Last June I was one of 26 people selected by Medtronic to attend an all-inclusive weekend for two which included an entry into the Twin Cities Medtronic Marathon for me and entry into the TC10 for my wife. We flew to Minneapolis on Thursday afternoon where we were greeted by people holding signs with our names at the airport and chauffeured to our hotel where we were basically waited on hand and foot by our unbelievably gracious hosts for the next few days. When we first arrived at the airport I was pretty focused on the race and nervous, despite the fact I really had nothing to be nervous about …except my own disappointment if I failed to get the sub4 finish goal I set for myself. Thankfully we had a super busy itinerary that included activities ranging from dinner banquets and an awards ceremony, to a tour of the Medtronic building with the opportunity to meet some of the scientists responsible for the lifesaving technology in my Pacemaker/Defibrillator so I really didn’t have much time to worry.
The weekend turned out to be way more than just a race. It was more a celebration of life than a celebration about a race. The more I listened to stories of the other Global Heroes, the more amazing my weekend became. Everyone’s story touched me deeply. Their tales were full of love, courage, and determination. Everyone selected to participate in this race had a variety of medical diagnosis that would have permanently sidelined most people yet they had flown in from all parts of the globe to show the world life doesn’t end with a medical diagnosis. Despite very challenging health issues these individuals were wholeheartedly embracing their second chance at life and believed in living to it to the fullest. The lifesaving technologies used by these individuals, coupled their with unwavering iron will(s), courageous determination, and a strong love of life has allowed them to continue to race while inspiring many others along the way. Each person’s race began on a course filled with medical diagnosis obstacles but was won the day their feet touched the starting line.
They race to give others hope and each of their personal stories is nothing short of amazing. Despite unpleasant, and in many cases very painful circumstances, these people are all not only still smiling, they are living life with a passion. I will forever be inspired by each one of their stories and so honored I was able share this special weekend as one of them.
When I first read about the Medtronic Global Heroes Program early last winter, I immediately rushed to get my application in. The application process seemed straight forward and easy enough to navigate through but I did get a little hung up while reading the rules when I came to the part stating you must have successfully completed a Marathon prior to applying. I had yet to run in any race beyond a half marathon and had never run a distance beyond 15 miles even in training however I was confident I could conquer the 26.2 mile Grandmas Marathon in the spring. Crossing my fingers, I submitted the application hoping Medtronic didn’t process it prior to my finish at Grandmas. I was banking on being able to use my official time from Grandmas marathon to qualify me to run in the Medtronic Twin City’s Marathon as a Global Hero because the TC10 option just didn’t hold the same appeal for me.
I wanted to run fast enough at the Twin Cities Medtronic Marathon for a sub4 finish. No handicap of any kind, just 26.2 miles of pavement as fast as my body would carry me. I wanted to show others suffering from heart disease that so much more is possible then most have been led to believe. I wanted to show the world that heart failure/disease is just a diagnosis that need not stop the race. The typical societal labeling that normally associates Cardiac Patients as fragile and weak need not apply in this miraculous age of medical technologies.
Race day arrived and I barely slept a wink the night before. My best guess is I maybe got 4 hours of sleep, which is a far cry from my normal 8-10 hours of sleep. I was excited but was also nervous. I knew if I went out too fast I would crash and burn long before the finish line and my tendency to do this worried me. Thankfully some of the other Global Heroes were planning to run the same pace as me with the same goal of a sub4 finish.
One of the Heroes, Jeroen Hoorn from the Netherlands, was accompanied by his father Leo Hoorn. Leo is an accomplished marathon runner and normally runs much faster having a PR of 2:56 and over 33 marathons to his credit. Leo was gracious enough run slower in this race just to help pace us to a sub4 finish. I will always be super grateful for Leo’s help. Without it, I most likely would have crashed and burned somewhere in those hills that seemed to never end. I actually met Jaroen only weeks before while I was in the Netherlands. The picture below was taken at my hotel in Amsterdam posing with Jeroen about four weeks before we met again in Minnesota for the race.
The first 18 miles or so of the race was absolutely amazing. Energy seemed to be everywhere including in my legs. The energy emanating from the crowds was intense. I had never experienced anything like this. People were lining both sides of the streets cheering loudly. My legs felt fresher then they had in over three months. All my training seemed to be paying off. For more than half the race I felt like I could have sprinted to the finish. Thankfully Leo kept reminding me to slow down when my pace would start creeping up faster. His steady pacing skills along with all the encouragement he kept handing out was invaluable.
I was completely caught up in the moment and loving everything about it for the first 15-18 miles but then we started into the hills and it was a quick jolt back to reality but with lots of encouragement from Leo, I managed to stick with a steady pace. I concentrated on trying to stay relaxed while lifting, not dragging my feet and focused on taking shorter, faster strides going uphill but eventually I couldn’t ignore the fatigue in my legs. The elated feeling of being able to run forever I experienced throughout the first half quickly faded to a faint memory.
