Archive for April, 2015


TEAM JOSHUA ROLLS AGAIN AT BMO VANCOUVER, AND OTHER BIG NEWS

04.30.2015

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If his was a new story it might be easier to write in a way, but it is an amazing story so I guess I am going to to go with that. The simplest part of this story today is that Team Joshua will be running the BMO Vancouver Half Marathon on Sunday May, 3. I am also running the Half so will be catching up with Team Joshua on Sunday morning at the start. This is the fifth time Team Joshua will compete at the BMO Vancouver Marathon events, beginning with the full marathon in 2009, followed by four half marathons including the one coming up on Sunday.

The Vancouver running community is,  or certainly should be, aware of Team Joshua. That would be Michelle Gentis and her young(ish) and now not so very little son, Joshua. Josh is now 14 years of age and a lot bigger than the first time I met him back in 2012 or when they started in 2008. I know some members of our community are aware as we have collectively supported Team Joshua along their journey. There was a RITZ Blog piece a while back that included a segment about a fund-raising event that helped realize a custom racing chair for Josh. This is one of the things I love about the running community – so much support and understanding for everyone who wants to be a part of it. But, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.

I should also say I am not the only one to have written about or covered the story of Team Joshua. Check this Impact story written by Jean Sorenson, another Vancouver runner/writer. For that matter, Team Joshua has a web site that you can find pretty easily, especially if you just click the link included right here. Among other things, you will find a number of media links that tell various parts of this moving story. Still, the story evolves and there is always more to be said and to be inspired by.

Scotiabank Vancouver Half Marathon - 2008

Scotiabank Vancouver Half Marathon – 2008

Not that it would make much difference if it had a name, but Josh has an undiagnosed brain disorder. He is effectively immobile without aid and unable to speak. This is not a new story in that Michelle and Josh began running in 2008 at the Scotiabank Vancouver Half Marathon. As the story has gone, one thing has led to another because this is one big thing that gives Josh such obvious pleasure and Michelle both satisfaction and her own pleasure in being able to give Josh something so simple and good. In Michelle’s own words, when they finished Scotiabank in 2008, “he was squealing with delight”!

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Team Joshua racing to a Boston Qualifier Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon (2013)

Back there a while, Michelle decided that being a pretty darn good runner, she would try to qualify them for Boston. Not many are unaware of Team Hoyt (Dick and son Rick). They were the inspiration for Team Joshua’s dream to qualify for and run the Boston Marathon. Although Team Joshua has had a lot of supporters along the way she has a special spot for Jerry Ziak of Forerunners. Jerry provided the coaching support that got Team Joshua to that all important BQ time.

Even though the qualifying time was done at The Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, while pushing Josh’s racing chair, it turned out that NO competitor under the age of 18 is allowed in the Boston Marathon. I personally understand why no runner under 18 can run, but the runner is clearly well over the age of 18! Apparently, there is still some small amount of conversation that continues on the subject, but for now this seems to be kind of a settled matter. And just in case you are wondering, there is no ‘special BQ’ if you are pushing a chair, racing or otherwise. BQ is a BQ – period. With good reason, Michelle worries that physics will make it pretty hard to BQ as Josh gets older and heavier and reaches the magic age of 18. I understand that Michelle’s racing weight is about 120lb. The ratio of she to he will soon be the opposite of what it was when Team Joshua began. Don’t care how good those bearings are, she will be pushing a weight WHILE trying to run a BQ.

Well, it seems that is what the Boston Athletics Association thinks – no entry for Team Joshua right now. I would offer them some unsolicited advice though: Save yourself some time and trouble on this and just give them the entry they earned. You’ll be glad you did. You may or may not have realized that as kind and lovely as Michelle may seem on the outside, inside you are dealing with the spirit of a Mama Grizzly Bear!

How do I know this? Well, Michelle already has a plan to put Boston at the back end of a rather impressive list of six fairly well known marathons: Chicago, New York City, Berlin, London, Tokyo and finally Boston. That’s right folks! Team Joshua is taking on the Marathon Majors, starting with Chicago. So tell me, when Team Joshua has completed five of six of the Majors, what are the good folks at BAA going to say then?

And HOW do I know this Marathon Majors project is going to go so terrifically? Well that is the “Big News” of the title. Just this week it was confirmed that the Bank of America Chicago Marathon has accepted Team Joshua for this year’s race. That didn’t happen without some effort either, but the Race Director, Carey Pinkowski, worked with his race team to review the earlier policy of NO WHEEL CHAIRS and will institute a trial program for this year including Team Joshua and five others. None of this is going to be inexpensive, so when Aon (Chicago) stepped up to sponsor the efforts of Team Joshua, things came together in a big way!

