Mats Fors

Mariehamn, Åland Islands

Mats, 37, has an insulin pump to manage type 1 diabetes.

In 2010, 16 years after being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, Mats Fors received an insulin pump. “That’s when I decided to start running. I feel more alive with the help of my pump, which helps keep my glucose levels stable.” He now runs at least one or two marathons a year.

Mats sees running as a way to challenge himself, manage his diabetes, and make his life better. And while he doesn’t always feel motivated to run, he knows it’s important to be disciplined. He created a website to encourage others to take up running and provide people with diabetes tips on how to manage their condition. “I try to be as open as possible and share a lot of my ups and downs as a diabetic.”

He also plans to blog about his experience and submit articles to Finnish and Swedish publications that focus on diabetes. “Sharing is caring. When I run, I feel better and my diabetes is better. It helps me stay in shape. If I can do it, so can you.” 

Craig Godwin

Eugene, Oregon, USA

Craig, 51, has a stent to help manage heart disease.

Craig Godwin was a shy, awkward teenager when he took up running in high school. It was the first time he really belonged to anything, helping him develop “confidence that spilled over into all areas of my life.” He went on to compete in events from 1500 meters to marathons and was coached by a former 1500-meter world record holder and two Olympic coaches.

Following a heart attack in 2011, Craig assumed he’d never run again. But after receiving a drug-eluting stent, he gradually returned to running. Eighteen months later, he won the track 10,000 meters national champions for the 45–49 age group. And in the summer of 2017, he broke American records for track in the 15K, 20K, and 25K events for the 50–54 age group.

“If I can win a national championship and set American records after a heart attack and stent, surely others can achieve their goals. I’m an active member of the Cardiac Athletes online community and the Caring Hearts support group. Emotional recovery can sometimes be harder than the physical one, and I want to give back as much as I can in that area.”  

Irma Grundling

Pretoria, South Africa

Irma, 59, has a deep brain stimulator (DBS) to help manage some of the movement symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease.

Running marathons and ultras had long been part of Irma Grundling’s life before Parkinson’s Disease took them away. Symptoms began in 2002, including severe tremors that kept her from writing, running, and taking pictures. She pursued DBS to help manage some of her movement symptoms.

Irma slowly began running again. “Running helps me deal with depression and improves my mobility. When I run every day, I’m almost med free.”

Recognizing she’ll never have the same life she had before, Irma sees every day as a unique experience. She “feels alive and healthy,” manages a successful business, and has taken up photography again. She’s also deeply committed to raising awareness about Parkinson’s and plans to organize an annual race in South Africa. “I want to give fellow sufferers hope through my running. There is a future even with Parkinson’s.” 

Roma Ilchenko

Mikulichi, Ukraine

Roma, 19, has a deep brain stimulator (DBS) to help manage dystonia.

Until Roma Ilchenko was seven years old, he was like any healthy child. He went to school, played football, and enjoyed running. Then everything changed. He became bedridden when he was nine and was stiff-limbed for nearly two years. His arms and legs were twisted, and he couldn’t close his mouth. He was diagnosed with dystonia — a painful muscle contraction disorder.

DBS surgery at age 13 was followed by a long period of rehabilitation, including learning to walk and run again. He worked hard and adhered to a training and nutrition regimen. Just two years later, he had undergone a remarkable change. He was physically active, vigorous, self-confident, and communicative.

Today, Roma works out regularly at a gym, practices yoga, cycles, and runs. He’s also an active member of the Association of Patients with Torsion Dystonia, where he helps others address the challenges that take place before and after the surgery.

“Running is my lifestyle and an inexhaustible source of positive feelings. By my example, I want to inspire others with similar problems to never give up and achieve their goals.” 

Brenda Maher

Vineland, Ontario, Canada

Brenda, 62, has a stent to help manage heart disease.

For much of her life, Brenda Maher was sedentary. Then, at age 50, she had an epiphany. She quit smoking, took up running, and realized that not only did she love it, she was good at it, averaging 8:30 per mile. She ran her first full marathon at 53, qualified for the Boston Marathon, and completed it in about four hours.

Later that year, a drug-eluting stent was implanted to open a clogged artery, which led to an excellent outcome. With her doctor’s blessing, Brenda returned to training and completed the Boston Marathon at an even faster time than the year before.

Brenda has since completed almost 30 marathons, including the 89K Comrades Marathon in South Africa. She’s also faster than many other members in her club, regardless of age or gender. Brenda plans to share her Global Champions experience in person and on social media. “Never say never! Yes, bumps in the road happen, but you can still live a normal life.”  

