February 21, 2014

The Cowtown runners share their stories

Dennis Lynch’s first 26.2-mile haul will be one of the more unique journeys Sunday. Lynch is blind. “I wanted to show people that blind folks can do sports, too,” said Lynch, 30. “We just need a little help from a guide.”

The annual Cowtown begins Saturday morning with 5K and 10Ks starting and finishing at the Will Rogers Memorial Center. The half, ultra and full marathons follow on Sunday. Between the two days, more than 28,000 competitors are expected to take part. They each have their own personal Gumpian stories of why they push their minds and bodies to the edge.

Blind journey

Dennis Lynch’s first 26.2-mile haul will be one of the more unique journeys Sunday.

Lynch is blind.

“I wanted to show people that blind folks can do sports, too,” said Lynch, 30. “We just need a little help from a guide.”

Jon Meyers, his guide, will hold one end of a 6-inch rope. Lynch will hold the other. He’ll also wear a shirt identifying him as blind.

Meyers is charged with telling Lynch to move left or right to avoid people and how to get water on the course.

Lynch’s preparation has included treadmill runs of 4 and 5 miles two to three times a week. More recently he and Meyers have taken to the streets.

“It’s a little bit different than the gym,” Lynch said.

Lynch is an assembly worker at the Lighthouse for the Blind in Fort Worth, a nonprofit whose mission is to assist blind people to achieve economic self-sufficiency.

Last year’s Boston Marathon had 40 blind runners registered.

Lynch won’t be the only blind marathon competitor. An older friend of 60 and a regular runner will also be competing.

“I’m a youngster,” said Lynch, who also plays baseball. “If he beats me, I’m going to be feeling pretty bad.”

Cheating death

Two years ago, Andy Duncan, 46, couldn’t find a doctor who thought he’d leave the hospital alive after a six-month stay dealing with the worst-case scenario of pancreatitis.

But Duncan, a second-grade teacher at Worth Heights Elementary School, cheated death.

He’s reclaimed his life, taking one step at a time in his running shoes.

Duncan today is healthy as a horse.

He’ll be part of a group from Trident Sports Fort Worth, taking part in the Cowtown half marathon.

“Doctors kept telling my family that guys don’t survive with this degree, this severity of it,” said Duncan, a native of New Orleans who spent his high school years in Abilene. “That people don’t even have their pancreas attached at this point.

“I came out of there with a different gratitude for life.”

His path to long-distance runner started almost immediately when he was released in December 2012.

Duncan and his sister would walk along the Trinity. Then he’d run a few feet and increase the distance to between the emergency contact signs that dot the trail.

By February, he was in the Cowtown 5K, where he ran 2 miles of the 3.2.

He’s training for the Ironman 70.3 in Galveston in April.

“I’m hoping that no paramedics are involved in my races,” Duncan joked. “With my past my goal is basically to finish.”

Honoring a friend

Running marathons to Timberly Erickson of Fort Worth is like waking in the morning after a night out on the town.

It’s the last thing you want to do.

But at the behest of her friend Iris Stagner, Erickson, 40, finally ran and completed her only one, in Grand Forks, N.D., in May 2012.

“She talked me into a lot of stuff, like the marathon, which I had no desire to do,” said Erickson, who will run the half marathon on Sunday. “She would always say, ‘Don’t you think one day, you’ll wish you had run a marathon?’ I said, ‘No, not at all.’

“She said, ‘Well, whenever you want to do one, I’ll do it with you.’ ”

The Montana native ran it in 4 hours, 3 minutes, 2 seconds. Stagner ran it in 4:03.01, qualifying for last year’s Boston Marathon.

Stagner, in the land side of the oil and gas business, didn’t make it to Boston. She was killed in September when her bike was struck by a motor vehicle while she was crossing a bridge over the Brazos River in Palo Pinto County.

Her daughter, Felicia Scott, ran in her place in Boston but didn’t finish because of the terrorist bombing. She’ll return in April.

On Sunday, Erickson, who has a personal best of 1:54.52, will honor her friend by running with Scott in the half marathon. The goal is a personal record for Scott.

They’ll hit Joe T. Garcia’s afterward.

“That was one of Iris’ traditions,” Erickson said.

Seeking challenges

It’s hard to say no to the boss, and when your boss is the mayor ...

“Last year, they asked me to commit to riding every day with the mayor in the Tour de Fort Worth,” said Brandon Bennett, Fort Worth’s director of code compliance, alluding to Mayor Betsy Price’s initiative to ride 21 miles every day during the annual Tour de France.

