The man on this poster is Thomas Hicks, a good friend and training parter. Those of you who know Thomas know that he is more than just a great runner. He is one of those people that are just, well, “different”.
I met Thomas in June 2010. Like myself, he had just joined HRR http://www.meetup.com/HamptonRoadsRunners/. Also like myself, he was a former competitive runner, who was looking to make some changes and get running back into his life.
We would discover, that Ole Thomas was quite the runner back in day (4:13 mile PR). But, like many of us, he had gotten away from running and had spent 20 years living a not so healthy life. He was a smoker, overweight and badly out of shape.
Over the next couple months, we would also learn a couple more things. 1). Thomas had MS and an A-fib (both of these we would find out in a scary way)..and 2). He has the strongest will power and determination that you will ever see in your life. He refuses to give into any adversity.
So, after several months and many miles of running and training with Thomas, a few of us are out on a 18 miler when about half-way through, Thomas starts mentioning that he can’t breathe and his heart is acting crazy. Luckily another runner on the trail had a cell phone and called the ambulance. The rest of us were a bit freaked out, but Thomas was only uspet because he couldn’t finish the run. Thomas would be rushed to the hospital to find out that he had an A-fib.
We figured this would sideline Thomas for a bit, but within a couple days, he was right back out there running and laughing about the whole situation as if it were nothing.
As the months go by, Thomas is getting stronger and faster and the old miler in him is coming back..He is starting to get that look again. But it was during this time that we discover he also has MS. He didn’t tell anyone for a long time that he had it, because in his own words “He didn’t want the sympathy and he didn’t want a crutch”. Shortly after he ran his first marathon, they told him he could run Boston with his 3:36 because he could get his qualifying time waived due to his MS. He said “HELL NO”….He was only going to Boston by qualifying like everyone else (he would eventually run 3:09 later that year and get his qualifying standard).
We were on another training run, when Thomas’s body started seizing up on him. Now, if you haven’t seen this happen, it is a bit alarming. His body will lock up into one big cramping spasm and he can’t control his muscles. Oh, and for those who have ever had a cramp and know how painful it is..just imagine having that feeling throughout your entire body and not being able to do anything about it. Yet, despite this, Thomas continues to push through it. How he does it, I will never know!
In June of 2011, our HRR group assembled a 6 person ultra team to run the Green Mountain Relay in Vermont. The team (Thomas, Mike Wolfe, Logan Johnson, Michelle Gosselin, Alan Fitzgerald and myself) would be spending, hopefully 24 hours or less running 200 miles from northern to southern Vermont. We would have one van (for the runners) and one support car, made up of Crystle Santos and Jessika Briggs.
Each runner would run 6 legs of varying mileage (from 2.6 up to 10.8) across varying terrain and often severe elevation gains. We would start at 9:00 am on Saturday and hope to be finished by 9:00 am on Sunday. There had only been a couple teams who had gone sub 24 hours and we were going for the course record.
From the start, we were a little worried about Thomas. We knew that his MS was unpredictable and could flare up at anytime. We knew (or thought we knew) that he had the ability and the determination…we just didn’t know what would happen if the MS come on. Oh, and it should be mentioned that Thomas had just recently had oral surgery and therefore could only eat mashed potatoes and drink Ensure (more about that in another post…lol)
So, the race begins and we are underway. Thomas is running the #2 spot in the rotation of 6. The first 3 legs go by with no issues and everyone is looking strong…Then, as Thomas is coming into the checkpoint at the end of his 4th leg, we notice something ain’t right. Thomas’s form is all discontorted and strained. As he hands the the baton to Michelle and she takes off, the rest of us get Thomas to a grass clearing and start stretching him out, trying to relieve his spasming body.
Needless to say, we are a bit freaked out at this point. There is about 30 minutes of daylight left, we are in the middle of NOWHERE, VERMONT, have no clue where the nearest hospital is and we don’t know for certain if we will have to substitute another runner for Thomas, or possibly abandon the race altogether.
As Thomas’s body starts recovering, he ensures us that he can continue on…maybe not at his normal fast paces, but he can continue..The rest of us were leary (our doubts would be banished a bit later). Before his next leg, I ask him how he felt..his response “Dennis, I feel like crap and my body is done…I can’t hit those fast paces again and I feel like I let the team down”. We assured him that he was letting nobody down and just told him to give us whatever he had..If they were 1o minute miles, then so be it.
So as Thomas begins his 5th leg, the rest of the runners go on to the next checkpoint to get the next runner ready..We decided that I would jump in the support car with Crystle and Jessika to follow beside Thomas…just in case!
Thomas’s 5th leg was an 8.6 mile segment through rural Vermont (mind you, it’s pitch black and about midnight at this point). As we are driving along beside Thomas, I am trying to keep his mind occupied and am talking and joking with him about wolves and bears and that he might have to pick up the pace to out run them. At one point, I asked him how he felt. He said “I feel horrible and I am struggling and hurting”..I looked down at my Garmin (I was wearing it to monitor his pace) and he was running a 6:28 pace!! I said, well, I can’t tell you are hurting..you look strong! Then he replied with something I’ll never forget (I even got choked up when he said it)…He said, Dennis, “IT’S ALL HEART BROTHA, IT’S ALL HEART!!”
After I shared those words with the rest of the team, it seemed that was all the motivation we needed to carry us on the rest of the way…We were all hurting, tired, sore and virtually dead. But, we all managed to find a bit extra after watching Thomas do his thing.
We ended up finishing 3rd overall, went sub 24 hours and was the 1st place ultra (6 person) team. The only two teams to beat us were a 12 person team of college cross country runners and a high school team of cross country runners (You’ll have to ask Thomas how he feels about high schoolers…LOL!). It was no doubt Thomas’s gutsy performance that kept us all pushing on…we would have no doubt gave in and slowed down had he not put on such an epic display of grit and toughness.
So, in the several months to follow that performance, Thomas continues to baffle not only those around him, but also the entire Naval medical staff. He has seen specialists and has been tested and probed more than anyone I know. The doctors tell him on a regular basis that “Thomas, you shouldn’t be running anymore”….he typically responds with 60 mile training weeks, fast speed work on the track or a 3:09 marathon (World record by anyone with an incurable disease). While the doctors and specialists say he should be getting slower, should be crippled and should be blind…he manages to get faster and faster…Usually placing and or winning most of the masters awards at the local races.
Oh, and just one more nugget of information for you. A few weeks back, Thomas was running a 5k..cruising along at his typical sub 6:00 pace, when he started having troubles breathing. A few days after the race, he goes to get tested and the doctors find a tumor in his lung (the size of a golf ball)..this being the cause of the difficulty breathing…..But, in true Thomas fashion, he brushes it off and says “Doc, you have to wait until after the 18th of March to cut me open, because I am running the Shamrock Marathon!!” . Now, they will actually have to wait until after the 16th of April, because Thomas is running the Boston Marathon as well…..You gotta love this guy!!
I am a firm believer that “The burden is equal to the horse’s strength.”
No matter the obstacle, no matter the setback, Thomas always comes out stronger on the other side…Those who know him personally has watched him fight and keep fighting and making the most of everyday. Instead of giving in, he keeps fighting. He never takes the easy way, he never uses his MS, his A-fib, his tumor or anything else as a crutch…I can guarantee that there is not a single runner who knows him that hasn’t drawn upon his inspiration to get them through their own tough miles and trials.
So whatever excuse you are using to avoid making the best of everyday…I doubt it’s a good enough one! Now is the time to get up, get moving and keep moving forward. Fight the fight and keep on keeping on!!!