Deep desire drives runners


The quizzical faces were not unexpected as Michelle Gentis went on a 25-kilometre training run two weeks ago around UBC and down to Spanish Banks.

Perched in the seat of the three-wheeled jogger she was pushing was a 60-pound bag of concrete.

“I got some funny looks,” she admits. “Some people probably figured it out, though, and gave me the thumbs up.”

On Sunday, the 43-year-old single mom from Vancouver will ditch the concrete, strap her 60-pound, disabled eight year-old, Joshua, into the customized jogger and run the Vancouver Marathon.

For elite runners, the gruelling 42.2-kilometre race is all about pounding the pavement in pursuit of a best time. For people like Gentis and heart transplant recipient David Kroening, the motivations go far deeper.

Gentis, an occasional jogger most of her life, began running seriously in January, 2006. She was desperate to ease the stresses and demands of caring and advocating for Joshua, who has an undiagnosed brain disorder that affects neurological functions. He can neither walk, nor talk and needs help to do just about everything.

“Running is not an option,” she says of caring for her own health. “It’s a non-negotiable part of my life.”

She ran her first marathon in October, 2006. Last year, inspired by two fathers who pushed their disabled children in long-distance events, she used a borrowed, oversized jogger to push Joshua in the Scotiabank Half Marathon in Vancouver.

“He loved it,” said Gentis. “He’s very communicative even though he’s unable to talk. When we came to the finish line, his arms were out swinging back and forth and he was squealing at the top of his lungs.”

Afterwards, she launched an e-mail campaign to raise $2,000 for an ergonomically correct jogger to use in this year’s marathon. The response was overwhelming, generating $6,000, including $2,000 from the Kinsmen Foundation. The surplus will go towards therapeutic horseback riding sessions for Joshua and other needs.

Gentis, who believes she will be the first woman to complete a marathon pushing a child, says she hopes her determination to share a sporting experience with Joshua will encourage other parents of disabled children. But it goes beyond that.

“Families with disabled children, they’re pulling out heroic efforts daily just to care for their children, just to have them bathed, to have them fed, to have them in clean clothes in a well-functioning household.

“People don’t know how much it takes . . . so if you know a family with a disabled child, offer to take out their garbage once a month, or bring over a meal, or wash their car. And there’s an element of loneliness, so just including them if you go to a movie . . . It’s kind of grass roots, me getting out there and involved. And part of that is saying ‘Let us join you.’ ”

Kroening, 49, of Sherwood Park, Alta., is running the marathon eight months after he became the first heart transplant recipient to complete an Ironman triathlon, covering the 3.8K swim, 180K bike ride and marathon at Penticton in 15 hours, 33 minutes.

He got his new heart 23 years ago and ran his first marathon early in 2008.

Kroening says he’s fortunate not to have experienced any of the complications suffered by many heart transplant recipients and feels blessed to be able to show what can be accomplished.

“Organ donations work and I’m living proof of that,” he says. “I want to raise that awareness.”

It’s believed the marathon record for a heart transplant recipient is 3:45.

“I would really like to come in under that,” says Kroening, who ran a 4:15 in the Red Deer Marathon last year. “That’s a big time to cut off, but I think I can do it, as long as my legs will hold.”

(original post by the Vancouver Sun)

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