By Dalene Scheloske
No, his heart is not literally made of steel, but his will to persevere might be stronger than any fortified metal, even when his ticker wanted to give up.
At 71 years old, Richard Ringwald, a proud L.A. Marathon Legacy Runner, completed his 30th marathon on March 15th, 2015. It’s an amazing achievement in itself, but one thing that should be mentioned is he completed this race four months after having open-heart surgery.
A retired Army Veteran, Ringwald has been conditioned to withstand trying experiences, and has maintained an active lifestyle over the years. He said that he took up running 35 years ago because, “it was the most logical way to stay healthy.” Simple as that.
After taking up the sport, he began entering 10k’s and half-marathons on a regular basis. In 1986, he completed his first marathon — the L.A. Marathon.
Ringwald, a highly practical man, ultimately decided that he would simply train for one big race a year, rather than trying to train and recover from multiple shorter runs.
Thus, Ringwald became what is known as a “Legacy Runner” — a runner who hasn’t missed the L.A. Marathon since its inception.
A Snag in the Legacy
For the 2015 marathon, training started in September, as per his usual routine for the past 30 years.
However, in November, Ringwald began experiencing pressure in his upper chest. It seemed like nothing at first. In fact, he could relieve the pain by belching. Then the pain seemed to persist, and he set up an appointment with his physician.
The doctor ordered a treadmill test, and as Ringwald recalls, “I guess I didn’t do so well on it.”
Further testing revealed a 75% blockage and a 90% blockage to the arteries feeding his heart. Surgery was scheduled for exactly one month later.
Ringwald had been taking medication for 35 years to combat his naturally occurring high cholesterol, but his lifestyle choices put him in the top tier of good health for adults his age.
That’s why when doctors told him that he needed open-heart surgery, it sent shock waves to Ringwald and his loved ones.
Ringwald told his doctor, “I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I exercise and I eat right. What do I do differently?”
The doctor’s response was, “Keep doing what you are doing.”
A Race to be Determined
The greatest concern for Ringwald was if he would be able to complete his 30th consecutive marathon.
After surgery, his first order of business was to get the ‘OK’ to continue training for the upcoming race.
“I asked my personal doctor about the run and he said, ‘No way,’” Ringwald said. “I asked my cardiologist and he didn’t say, ‘No way.’ He just said that he, ‘didn’t recommend it.’ I saw an opening in that statement and thought that maybe there was hope.”
Even walking up and down the driveway with the help of a cane left Ringwald ragged and breathless, but that did nothing to dampen his spirit. He put together a training plan in hopes of convincing his cardiologist that he could, in fact, complete the 26.2 mile race in March.
“I aimed to walk non-stop for one hour by January 1st,” Ringwald said. “By January 4th, I added 30 minutes each weekend, and was able to get to five hours of walking by March.”
As a Legacy Runner, his focus was never so much on the time it took him to run, but more about showing up and doing it year after year. With his average finish time being in the 5-7 hour window, he thought that being able to walk five hours was enough to convince himself and his medical team that he could complete the race.
Runner with Wings
On the day of the race, Ringwald knew that what he was doing “bordered on the impossible,” but he had resolved to do the impossible.
By mile 15, a friend caught up to him and was instrumental in getting Ringwald to the finish line, as the greatest challenge was just around the corner.
At mile 20, he was ready to quit.
“I was lacking upper body strength because I was unable to do sit-ups and pushups until May,” Ringwald said. “My lower back started hurting so bad that I considered quitting at 20 miles. But then a funny thing happened.”
A bystander reached out to Ringwald and asked if he was okay. He let her know that he was in a great deal of pain and was contemplating calling it quits. She pulled him over, and what she did next could be put in the same category as magic and miracles.
The unidentified woman said, “Here, let me give you a hug,” which makes Ringwald chuckle to himself as he tells the story. Then she proceeded to ask about where the pain was and massaged his back, gave him some posture advice, and sent him on to finish his hard fought for arrival at the finish line.
When pressed about who the woman was, Ringwald’s response was simple.
“She’s one of those angels you hear about. I’m not sure I would even recognize her if she were to stand in front of me today.”
Ringwald completed the marathon in 10 hours, which was twice as long as he had trained for. Despite all obstacles, he received his medal and still holds the title of “Legacy Runner,” which is a badge of honor he wears with great pride.
Ringwald said that he just didn’t want to give up, and if he had a chance to complete the task at hand, he would take it.
As he looks back into the recesses of his mind, he attributes this attitude to something very simple that his high school football coach said to him: “’Desire. You have to have desire.’ His words made a difference for me after all these years.”
When asked if he thought about how his story might inspire others, Ringwald with much grace and humility responded, “I would like to think that what I did was an inspiration. I never considered that before. I maintain a low-profile.”