The Medtronic Foundation’s Global Heroes program celebrated runners from around the world who benefited from medical technology. Past participants included 259 runners representing 38 different countries and a wide range of medical conditions. You can learn more about the Medtronic Foundation Global Heroes alumni by reading their bios here.
A new program has been created by Medtronic to honor athletes with medical technology, called Medtronic Global Champions. We pay tribute to and recognize all Medtronic Foundation Global Heroes alumni as honorary members of the Medtronic Global Champions inaugural team.
Jill Braswell, 49, began running in her thirties, to combat stress. In 2008, she became a member of the Waco Striders Club, where she set her goal to run a marathon by the time she turned 48 years old. She checked that goal off the list and ran another one three weeks later. But suddenly she became so fatigued she was sleeping up to 18 hours a day. Her doctor discovered an arrhythmia and implanted a pacemaker. Now, Jill says she’s back to running. “I love the way I feel when I run, ”she explains. “During a good run, nothing compares to the synergy of your muscles striving; your heart throbbing; your lungs laboring; your body responding to the demands with strength, energy and vitality.”
Medical school keeps Nicola Combs, 24, and her colleagues moving at a swift pace. Recently, a group of students decided that running would help them relieve the stress of classes and exams, so they trained for, and completed, the Berlin Marathon. Nicola was the fastest female in the group to finish. She says when she was 15 years old, running would have caused her back tremendous pain. But finishing that marathon only left her with stiff legs and a few blisters. With her new-found confidence, she hopes to inspire other young people to overcome their insecurities. “The marathon has given me a new outlook on life.” Nicola said. “I have confidence in the technology in my spine.”
Sean Erkonen, 33, ran competitively in college, despite the awareness of the small hole in his heart. Nine months after college graduation, he began training for his first marathon, yet found he couldn’t even run for 20 minutes. Two years later, the hole was repaired. He says that has given him added strength and energy, which helps him to be a better husband, son, brother and friend. As a high school cross country and track volunteer coach, he hopes his experience teaches others how to approach life’s greatest challenges.
Dan Hochberg, 47, ran track in high school and college, but once he settled into family life and his career, his competitive racing came to a stand-still. In 2006, he again started running with his daughter, who was vying for a spot on her high school cross country team. It seemed the racing bug returned. Dan qualified for, and ran, the Boston Marathon, eventually finishing in the top 20 percent of that field. He increased his training until one day, mid-way through a run, he couldn’t catch his breath. He was rushed into surgery the next day, receiving a pacemaker. Since that time, he returned to training and says he is now breaking his own pre-pacemaker personal records and hopes to break three hours at the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon this October.
Robin Laird, 48, runs 50 miles a week, works as an assistant principal at a junior high school, has two daughters and says most people look at her and think “how could she have a defibrillator?” With 10 half-marathons and two marathons under her belt, Robin says she’s sending a message that cardiovascular health should be on everyone’s radar and that living with heart disease has given her a new awareness of how intricately the human body functions.
Gregory “Spareribs” LaMothe, 64, says he was “lousy” at running when he first tried it in the 1960s, but a decade later, it became a life-long habit. He was given the nickname “Spare Ribs” in college because he was so skinny. While he runs for his health, he says he is passionate about the competition involved. In 2008, Gregory had open heart surgery and had a heart valve replacement. Since the surgery, he continued to run and now runs approximately 40 miles a week. His enthusiasm for life now spreads into coaching, as he works to inspire others to get active.
Five marathons and $40,000 raised for diabetes research, 50 recruited runners and endless presentations and lectures on diabetes management have kept Paul Langworthy, 47, on track. But 14 years ago, when his then infant son was diagnosed with diabetes, he considered his own diagnosis a blessing and an avenue to educate others. Paul said before he started running with an insulin pump, running was about insulin peaks and injection locations. Now he says therapies that let him manage diabetes allow him to focus on a lifestyle that strengthens both his physical and mental health. “Running is my haven,” Paul says.