When writing about stuff like this, or any personal running story it is hard to know where to go, what to say, and for that matter what not to say.

Happy BQ Team

Happy BQ Team

Come Sunday, I hope that lots of runners will recognize Team Joshua, say ‘hi’ and maybe run along for a bit. I was thinking I might just run with them myself, but then I realized they would have to slow down so I can keep up! I am sure, from what Michelle tells me, that Josh is going to have a wonderful time out there and will once again love crossing the finish line and getting his finisher’s medal. Any of us who are around at the time will surely celebrate with Josh and Michelle. And then, we will go home. Team Joshua will go home too. The difference is that, as much fun as Sunday will be, Josh will still be, in Michelle’s words, “profoundly disabled”. They will go on with the rest of life, a life that has so many more challenges than having a racing chair that enables Michelle to move them quickly from start to finish.

When I personally met Josh, he was about ten. Now he is fourteen and moving into higher levels of learning. He is having difficulty with his school situation and it is apparently clear that it saddens him. Acceptance at age 14 is everything. Someone with the challenges Josh faces winds up in a category of his own. Part of what drives Michelle is this broader situation that faces Josh and all people with disabilities. While there is no doubt her cause is personal, she also wants to use it as a form of advocacy. She has told me that another inspiration is the Power to Push project of Shaun Evans (ultra runner) and his son Shamus (cerebral palsy) and their cross country run this summer to raise awareness.

Why shouldn’t people like Josh and Shamus have the pleasure of physical and other achievements? Maybe Josh doesn’t communicate like the rest of us, but I’ve seen him and trust me, Josh CAN communicate how he is feeling. Maybe he doesn’t actually run these races but his joy in participating is just as great, maybe more, as compared to the able bodied. Why shouldn’t he be able to feel this joy? Happily, and some of the time, running is just what the doctor ordered! But, it is more. It is symbolic of acceptance in life as a whole. Why just running? Why not everything in general? Oh, there is no doubt it might look different on the surface, but being fully involved is what counts.

Acceptance. That is what it is about. Acceptance. That is all Team Joshua is seeking.

IS IT BMO VANCOUVER MARATHON TIME AGAIN?

04.28.2015
Runners Running 2013

Runners Running 2013

Well, you know I wouldn’t have asked the question if it wasn’t!

Actually, it technically isn’t for me. I am running the Half Marathon this time. Some may have noted that I got me a ‘bionic’ eye a while back and that procedure knocked a good three weeks out of my critical training time. Too much for preparing for the full marathon and I’m not interested in one more less than stellar (everything is relative – stellar for me) marathon result. Timing was even a bit short for the Half but OK.

I am really looking forward to getting to the start with those thousands of other eager participants. Some will be there to make a statement. Most of them will be lined up right at the front. However, there will be a good number of first timers, I’m sure, and they too will be making a statement of their own, regardless of what their times may be or whether it is the Half or the Full Marathon. First is always First and it is always special. By the way, there is still time to register!

As usual, there will be a fine crew of elite runners and I’ll be off to get a first-hand look at them come Friday. May be more on that later.

Even if I’m not running the full marathon, it doesn’t mean I’m not excited about it. No, sir! In fact, it is not certain that I will EVER run another marathon, but that doesn’t change its place in my heart. There is just something about the distance and the challenge it represents. And, while any marathon is special, Vancouver was my first and I’ve done it five times on three different courses. As a result, it has an extra special, special place in my heart.

Just got  me into something new this week. Some will know that I have been a Marathon Maniac for a couple of years now. I recently, really recently, became a Half Fanatic as well. Let me rephrase that. I have had the qualifications for a while, but I just recently joined the group.  Is that just too much crazy running obsessiveness for you? No? Well then you will be pleased to hear that for those nuts enough to run enough half and full marathons to qualify for both, you can now be a Double Agent! People have talked about it for some while, but it is now OFFICIAL! The Vancouver Half Marathon will actually be the first of a series of half marathons that will spruce up both my Half Fanatic AND Double Agent status!! And, just in case anyone is curious about all this, the criteria for certification are totally based on quantity. Oh, there are Maniacs and Fanatics who are mighty fine runners, but to get into either group all you need to do is finish the prescribed number of events over a range of time (days, weeks, months, etc). There are now over 11,000 members in each group.

