Rob Oxford: Kevin O'Brien - Run Of A Kind

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Rob Oxford
By Rob Oxford

Have you ever wondered to yourself why a seemingly normal individual would wake up early on a Sunday morning, don a pair of Lyrca spandex, lace up their sneakers and voluntarily run 26.2 miles or for our Canadian readers, 42 kilometers? I mean aren't Sunday mornings for sleeping late or going to church?

I realize that for runners a marathon can be a spiritual experience, but this article isn't about former high school or college track stars or people with 8% body fat. This isn't about a respectable finish time of under 4 hrs.

This is about the over 60 and 70 year olds I see, bound and determined to prove something to themselves. This is about the hundreds of overweight men and woman whom at first glance one might think; they have no business running a marathon. This article is about those people. The ones who may start off running a marathon, but often finish it by walking and regardless of how long it takes... finish! Have you ever finished a marathon? I haven't.

Moreover, this article is about a gentlemen I met recently while working the Hot Chocolate Run in Seattle, a 15K Fun Run to benefit Make-A-Wish. His name is Kevin O'Brien and he's from Fairbanks, Alaska. The company I work for is responsible for implementing traffic plans that allow runners like Kevin to use city streets safely for a few hours a couple of times a year.

Granted, sometimes at an inconvenience to motorists, but if you could have witnessed Kevin during the Hot Chocolate Run, I guarantee you'd be less likely to get annoyed by a minor Sunday morning detour or a traffic backup.

Kevin has Cerebral Palsy.

From the cozy confines of my work truck I could see the runners as they approached. Groups of 3 or 4 in colorful shirt and short combos, some in custom running apparel, all with their official registration numbers proudly pinned to their bodies.

At this point in the race, some were already walking, but not Kevin. Wearing blue jeans and a short sleeve casual shirt, Kevin was still running. Albeit slowly and with a pronounced limp, but definitely running.

As he got closer I shouted "You're a stud dude", it was spur of the moment and all I could come up with, but I meant it. I was captivated. He gave me a thumbs up and as he passed by I said something else like, "you make fat guys like me look bad". To that he smiled.

I wanted to know more about this young man so I waited. I waited for him to run up the hill and then back down. I knew that I had to get his story. So, when Kevin was once again in sight I jogged toward him and introduced myself, quickly gave him my card and asked him to call me. He did so later that evening.

Kevin is a 30 year old electrical apprentice and was in town to take the aptitude test for the IBEW. He hopes to find employment here in Seattle and when I asked him why he wasn't wearing the normal running attire most serious runners wear, he told me he had no idea about the run and just decided to take part.

Because he wasn't officially registered and during the race "drank some of their water", afterward Kevin asked a volunteer if he could make a donation of $20. That's the type of guy Kevin is. The volunteer gladly accepted.

Kevin went on to tell me that when running, at least for a short time, he feels less of the affects of his disease. He added there are "too many distractions in this world" and that running allows him to "get out and enjoy his surroundings".

Kevin is working on a documentary he hopes to release about running the Equinox Marathon last year in Fairbanks. It is said to be the third hardest marathon because of its altitude differential of 1500 ft. Kevin completed the course (26.2 miles) in 13 hours 10 minutes.

During our conversation I asked Kevin if while running, people treat him differently? "Do people cheer you on or say anything while you're running?" He said "Yes" and that it's sometimes "overwhelming" and "difficult to interact", depending on his level of exhaustion at the time.

I also wondered what it was like growing up with Cerebral Palsy. Was he picked on in school? Did he have a lot of friends? Kevin said that when he was little "he had to ride the short bus" and that "most of the kids on there had anger management problems".

They were among his earliest friends and when he got into middle school and beyond, "nobody messed with those kids", therefore "nobody messed with me". Just one of the many benefits of growing up in a small town like Fairbanks I guess.

Although deep inside I already knew the answer, I had to ask Kevin what he wanted people to take from his participating in marathons and his love of running in general. "I want people to know that no matter their physical abilities or inabilities, if I can do this they can too."

I'm pretty sure I made a new friend in Kevin O'Brien. I know that my life is enriched for just having met him.


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