Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sat, 8 Jun 2002 09:38:41 -0400

Good Bad News


There are no total strangers among our fellow racers. Even when we don't know them by face and name, we know what they did to get to the starting line, what they'll do to finish and how they'll feel afterward.

When they triumph, we celebrate with them. And when they hurt, we suffer with them.

I know no strangers at the races but get to know some runners better than others. One is Jose Nebrida.

We have lots of chances to meet, as we did four times in the past year -- and twice this April alone -- while Jose added to his marathon count. It's now well past 100.

Philippines-born Jose, now living in Chicago, assigned himself a new mission last fall. That was to run a marathon in every state while carrying the flag of his adopted country.

If you've run any marathon since September 2001, you might know Jose by sight if not name. When not running, his clothing separates him from the crowd of casually dressed runners as he wears a business suit and tie to the expo and pasta dinner. His style and smile brighten every event he attends.

He was about a quarter of the way through his 50-state flag-bearing tour when I last saw him. As race announcer I called his name and praised his effort at the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon finish line.

Soon afterward I had to rush off to catch a plane. I left town unaware of the drama unfolding behind me that day. It involved 60-year-old Jose.

The news was slow to reach me, but no less painful than it would have been that same afternoon. More than a month later the news was as good as it could have been for a story that had started so badly.

The best part is that Jose himself is here to tell about it. That isn't often the case with such incidents.

Here, mostly in his own words, are the details. His is a cautionary tale for anyone who still labors under the illusion that running marathons, even multiple ones in quick succession, grants full immunity to heart disease.

JOSE NEBRIDA had a heart attack soon after finishing the marathon in Oklahoma City. If this had to happen, he picked a time and place that gave him his best possible chance for survival and recovery.

"I was feeling healthy and strong crossing the finish line at the Oklahoma City," he told me a month later. "I was very happy to hear my name announced and the cheers of the crowd."

His symptoms began a half-hour later. "In the bus back to my hotel," he said, "I started to feel dizzy and nauseated, and vomited many times."

Jose felt faint as he showered, and worse at the airport. Some good luck came when he learned that his flight was delayed indefinitely by a storm in Chicago. Otherwise he might have been in the air and out of touch with immediate medical help.

As he waited, his condition worsened still more. "I was feeling lousy all over," he recalled, "and I asked someone from the airline to please call an ambulance for me and take me to the nearest hospital. The emergency doctor told me that I'd had a heart attack."

Jose described the next day as "the loneliest, saddest and scariest day of my life -- until my wife Elizabeth came and had me transferred to another hospital. "The doctors there found three blockages in my arteries. One was 100 percent blocked and the other two, 85 percent."

He required triple-bypass surgery. Afterward he asked his doctors why a veteran of 122 marathons would have a heart attack.

"They said that I could not select my parents, that I had bad genes. If I had not run marathons, I might have been dead 10 years ago."

Jose's plan to carry the flag through all 50 states is only delayed, not dropped. "I'll be back," he promised recently. Then he quoted the Robert Frost poem that ends, "... and miles to go before I sleep."

For him that means running the remaining 39 states "to honor the victims and heroes of September 11th." I hope you'll see him somewhere and know what he went through to get there.

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