OK, so back to the BMO Vancouver Marathon. A big advantage of running the Half is that no matter how fast those elite marathoners are, I am going to be at the finish before they are and I will get to see them finishing. With the newish finish, should there be a foot-race to the line, it will be possible to see it happening. When the finish was up Pender, onto Burrard and then back along Hastings, there was only about 1-200m between first appearance of the lead runner and the actual finish.

To be honest, this is a bit of an ‘advance notice’. There is an exciting post coming later in the week and I’m hoping a few of you will watch for it. Most importantly, it isn’t about me, and may not even be BY me!

Stay tuned. I think you will be glad you did.

WILL POWER CAN MAKE THINGS HAPPEN – WALLY HILD

04.09.2015

EDITOR’S NOTE: Our friend and Running in the Zone (book) contributor, passed from this world a few days ago. Knowing him was an honour and privilege and an inspiration when you know his story. I could think of no better way to celebrate Wally’s life than to reproduce his RITZ contribution here on the blog. We will miss you Wally.

Wally Hild

Wally Hild

In February of 1994, I was told I was dying of Hodgkin’s disease, a lymphatic cancer. Oncologist Dr. Jack Chritchley explained the four stages of the disease and said I was at 3-B, almost at the final stage, which was 4 and would be terminal without treatment.  Many of my internal organs were compromised by cancer including my spleen and lymph nodes. I’d lost over 20 pounds, my weight dropping from 162 to 140. I had two baseball-sized tumors in my chest, one behind each lung. It hurt to breathe.  Dr. Chritchley told me, without treatment, I had less than one year to live.

After a month of invasive tests and procedures, he sentenced me to eight months of harsh and very ‘aggressive’ chemotherapy. Aggressive means you throw up a lot and lose all of your hair. As well, Dr. Chritchley told me there were no guarantees that the treatment would be successful. I had to put all my trust into my faith, my family and friends as well as him, to help get me through the difficult and black days that were in front of me.

Looking back in retrospect, it is interesting, even fateful, how different parts of a life fit together like two jigsaw pieces. It was during my chemo protocol that my wife Caroline and I ended up watching our very first Ironman Canada triathlon, which is held in Penticton each August. We had moved to the Okanagan from southern Alberta the previous autumn. The valley is Canada’s version of Napa Valley in California where many different kinds of fruits and grapes grow abundantly.

Six months into my chemotherapy I could barely walk for more than 10 minutes without having to stop and rest. I was totally bald and because sunshine is dangerous to chemo patients, and with the daytime temperatures rising as high as 40 Celsius, staying covered was a formidable task for me. In my tattered straw hat, long-sleeved cotton shirt and loose fitting jeans, I looked like someone who had his seasons confused.

As I stood there there on the beach in Penticton at 7 a.m. I could not believe what I was seeing as almost two thousand triathletes from many countries around the globe hit the water for the 2.4 mile swim. It was like a divine inspiration that came over me, but my eyes teared up as I turned to Caroline and in a choking voice said, “I’m going to do this someday.” I so desperately wanted to live and I felt that wrapping an anchor chain around something like Ironman might help.  By blurting out that seemingly irrational statement, I’d given myself authority to take my healing into my own hands.

Through my faith, the support and encouragement of my family and friends and the expertise of Dr. Chritchley and the team of cancer professionals, I survived the treatments, which can be as harsh as the cancer itself. I thought of Friedrich Neitzsche’s observation: “that which does not kill me, makes me stronger.”

In September of 1995 I decided to train for the 1996 Ironman Canada Triathlon.  Caroline and I met with Dave Bullock, a director of the race and a previous two-time finisher. For three hours we interrogated him about what it takes to finish such an arduous event. I came away from the meeting with a new enthusiasm for taking on the challenge.

I met with Dr. Chritchley a few days later to undergo a rigorous cardio-pulmonary function stress examination to determine if the chemotherapy had caused any irreparable damage to my internal organs, especially my heart and lungs. It was not a routine test but because I had met with him for his input into my desire to do the race, he ordered the evaluation. I asked him if I was crazy to attempt it. With the usual twinkle in his eye, he said, “You’ve come through an Ironman-type medical procedure.  Go for it.”  He told me the examination showed no damage from the chemotherapy and I was thrilled when he gave me “thumbs up” after the test.

On August 25, 1996, just after 11:30 p.m., I crossed the finish line to achieve the greatest goal of my life. I’d blown out my right knee during the bike portion and had to walk the marathon leg of the triathlon. I was on the course for 16 hours, 34 minutes and 17 seconds.  With tears of joy, I collapsed into the arms of my wife Caroline, daughter Jodi and son Chris as I passed beyond the tape. We’d all experienced something that would profoundly change the way we looked at life.