Tanya Plonske’s overactive bladder limited her from doing some of the most important things in her life. For instance, she values the long, one-on-one talks she has with her teenage son. However, being interrupted with frequent visits to the bathroom was just one of the reasons that she talked with her doctor about neurostimulation therapy. Now, she can sleep through the night, travel long distances and sit through a busy day of meetings. Along the way, Tonya, 40, also took up running and soon realized how empowered the sport made her feel. In addition to her work as an ambassador that shares her experience with other patients, she’s now raising money for leukemia research and has convinced her siblings to join her in an upcoming 5K race.
Kathryn Poehling’s family celebrated her “fifth” birthday last year to mark the day she received her ICD. Five years earlier, she had been airlifted to a hospital after suffering sudden cardiac arrest. And she had a lot to celebrate. “Since receiving my device I have finished college, graduated from a top ranked law school, climbed mountains, run half marathons and one full marathon, lived in Europe (twice), fell in love, became a godmother and I couldn't be happier.”
Like other runners, Ninoslav Raskovic says he runs for the freedom he experiences when his feet hit the roads. On October 3 in Minnesota, he will run his fifth marathon in five years. Ninoslav credits his diabetes and his insulin pump as his motivations to encourage others to tackle their own diabetes. “I started running because I want to manage my diabetes much better than before. I want to show everybody that life with diabetes can be normal.” He hopes that journaling his experience through his running blog inspires others to lace up their shoes and get active.
Fabio Valgonio, 47, was 42 when he learned of his diabetes diagnosis. He says it changed everything, including the way he ran. But since receiving his insulin pump therapy, he says his life is better in every way. He has trained 15 athletes for marathons and continues to improve his own running pace at the same time. “In 2009, I took part in the Brescia Marathon and I finished it in 3 hours, 3 minutes,” he said. “All of these experiences have helped me to face diabetes and to believe in innovating technologies that improve our lives.
Tina Bergstrom, 38, wants young people to know that diabetes is not about to keep them from living a normal, productive and great life. She has had an insulin pump since she was 8 years old and it helps her manage her glucose levels even during exercise.
Finishing in 105th place at the 2006 New York City Marathon is no small feat in a field of nearly 40,000 runners. Kai Fischer, 41, loves to run fast, so when doctors told him after his NYC race that he needed a pacemaker to help regulate his heart beat, he didn’t let it slow him down. He trains at a club in Zurich where the likes of professional runners Usuain Bolt and Haile Gebrselassie have trained, but most of the time he runs alone. Kai says his average 6:07 mile pace is only seven seconds off his 2006 NYC time and his hope is to finish the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon in under 2:40 this October.
As a sixth grader, Erin Howe learned that she could no longer play soccer because of her aortic stenosis diagnosis. From that day on, she said, an internal “bitter rivalry ensued” between her heart condition and her love of sports. After college, she moved to Colorado to teach, and felt strong enough to start participating in triathlons. But after a trip to her doctor, she was told she needed a new heart valve. She also sought the green light to finally start running, something she had longed to do since she was told she couldn’t as a girl. After many races, Erin completed Le Grande Classique last fall, running from the Eiffel Tower in Paris through an ancient forest near Versailles. “Each time I run, I am reminded that I can finally root for myself, not just my heart or the sports. We are on the same team at last.” As a high school teacher at an inner city science and technology magnet school, Erin says her students may someday go on to make a medical difference in the lives of others, and she shares her story as a way to inspire them.
Track was the first interscholastic competitive sport at Leslie Johnson’s high school as a result of Title IX legislation. She quickly joined the team. Since then, she’s run 18 marathons, including three Boston marathons and the inaugural Twin Cities Marathon in 1982. Leslie’s passion for running is endless. But she grew tired of wondering where the next bathroom would be along her route. “Let’s face it, an overactive bladder is not a very glamorous topic,” she said. With neurostimulation therapy, she now runs longer distances without needing to stop, thanks, in part, she says, to her device.
