#TBT – Bucket List Edition 9


Happy #TBT (Throw Back Thursday to all of you not on Twitter or Instagram). Every Thursday I am going to relive a Bucket List victory, and tell you the story that lead up to me crossing the item off of my list. This week, I get to talk about one of my favorite items I’ve ever crossed off my list…

42. Run a marathon – X (April 26, 2009, OKC Memorial Marathon)

As long as I can remember, I have been a gifted runner. Not an elite runner, but pretty dang fast and it came very naturally to me. When I was about six years old, our church had a five-mile fun run/walk for missions that pretty much the whole church participated in. I ran the whole thing and finished in first place, far ahead of the other participants (it wasn’t a serious run). I ran a mile for the President’s Fitness Challenge in 5th grade and I distinctly remember running it in 6 minutes and 22 seconds. One classmate, Baby John Coker, was right there with me, and everyone else was at least a half mile behind.

My freshman year of high school I found my best races, the 400 and the 800. I remember running my first 800 at the high school level, I hated it! It was a half mile of pure torture. Two laps of agony as I practically sprinted around the track. I finished my first race in 2 minutes and 30 seconds. Not bad, but not great and certainly not good enough to medal. I swore off the 800 and told my friends and family that I would never run the race again, and I didn’t, until the next track meet when Coach Heard made me run it again. The only time I really ran was in practice or at meets, and I didn’t take practice seriously, mostly because my coach, the football coach, didn’t take track seriously. Each race remained difficult, but I got faster and faster. At the regional meet I can remember looking behind me on the straight-away to see if anyone was going to catch me (very poor form), but no one ever did. I placed first that day and earned a trip to state…the only kid from my entire school to go to state in any sport that year (we weren’t known for athletic prowess).

As I lined up at the state track meet to run my race, I noticed that I was the only freshmen in the 800. There were also no sophomores. Only juniors and seniors and myself, the fresh-faced lanky 14-year-old. When the starting gun went off I raced full-steam ahead. My enthusiasm rushed straight through me as I jumped out to an early lead. I ran a 52 second first lap, which would put me on pace for a national high school record, not just a Oklahoma state record. At the 500 meter mark I was at least 4-5 paces ahead of the entire group of older runners, but I was starting to struggle. At the 600 meter mark, I heard several coaches yell “GO!” and in a matter of seconds 9 of the 13 other runners passed me at one time. I tried my best to keep up, but my inexperience and lack of training had betrayed me, I just couldn’t do it. I gutted it out and finished a respectable 7th overall. I finished my second lap in 66 seconds, 14 seconds slower than my first lap for a time of 1:59. This was some of the first lessons running taught me…it doesn’t matter where you start, but where you finish, and you can only go so far on talent and ability, hard work will take you the rest of the way.

In the beginning of my sophomore year, in basketball offseason, Coach Daniels had us run timed 400s. He was going to work us out all offseason and re-time us at the end. I ran my 400 in 49 seconds, my fastest time ever. I had not trained, had not practiced and was actually out of shape. I was just older and more physically mature, so my times were great. That 49 second time was fast enough to win state in almost every class in any year, and certainly in my smaller division. I was ready to put in the effort to be a champion, and then it all changed.

A week later I was coming back to Muskogee from my high school girlfriend’s house in Haskell, OK with two friends. It was after midnight when we were hit head on. A drunk man passed out while driving and crashed into us going over 70 miles an hour, and he died on impact. Our driver, Ryan Irvin, knew it was coming, but couldn’t stop in time, and our truck was demolished. We were demolished too. Ryan had broken bones all throughout his face, a hole in his intestines, punctured lungs and a busted up heel. Brandon Nickell came out pretty much unscathed and he was extremely lucky (We told people he was in a bike wreck) I was not so fortunate. I broke my left hip in 3 places, my pelvis in 7 places, my tailbone in 3 places, my nose and shattered my right leg. I spent the next 42 days in the hospital in traction and a cast from my toe to my hip. I got out of the hospital standing 6’2″ and weighing 128 pounds, confined to a wheelchair and unable to walk. I even walked with a noticeable limp until I went to college. The doctors and physical therapists said I would never walk again, and even if I did it would never be competitive. I have forgotten more than I can remember from that time, but I do know it took rehab everyday for nearly a year to relearn how to walk and to run again. I transitioned from wheelchair to crutches to a cane. I had to work harder than I had in my entire life just to do the things I took for granted in life.

The wreck was in the end of August, I was released from the hospital in October, I was finally in crutches in November, a cane in February, and I ran track that April. It was the proudest day of my life. I only ran the 800, I limped around the track, I nearly came in last, and I threw up after the race…but I could not have been happier. That was the second time running taught me a few lessons…don’t ever let anyone else tell you what you can not do in your life, and never give up, ever.

Throughout the rest of high school I came nearly close to 100% and tore my ACL, forcing me to forego all athletics my senior year. I missed running, but gave it up in college while I lived the fraternity life and studied for class. Fast forward 10 years past the wreck. I was married and living in Tulsa, overweight with no friends in the new big city, and I decided I needed a change. I trained for and ran a half-marathon with Kristin at the Route 66 in Tulsa, and I have not looked back.

I signed up with Fleet Feet Sports Tulsa to train for my first marathon at the OKC Memorial Marathon in April of 2009. I started out knowing no one, in M4 a group primarily of women who were certainly social runners, and I fit right in. There came a point, however, when I needed to move up and go faster, and I met my dear friends Loyd, Jessie, Jake and Tiffany. People who I know will be lifelong friends, people who have pushed me to be the best person I can be. They were there when I ran across the finish line in OKC. I experienced every emotion possible during that run…joy, anger, sadness, frustration, fatigue, pain, and finally elation. Ten years after my wreck I had run a full marathon, something the doctors would have never guessed.

I moved on to run 3 more marathons, and even ran one in Beijing, China, where we started at Tiananmen Square and finished in the Olympic Village, on the track that the Olympic marathoners had run 2 years prior. I have since ran a 4:48 mile, an 18:28 5k, a 1:38 half marathon and a 3:41 full marathon. Running has taught me discipline, determination, dedication, and perseverance. It brought a sense of mental toughness and follow-through I had never had in my life. I was able to keep going when I thought I could not possibly go any further. It has given me a sense of pride and confidence in myself that will never be shaken.

This is why I run. My students now and people who have met me in the past 10 years would never have guessed I couldn’t walk for a stretch of my life. Most of my new friends don’t even know this story, and I hope it inspires you to do more.

I encourage you to start running. If you can’t run, walk, then eventually run. I am absolutely convinced that every person in the USA should aspire to run a marathon. Anyone can do it if they are willing to throw away all negative connotations about themselves, forget what others say they can’t do, and actually head out the door, putting one foot in front of the other. Feel free to contact me if you want to run but have no idea where to start.

This is why we Live Our List and accomplish things off of our Bucket List. Have you completed a marathon? If so, where?

Ryan Eller
ryan@ryaneller.com


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