I knew from that day that I would be physically active for the rest of my life. Buoyed by the Ironman finish, I kept a modicum of fitness by occasionally running 10K races and became more interested in training for a marathon. I’d read books by Joe Henderson and Jeff Galloway, which helped in my decision to train for the 26.2 mile odyssey.

But as they say, the best laid plans of… well you know the rest of the story. I started the Okanagan Marathon in Kelowna in October 1999 but after 14 miles, I had to drop out of the race.  Eight months earlier, while playing in a no-contact old-timers hockey tournament where there was to be no body-checking, a Neanderthal on the other team who obviously hadn’t read the no body checking rules (or couldn’t read) nailed me with an NHL-style hip check.  He sent me flying through the air.  I crash-landed on my right knee, damaging the meniscus.  It was the same one injured during Ironman.

The incident forced me to evaluate the sports love of my life. I’d been playing hockey before Wayne Gretzky was born, but the orthopedic surgeon who examined my knee and performed the arthroscopic repair told me bluntly, “Hockey and marathon training have nothing in common. You’ll have to choose which one you want to do. It’s one or the other – unless you like lying here with me poking holes in your knee.”

Late that Fall I made the tough decision to prepare for the 2000 Peach City Marathon the following May. It was difficult and I regretfully hung up my skates for a season. I apologized to them each time I passed them in the basement room where I stored all my athletic equipment. I lovingly fondled my hockey stick whenever my wife wasn’t looking.

But, my decision had been made.  I garnered as much information from books and friends who were much better runners than I and began my winter training. The  second item I bought after a new pair of runners was a heart rate monitor. I was to run at no faster than 130 beats per minute, which was 70 percent of my maximum heart rate.

With my mind overflowing with information and inspiration, my watch on my left wrist and heart monitor receiver on my right, I set out on my 24 week regimen. I’d never used a monitor before and was shocked at how slowly I had to run to stay in my target zone.

I can walk faster than this I thought to myself. But I persisted and was on my way to running five days a week with one swimming session thrown in for good measure. My goal was to finish the marathon in 4:45.

Penticton is known for mild winters, but below freezing temperatures and some snow are assured even though the season is not nearly as severe or lengthy as that experienced in most Canadian provinces and northern US States. As it got colder through December and January, one of Dr. Chritchley’s prophesies came true. He’d told me that because chemotherapy is accumulative and does not dissipate as a prescribed medicine might over time, I had suffered permanent side-effects from the drugs in my fingertips and toes. I could no longer tolerate the cold as I once was able to growing up in the prairies of Alberta where the mercury could plummet to -40 degrees. The nerve endings and capillaries in all 20 digits were in danger of freezing quickly. It was dangerous for me to be in cold weather without adequate apparel.

I asked Dr. Chritchley if he could give me a prescription to live in Hawaii or southern California, which to my surprise he said he could do. However, a follow-up phone call to the American Consulate in Vancouver soon dashed any hopes of a move to where palm trees blow and the only ice you find is in the freezer.

On some of the colder days, I had to wear two pair of gloves and heavy wool socks in my runners. When it was just too miserable, I ran indoors at the city’s community center, which I disliked. Running on a treadmill is clinical and I sweated profusely. Without the wind, I was drenched within twenty minutes.

In early January, I woke up one morning with flu-like symptoms.  I coughed and dragged my butt for a few days but continued to run in spite of my discomfort. I increased my intake of vitamins and Echinacea to help boost my immune system and carried on.

The rest of January passed relatively smoothly and before I knew it, February was nearing a close. In spite of the inclement weather, I was able to run mostly outdoors. The valley where I live is situated north-south so I often ran face-first into wet snow. My cough lingered and my lungs were sore as I sucked in the cold air. In the shower, I cried out in pain as my frozen fingers and toes thawed under the stinging hot water, which felt like millions of tiny needles were being rifled into my digits. On such days, I thought back to my cancer battle and remember how I vowed to never quit believing I could win it.  So it was with my marathon training.  I promised to let nothing stand in my way and just grimaced as another toe thawed out.

As winter gave way to spring, I was able to discard some of the layers of clothing making me finally look like more like a runner than a displaced Eskimo high on the fumes of old, unwashed hockey jerseys. Once the temperatures hit into the 20’s, I finally changed into stripped down to shorts and just a single T-shirt.

