Walk before you run
It would be impolite of me to write about myself, my journey and the running community without giving a formal introduction. Seeing as this is the inaugural post at “Broken Hearted Runner,” I can think of no better time.
My name is Jake. I’m from Washington DC originally, but now live in Charlotte, NC. Aside from running, I also love backpacking, reading, cooking, playing corn hole in the backyard, trivial pursuit and anything else that has a shred of competition. I have an amazing fiancee and a great dog.
Now that some of that basic information is out of the way and we know each other a little better, I think I can tell you the reason I’m writing this blog.
I became an avid runner in October of 2008, but it was a strange path to get to that point. I’ve always been active. I played lacrosse, soccer, baseball, basketball, wrestling, golf, squash and probably some other sports as a kid. In fact, I feel bad for how many practices and games my parents had to take me to. I was always pretty good with athletics. I even played for my college’s lacrosse and golf team. All-in-all I had a great childhood with a tremendous amount of physical activity.
When I was 14 I was diagnosed with an aortic insufficiency, which is essentially a hole in the aortic valve that causes blood to leak. The leak causes the heart to work harder. As it turned out, the heart issue was simply a result of a birth defect–nothing out of the ordinary. I went on living a completely normal life, going to school, playing sports, dating girls, getting into college. The only change in my life was regular appointments with a cardiologist to get EKGs, Echocardiograms and stress tests.
I went off to Kenyon College, a great liberal arts school in Gambier, OH with about 1500 students. While there, I played lacrosse, joined a fraternity, met my future fiancee (soon to be wife) and had a great time. I came home from my freshman year to news that my heart simply couldn’t take it anymore and surgery needed to be done to fix my aorta. I was excited about it. This meant I would be fixed and I wouldn’t have to worry about when surgery would happen.
I had my first surgery on my 19th birthday at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. I came through the surgery without a hitch, but the fix didn’t last as long as everybody thought. This fix was supposed to last at least ten years, but made it only four.
I went back into surgery at 23-years-old. This time, instead of fixing the hole in my aorta the doctors decided it would be best to just replace it altogether. I had the choice between an artificial valve and a tissue valve. The artificial valve would last much longer, but would make me a more sedentary person. The tissue valve would have a shorter lifespan, but I would be free to exercise and backpack if everything went smoothly. I obviously went with option B–the tissue valve.
The fantastic doctors at Carolina Medical Center in Charlotte, NC made it so my heart was quite literally better than it had ever been. It only took three months to have the smallest leak I’ve ever had. The recuperation process was also much easier than the first surgery.
Even though my cardiologist was furious with me, I was back on an elliptical six weeks after surgery and a treadmill eight weeks after.
This started my passion for running. I fell in love with running like I never had before. I thought it was boring unless it was a means to scoring a goal or winning a point. I didn’t realize how challenging running could be, how competitive you can get with yourself and others and how cathartic it is.
I started with a 5-mile race, that turned into a half-marathon and finally I ran my first marathon 15 months after surgery. It was the most amazing feeling. It was a rush of accomplishment, fatigue, relief and pride all at once.
I’m always looking for new ways to enjoy running and new ways to challenge myself. Since that last surgery I’ve gone skydiving, zip-lining and other extreme sports, but nothing has given me the exhilarating feeling running does every day.
So that’s my story. That is how I became a runner. I know everybody has an amazing story about why they chose to run or why they are meant to run. I would love to hear them and anything else you want to share about your accomplishments, journeys or running.