OKC Memorial Marathon: He only has one lung but three marathon finishes
Greg Gerardy looked pretty much like every other runner in the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon.
Brightly colored shirt. Running shorts. Cushioned shoes.
Except for the black tape on his shirt.
It spelled out a message -- 1 LUNG'r. It was his way of telling the world -- or at least everyone at the race Sunday -- he was running the marathon with only one functioning lung.
That, my friends, is anything but standard.
"It's very hard," Gerardy said after finishing the Memorial Marathon for the third consecutive year. "They said it wasn't possible. I guess I'm redefining what is possible, redefining our limits."
On a day where stories of inspiration are everywhere you turn, no one had a more encouraging tale than Gerardy. He turned a dire diagnosis into a life filled with joy and energy and hope.
More than 20 years ago, Gerardy was diagnosed with cancer. It was a highly aggressive and invasive tumor that started in his neck along his spine. Instead of a mass, the cancer spread like a vine, tentacles growing along the nerves.
It paralyzed his right diaphragm, leaving his right lung unable to expand or contract.
Over the years, he would get treatment, get surgery, get healthy, only to have the cancer return. He doesn't even remember how many trips he made to MD Anderson, the renowned cancer center in Houston. And still, after a decade of fighting and dealing with various related issues, his right lung capacity was essentially gone.
It was devastating for a guy who'd been athletic and active throughout much of his life. He was even part of the water skiing team when he was a student at Oklahoma State.
Gerardy had stayed active through the early years of his cancer, but once his lung capacity was cut in half eight or nine years ago, he hit a wall.
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"That really kind of knocked me on my butt," he said. "Probably went through a little stage of depression there for a while, too."
But Gerardy believes a major issue were the limits he thought he had. No running. No biking. No getting outside and doing the things he'd always loved.
It was what doctors and others had told him, anyway.
"I bought into that for a long time," he said.
He put on weight. He became unhappy. When he started going through a divorce three years ago, he realized something had to change. He found stress relief in running, even though he wasn't going very far very fast.
He couldn't even run the length of a house without having to stop and catch his breath.
But slowly and steadily, he dropped some weight and added some endurance.
A month before the 2017 Memorial Marathon, Gerardy thought about signing up for his hometown race but wasn't sure he could go 26.2 miles. He went out one weekend to test his limits. He made it 20 miles.
A few weeks later, he completed his first marathon.
"It was slow," Gerardy said with a laugh, "but I got through it."
Near as he can tell, he's one of about half a dozen people with one lung to ever complete a full marathon. The difficulty is understandable — an endurance race is tough for able-bodied runners, so imagine running for five hours when you have only 56 percent of your normal lung capacity — but the rarity is rich.
A dozen people have been on the moon, more than have finished a marathon with one lung.
Perhaps it won't surprise you Gerardy also does triathlons. He completed the Redman here in Oklahoma City last fall, and as far as he knows, he is the only person with one lung to complete the swim-bike-run race at the Ironman distance.
One of Gerardy's friends once told him, "You're the healthiest sick person I know."
Currently, Gerardy is cancer free, but he has endured so many relapses he knows the chance of another is possible. Without a cure for his strain, he is always getting scanned and monitored.
"I feel pretty blessed that the doctors have been able to keep me somewhat normal and functional," the 47-year-old said. "I can maintain a normal life to the point that most people don't even know I have issues."
But for that black-tape message, you wouldn't have known when Gerardy crossed the finish line Sunday. He was moving well, running strong, even smiling.
His time: 5:00:11.
If that doesn't inspire you, this might — he has a goal of running next year in 4:30. He believes the fastest marathon ever run by a one-lung runner was 4:32, and he wants to break that record.
Greg Gerardy has every intention to keep testing limits, pushing boundaries and setting standards.
"When people tell me I can't do something," he said, "I want to go prove them wrong."
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or email@example.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.