In the beginning the smaller hills seemed easy enough but by mile 22 or so they felt completely out of hand. Every time we came over the rise of a hill, another would appear in front of us. As we continued heading up Summit Avenue my pace dropped 15-20 seconds or more and my leg muscles felt as if they were on fire. I had heard and read a few stories of people who underestimated the hills in this race and failed because of it so I was now wondering if I too had underestimated my ability to maintain the pace. Every hill seemed to be higher and steeper than the last. My brain seemed to do me a favor and shut down; I was no longer seeing the crowds or thinking about how much fun we were having. I became so inwardly focused that I all thoughts of my surroundings disappeared yet doubts of my ability to finish crept in. I pushed myself with all the strength I could find, digging really deep in the process; my body now in a complete state of physical protest. Each step seemed to hurt a little more than the last. I became consciously aware of each step and just did my best to stay focused on taking the next. Finally, we crested over the last hill and I could see the end. The finish line arch and cheering spectators were only about a ¼ mile or so down the hill. The Minnesota State Capitol building loomed in the background and created a very surreal backdrop for it all. As we closed in on the finish line Leo was still right there with us but now he was telling us to run faster. Between the large cheering crowd, Leo’s encouragement and the help of gravity going down a hill for the first time in about five miles, I was able to pick the pace back up as I crossed the finish line. I immediately gave Leo a big hug. I would not have got a sub4 finish without his help. The last miles of the race were humbling and made this point more than obvious to me. In the future, it will serve as a lesson to trust my training and stick to the plan; never start out too fast.
As I slowed to a walk after crossing the finish line, something knocked the wind out of me and it was probably 4-5 minutes before I was able to catch my breath and during that time, I shed a couple tears; the emotions were so overwhelming.
This had been about more just than a race to me and I felt as though I had WON it by a huge margin. After all, I was racing the guy I was yesterday and he never stood a chance. Not even close. This race was the culmination of a commitment I had made to take back my health and my heart and that morning, when my feet hit the starting line, I won.
In the beginning, I only took up running to see if it would help strengthen my heart. Up until that point, I had always thought of running as a chore and wanted nothing to do with running itself; the goal was only to achieve the associated health benefits and when I first started to run, I experienced many fears spawned by the possible consequences to my heart. As a cardiac patient, they were logic fears but those fears always prevented me from experiencing the true joy that running is. To overcome those fears, I had to push beyond the boundaries everyone puts on a cardiac patient but those boundaries are often nothing more than fear and can be overcome as long as we are willing to make the effort.
Each time I pushed a new boundary, I found a new fear. Some were warranted and required a visit to the doctor, while others I was able to work through by studying and self-educating myself to either put the fear to rest or find a way around it. It took me three years and at times it seemed to be an endless process and there were times I wondered if I would ever get through it but in the days leading up to and culminating with this race I realized I had…. I cannot describe how incredibly powerful that feeling was.
Running has now become a major part of my life and part of who I am. I have grown a really strong emotional connection with running I can’t fully explain at this point other than to say running restored my outlook on life as it strengthened my heart, mind and body. It was through running that I was able to turn one of the darkest periods of my life into one of the brightest. I no longer running to strengthen my heart. I run to celebrate the strength of my heart. I run because I love the way my body feels in an excellent state of health and fitness. I run because it clears my mind and gives me time to focus on the things in this world that are actually important to me. I run because it gives me an awesome feeling of freedom and control over my life. I run for the confidence it builds in me and how it continues to reward me through new adventures; all reasons not normally experienced by heart patients. Running is a celebration of my ability to live life to the fullest without getting hung up on boundaries. I plan to run as long as this body is able and allows. No matter which one of us wins in the end, (myself or heart disease), I will never again view myself as a victim of Heart Disease but instead choose to see myself as a victorious conqueror; a man who wasn’t afraid to fight back. This race will always represent a significant turning point in my life and a very emotional one, rightfully so.
Every Medtronic Global Hero is a Pioneer in the world of modern medical technology. They are helping patients to eliminate boundaries that historically accompany a medical diagnosis . They are showing the world that a medical diagnosis doesn’t have to disqualify you from the race. Without these heroes, the world may never have known the possibilities available to us through technology and devices made possible by company’s like Medtronic so I would like to thank the people at Medtronic for what they do, because without medical technologies like theirs, my dreams wouldn’t have been possible.
As a survivor of both Sudden Cardiac Arrest and Congestive Heart Failure, I would never have attempted any of this without the safety backup of my Pacemaker/defibrillator. My ICD keeps a vigilant watch over my heart even if I am not able; always watching, waiting to take over in the event my heart needs help. It’s become an integral part of me and allows me to pursue life with passion despite the damage to my heart.
I truly can’t find words that describe how awesome it was to be selected as one of the 2016 Medtronic Global Heroes nor can I thank Medtronic enough for the opportunity to run in the Medtronic’s Twin Cities Marathon as a 2016 Global Hero. It was an experience I will never forget. So thank you Medtronic…. from the bottom of my heart.