Runners, Take HEART

Heart patients run together and support each other

Don’t tell Mike Nall he can’t go for a run. “When someone tells me I can’t do something, I want to prove them wrong,” says Nall, 61 from Mentor, Ohio. Nall suffered a heart attack 12 years ago, and after “graduating” from physical therapy and continuing regular workouts for three years, he convinced his doctors that he was ready to run. “I wasn’t particularly a runner before,” Nall admits. But he has always been determined, and when he sets a goal, he reaches it. He signed up for a 5K immediately and got hooked.

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Then, a few years later, he learned about a group of heart patients that were running the Akron Marathon. “I didn’t know anyone like me,” he says of being a heart patient and runner. So he reached out and connected to others through online forums, including cardiacathletes.com, where he began chatting with runner/heart patients who shared their motivations and related the difficulty of assuring spouses and family members about the safety of their running.

Safety first

Nall admits that his own wife wasn’t thrilled about the running at first, and 10 miles is a distance she’s comfortable with for her husband. “She hates the thought of me even thinking about a marathon, and that’s fine with me,” Nall says. He tries to reassure her by being safe. “I take my cell phone with me and my wife basically knows the route I’m taking and when I’m expected back,” Nall says.

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Nall has continued running for the past nine years, even after undergoing vascular surgery at Cleveland Clinic in 2010. Just seven weeks after that, he ran a 7-mile relay leg in the Harrisburg Marathon—with his surgeon’s blessing, of course.

Keeping pace with HEART

Mike Nall

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Over the years, Nall and the group from cardiacathletes.com has continued to meet up at races all over the country. They formalized the group in 2011 as HEART: Heart Education and Rehabilitation Team. The group “meets” regularly online to chat, and travels to races where they run together or enjoy each other’s company at a social outing, such as dinner. The runners talk shop, and the spouses bond, too. In mid-October, 31 runners in the group will attend the Baltimore Running Festival.

HEART shows heart patients that recovery isn’t the end of the world. “When I originally had my heart attack, I had a good friend call me and I probably talked to him for two hours—I was so depressed,” Nall relates. “It was, you can’t do this, and you can’t do that. It’s just totally not true. Instead of limiting what someone can do, we need to encourage them and show them what they can do.”

For more information about HEART, e-mail HeartTeams@gmail.com.

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