Slowly I began to see the positive results of training with the heart rate monitor. After three months, I was going nearly a quarter-mile farther in a 50 minute run at the same pulse rate. It was still too slow for me, but I pressed on.

Although four business trips to Vancouver and Victoria put me several long runs behind schedule, I was able to stick to most of my running program. I took my gear with me on each trip and was able to at least do the shorter 8 to 12 mile runs called for by my program.

By the time the cherry, apricot and apple blossoms had burst into full bloom in early May, I had shaken off the cold and was feeling great. My runs between the orchards and vineyards were exhilarating as I drank in the fragrance from the white and pink petals lining the road. Bathed in glorious sunshine, I ran along the east side of the mountain, a thousand feet above the city, the valley spread out below me.

Three weeks before the marathon, I received an interesting proposal from the sales manager at the radio station where I worked. “Do you think you could do an on-location broadcast while you’re running? Peach City Runners would like you to do a play-by-play as you’re doing the race. It’s never been done on radio before. We’ll give you a hands-free cell phone with a special microphone and earpiece.”

“It’s a cool idea”, I said, not really thinking about the ramifications and agreed to do it.  My stomach began to tighten because there was no turning back from the decision I’d made. I had to shake the thought out of my head that I may have bitten off more than I could chew.  The days quickly passed and before I knew it, it was Sunday May 21st, race day.  On the Friday before, I’d awakened with a sore throat and by Saturday morning it had morphed into a head cold.

On Sunday morning my nose was running faster than I could at the best of times. My head was swimming and the floor seemed to undulate under my shaky legs. I knew, however, I could not drop out at the last moment. I sucked back another glass of orange juice, ate a bowl of porridge, popped a couple of Echinacea capsules and just after 6 a.m., headed out of the door with my wife Caroline.

It was slightly overcast and 15 degrees (59F). Caroline kissed me goodbye and at 7 o’clock, the gun went off, signaling the start of the race. I was near the end of the pack and it was a good thing.

With my dripping nose and gritted teeth, my goal was to get from aid station to aid station, situated two miles apart. Caroline had agreed to bring the cell phone to me by car just before 8:30 when the radio broadcast was to begin. The remote broadcast was to end at noon, and I was hoping to be at the finish line by then. I was to do four cut-ins per hour.  When the phone rang, I stopped running and walked while I reported on the race.

As the miles slowly melted away under my red and white runners, the phone progressively got heavier. My breathing became more laboured as I spoke. But, I kept up my excitement about Peach City Runners to give them the best I could under the circumstances. Of the thousand or so remote broadcasts I’d done over a 32-year career in radio and TV, I’d never before done one where I was panting and breathing hard – until that date.  At about mile 18, I began to struggle and happened upon a runner who appeared to be hurt. He told me his name was Ed, and that he lived in Vancouver.  We shook hands and agreed to help each other finish the race, especially when it came to the hilly portion of this particular marathon. By 11 a.m. The sun was directly over us and the famous Okanagan heat began to take it’s toll. I increased my intake of Gatorade and water. My thighs and shins were burning as we walked and jogged north, toward the finish line where the Voice of Ironman, Steve King, was welcoming the tired and spent finishers.

At 11:30, Ed and I were still three miles away from the tape and I knew I would not make the noon finish. I did my last radio cut-in at 11:50 with the beach in sight. On the air, I thanked Steve Brown, the owner of Peach City Runners for the opportunity to do the remote but signed off with, “please don’t ask me to do this again.”

Ed and I hobbled through our collective pain and crossed the finish line together with a time of 5:17. Caroline held me up as I received my Finishers Medal and jacket. I hugged Ed and thanked him for his support and motivation.

As I lay on the foam table, getting my sun-burned and aching legs massaged, I squeezed Caroline’s hand and smiled weakly at her. I had achieved another goal; conquered another challenge. There would likely be another marathon sometime in the future, but I knew that afternoon, I could enjoy what I had accomplished.  I was so very grateful that I was alive to enjoy the aches and pains of stepping outside my comfort zone.

My life has never been the same since my cancer experience. I’ve taken on challenges that in the past, might have seemed insurmountable. There are no mountains in my life anymore. I now have the desire, confidence and fortitude to achieve anything that I want.  My wife will attest to that.

When I come home excited with the idea of something I want to do, she now simply rolls her eyes upward, and with a forced smile, says, OK, go for it.

The only thing stopping me from achieving my goals is me.  And believe me, I’m getting out of my way!