When Ron Buerkle was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in 2010, he didn’t halt his life. If anything, he picked up the pace.
The 76-year-old Minnesota man decided to continue long distance running, among other hobbies, and pen a book along the way.
Now available in bookstore and online, The Last Marathon details Buerkle’s descent into memory loss and the victories along the way. He began writing it shortly after being diagnosed and with help from his daughter, completed the project in a few years.
“His relating it to the marathon was that so many times in the marathons there are times when you want to quit,” his wife, Deb Buerkle told Brainer Dispatch, explaining the book’s title. “And he came to the conclusion that he has to address this disease the same way he would address a marathon. … You’re going to have times when it’s really bad, and you’d like to throw in the towel.”
Even with severe short-term memory loss that hinders his ability to turn thoughts into words and remember where the car is parked, Buerkle is still pounding the pavement three days a week, venturing out independently to run his customary three miles.
To hit the road solo, he takes to a one-mile route, where three rocks are placed at the end of each mile, so he can move a rock and keep track of how far he’s gone. Without the rocks, each mile would feel like his first mile.
“He can’t drive, he couldn’t tell you his address or his phone number, but running brings him pleasure,” Deb Buerkle told Runner’s World over the phone. “Exercise is what keeps him independent.”
He also carries a phone on him so his wife can track his thrice weekly runs.
Buerkle began running at 38 in an effort to get healthy, and never stopped. He’s completed marathons and triathlons, and now the miles are just as therapeutic for his mind as his body.
“He didn’t want this to be the end,” his wife told Runner’s World. “He knew he could still find enjoyment in life, and was not going to just give up and sit in a chair.”
And even living with Alzheimer’s at 76 years old, he’s still getting more exercise than most sedentary Americans.