Pablo Maillet, 30, was diagnosed a congenital atrioventricular block when he was two years old, and was one of the youngest boys in Chile to receive a pacemaker. Growing up, he was extremely active as a young boy, trekking through Patagonia and the Andes Mountains and playing soccer. Pablo says running makes him feel alive and reminds him of all that he has overcome.
At 14, Maureen McCann was diagnosed with scoliosis. She was active in sports like many teens, but wore a brace to help correct the curvature of her spine. When she headed to college, fusion surgery was necessary. Now, she is not only pursuing her career goals as a meteorologist, but she also took up running. She’s even added “marathon” to her list of accomplishments. Today, Maureen is a spokesperson for the National Scoliosis Foundation, and has started her own fundraiser that now takes place in Austin, Texas and Boston.
Mid-life motivation, “green”, and health-conscious could all be descriptors for Greg Prom, 79, who at the age of 45 started running to get to work every day. Thirty-nine years later, he has run nearly every one of the 28 Medtronic Twin Cities Marathons, and many other races, consistently placing in the top three in his age group. In 1991, Greg had a pacemaker put in to help control a hereditary condition that causes a slow heart rate.
Kelly Robinson, 38, was a runner before her ICD. In fact, she felt in top shape. But with an enlarged heart that put her at risk of sudden cardiac arrest, doctors told Kelly that this device was right for her. She said as a woman in her 30s with heart disease, she feared that people would see her as “weak”. But this device is giving her the chance to build awareness around heart disease and share her experiences with others. “Because of the security that my device offers me, I no longer focus on my limits, but instead wonder what new frontiers I can cross.”
Francisco Manuel Rodriques, 44, has always been active, playing soccer and running during the off-season for fun. He was given a pacemaker in 2008 when his doctor discovered disruptions in his sleep patterns. He’s run 6 marathons, two of them post-surgery, and makes running a family affair by training with his wife. He hopes to share his story to motivate, educate and encourage others.
Jeff Sanborn, 56, is no stranger to the sport of running. He’s been at it for 40 years and has logged more than 100,000 miles. He says he was once a 4:11 mile runner and finished the 6th annual Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon in 2:30. In 2006, the need for a pacemaker came as a surprise to this avid athlete, but Jeff is still coaching cross country running and track.
Growing up, Chloe Steepe, 27, says she played nearly every sport, but never was a runner. However, when she watched her friend run to raise money for Diabetes research, she was touched by the emotion and effort that people dedicated to her condition. She decided that day to add long distance running to a list of activities that included (just to name a few) hiking, soccer, bicycling and dog-sledding. Since then she has started a new non-profit organization called Connected in Motion, which educates people with Type 1 Diabetes as they learn to manage their disease and incorporate outdoor adventure and physical activity into their daily lives. She said until this she had no idea how restrictive this disease could be for some people. “Just like geese, cyclists and the ‘Mighty Ducks’, I've found that people with diabetes can travel further, faster and with less resistance when they face their challenges as a group.”
Marcella, 55, is like so many others who catch the running spirit when they go out to watch a friend hit the roads. She first watched her husband run the Carlsbad 5000 more than 20 years ago when they were dating, and says that was when she decided to start. When she was told by doctors in 2009 she needed surgery for an unstable spine, she refused to believe running was not going to be part of her life and has since returned to the roads with her club members with the goal to get back to her pace of 6:15 mile.
After cardiac surgery in 2007, Jeremy Woodward decided that the new mechanical valve in his chest was his motivation to complete both a triathlon and a half marathon, just to show others that despite a medical conditions, people should always pursue their dreams. “I don't shoot for specific time goals,” Woodward says. “I just go out to celebrate that I CAN DO THIS because I am alive!”
Le Ting Zhang, 54, is the first Global Hero from China. According to Le Ting, he was one of the first in China to receive a Medtronic Insulin pump and says he has been able to keep running with the help of pump therapy.