“I said sure. What I didn’t know was that one of the days was the Mayor’s Triathlon. I’d never done a triathlon in my life. I was like, ‘Ah ’ ”

Ill-equipped and with “steel Huffy mountain bike” in tow, Bennett honored his commitment and was hooked.

He’ll do his first Ironman this year.

Always a runner, he said, Bennett will do the Cowtown half on Sunday, though there won’t be any personal records this year.

Bennett will be running 10 days after having his appendix removed. Doctors told him to give it a week after surgery and begin running to where he was comfortable.

“I told them I had the Cowtown coming up,” said Bennett, whose son and daughter will also run. “I was hoping to run a fairly decent time; they said, ‘Well, that ain’t happening.’ My body is still fixing itself.

“But I’ve got to run it. My daughter is planning to beat me this year.”

Long-distance running is a relatively new addition for Bennett, who started increasing his mileage because he was looking for new challenges.

It’s also a good reason to travel to other cities and meet new people.

“No matter what marathons you do in a year, this is your hometown marathon, and it becomes a tradition,” Bennett said. “You remember the cold years, the hot years, the windy years.

“You see the same people year after year, and though you might only see them once a year, you recognize them from previous races. It’s just as much for the health and competitive aspects as it is the social.”

Lifestyle change

Fort Worth native Flavio Duran, 42, followed his wife into the marathon pastime.

“I followed her footsteps,” Duran said of his wife, Julie, who ran her first in 2010.

The appeal wasn’t merely to tag along.

Rather, Duran needed a change in lifestyle to deal with a diagnosis of diabetes 10 years earlier.

He weighed 280 pounds and there appeared to be no upside.

“I wasn’t getting any better,” said Duran, a graduate of Fort Worth’s Wyatt High School who works in facility management at Target. “It was make a change or face the major issues. I lost a lot of weight, and I’ve learned to manage my weight.”

Duran is down almost 80 pounds and lives with a new vitality that enables him to keep up with 9-year-old twins.

A training and workout regimen with a group at Trident Fort Worth includes three days of running between 26 and 30 miles total and a bike or swim day. Duran is prepping for a full triathlon.

Duran crossed the finish line of his first marathon in 2011 in 4:45.

He ran in Cowtown’s ultra marathon last year.

The goal this year is four hours.

The goal: to finish

Kristian Stone figuratively ran around the world as a cop in the U.S. Navy.

Now she wants to really do it. Stone told herself that, by George, she intended to run a marathon by the end of the year.

Pursuit of that objective will continue after less than two months of training with a jaunt in the half marathon on Sunday.

She has yet to run 13.1 miles.

“I’ve always wanted to do it,” said Stone, who has since transferred her skill set in security to a corporate setting working for G4S Secure Solutions. “I’ve never had the drive or motivation to do it.”

But she found it at Trident Sports Fort Worth.

“I think it was the group setting. The accountability, knowing someone was waiting for me.”

The Nacogdoches native (she ran cross country in high school) who now lives in Mansfield completed the nine-mile Dallas Hot Chocolate race. She finished but not without some trouble.

Cramping was an issue.

Trainer Tim Tarpley of Trident has increased Stone’s run time by 10 minutes a week after starting at 50 minutes.

She’s up to 90 minutes.

“My goal is to finish,” said Stone, who added that the time she has in mind is 3:30.

Her sights are set on the Disney Marathon in January.

“It’s been tough. It was not easy; mental warfare,” Stone said. “But I’m a lot stronger mentally than I thought I was.”

Running strong

If you’ve already run a marathon in a war zone, would a tumor growing inside the heart scare you?

That’s the seemingly scary medical condition facing Fort Worth resident Steve Johnson, but he’s unconcerned about it affecting him in the 26.2-mile Cowtown on Sunday.

He’s already run two marathons with no diminished effect since the first of the year.

“It hasn’t caused me any problems yet,” said Johnson, 67. “There is no imminent danger, but it will get bigger.”

He’ll eventually have open-heart surgery later this year or early next year to take care of it.

“I’m trying to postpone it until my season is over in November.”

In addition to a career in the insurance industry, Johnson is a retired Navy man.

He was mobilized for a tour in Iraq in 2006 at age 59. There he ran a marathon in the Green Zone.

It was the Navy that started him running. He wanted to earn a place on a SEAL team.

Johnson has run as many as seven marathons in a year. He plans on only one more, at the Pikes Peak in Colorado in August.

Otherwise, he’ll be focusing on Ironman Texas and Arizona.

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