retiring from the Air Force, I decided to work at a job supporting our veterans,” Semsel said. “Eventually, I got a job with Goodwill Easter Seals locally and ran their veterans program and in 2020 I moved to a job with Montgomery County Veterans Services.”
Semsel works to help companies understand the “military mindset” so they can be more successful in attracting and hiring veterans into their workforce. But a personal health story that could have ended his career ended up changing her life for the better.
“I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2001,” Semsel said. “I had a complete thyroidectomy, followed by radiation treatment.”
In 2002, Semsel underwent another major surgery to remove cancerous lymph nodes, and in 2005 he underwent a third round of radiation. And in 2014, her doctors told her to never expect a complete remission.
“There is always a chance that my cancer will come back in the future,” Semsel said.
After his surgery to remove lymph nodes in his neck in 2002 while stationed in Hawaii, his operations officer at the time convinced him to run the Honolulu Marathon with him. Semsel agreed even though he had stopped running regularly years before.
“When I came out of surgery, I couldn’t move my arms up to my shoulder,” Semsel said. “The whole concept of a marathon was beyond me, as I had never run more than eight miles.”
Semsel trained daily for eight months and ran that first marathon, although his operations officer was unable to accompany him due to injury.
A deployment to Iraq gave Semsel some downtime with not much to do except run daily. He re-entered the Honolulu Marathon and in 2007 he ran the Columbus Marathon.
“I kept setting goals for myself and I knew I could keep getting faster,” Semsel said.
During one of his runs, he met a member of the 50 State Marathon Club and decided to set a new goal to run marathons in all 50 states. He promised to finish 50 before his 50th birthday.
“I ran the marathon in my last state in Eugene, Oregon, in May of 2016,” Semsel said.
Today, Semsel continues to support local veterans and is dedicated to doing whatever he can to stay healthy. He recently had to stop running marathons after an injury, but before that he had successfully completed 33 “ultra” marathons, some of up to 100 miles.
“I loved the constant motion of running for 26 to 28 hours straight,” Semsel said. “For me, running is also a mental health benefit.”
Semsel attributes the transformation of his life to that operations officer who urged him to run his first marathon years ago. And now that injuries have left his career as a marathon runner behind, he has begun participating in triathlon races, which consist of swimming, biking, and running or walking various distances.
“I found that if I was fast enough on the bike and I swam, I didn’t have to run as fast,” Semsel said. “I have really learned to love the bike and the pool.”
And Semsel continues to give back to his community, training local runners in Kettering.
“I work primarily with middle-aged people who are looking to learn something different,” Semsel said.
Teaching people to work with the abilities they have and push themselves beyond what they think they can do is Semsel’s approach. His military experience, health problems and everything in between have taught him how much a positive attitude can change a life.
“I tell everyone I know who has just been diagnosed with cancer how much attitude can make a difference,” Semsel said. “It has really changed my life.”