Andrea Saccani

Crema, Italy

Andrea, 32, has an ileal pouch to help manage pancolitis.

Until his late teens, running and jumping were like oxygen to Andrea Saccani. He thrived on participating in sports and being part of a team. In 2003, he came in sixth in the under-18 category at the World Championship in the triple jump.

Pancolitis, a severe form of ulcerative colitis that affects the entire large intestine, changed all that. He lost more than 66 pounds, was put on parenteral nutrition, and had to stop participating in sports and going to school. The desire to return to running and jumping kept him going during the most difficult times.

In 2011, Andrea’s large intestine was completely removed and a j-pouch was constructed. His health gradually improved and he began to run and play sports again. Today, Andrea is part of the Invisible Body Disabilities Project and strives to inspire others with gastrointestinal disorders. He also plans to create a fan page to show people that life with a j-pouch can be good. 

Cherise Shockley

Noblesville, Indiana, USA

Cherise, 37, has an insulin pump to manage diabetes.

Being diagnosed with diabetes in 2004 has never kept Cherise Shockley from doing what she loved. If anything, it’s given her a platform to make a difference.

Cherise’s love of running began in 1999, the year she entered Army Reserve basic training. In 2008, when her husband was deployed and she was raising their daughter on her own, she received an insulin pump. “I was finally equipped to run and exercise without fear of passing out.” Since then, she’s become a powerful spokesperson for diabetes awareness.

In 2010, Cherise started a twitter chat for people with diabetes. She began Blue Fridays, an awareness campaign to wear blue (the international color for diabetes) during Diabetes Awareness Month and created a community for women of color living with diabetes. She’s also worked with academic researchers from the University of Utah and has received multiple invitations from professional organizations, including the American Association of Diabetes Educators, to consult about diabetes care.

Throughout it all, Cherise keeps running. “It helps me let go of stress, manage my diabetes, and brings me joy.” 

David Smith

Diamond Creek, Victoria, Australia

David, 50, has a pacemaker to help manage an abnormal heart rhythm.

An avid runner, cyclist, and triathlete his entire adult life, David Smith sees being active as part of who he is and a great way to meet people. He even helped establish a local recreational running club that is now one of the largest in Australia.

In 2016, after suffering from bouts of syncope, David was diagnosed with a condition that results in an unusually low resting heart rate, significant pauses in sleep, and dizzy spells. To reverse these effects, he had to abstain from exercise. “The inability to run took away my release from stress and left me feeling lost.”

After David received a pacemaker, he started to run again. While his marathon days are over, he still runs up to 15 kilometers several times a week and competes in 10Ks. He’s also a director and volunteer for parkrun and is an active contributor to the Cardiac Athletes online community. “These forums give me an opportunity to share my story and help educate others about heart health and how exercise is possible post-recovery.” 

Jara Weinkauf

London, England

Jara, 31, has a pacemaker to help manage an abnormal heart rhythm.

A native of Germany, Jara Weinkauf was born with a heart defect. She’s had three open heart surgeries — the first at age 4 and the others at age 28. But since being fitted with a pacemaker in 2015, she’s been able to exercise regularly.

“Running means freedom and challenging myself at the same time. Signing up for a 5K charity run was an incredible motivation to get back on my feet after cardiac rehab. I may not run very fast, but it gives me a sense of achievement and makes me happy.”

Jara is passionate about sharing her experiences with others. She’s actively involved with several charities, including The British Heart Foundation, and her Instagram blog provides inspiration to those dealing with heart conditions. In addition, Jara is a member of two running clubs that include heart patients. She looks forward to sharing her 10-mile experience in the hopes that it will motivate others to take on healthy challenges. 

QiJiao Yan

Beijing, China

QiJiao, 35, had gastric sleeve surgery to combat obesity. 

A skilled software designer and manager, QiJiao Yan felt confident in her work. But after realizing that being overweight prompted some customers to question her abilities, she decided changes were in order. A physician at Beijing Friendship Hospital recommended gastric sleeve surgery. He also told her she had type 2 diabetes.

Since the surgery in 2016, QiJiao adheres to a strict diet, exercises regularly, and has lost a significant amount of weight. She says running strengthens her heart and helps her feel positive and energetic. “It mobilizes the willpower of the whole body and helps me stay focused and deal with the various difficulties that come my way.” She’s also regained confidence in her work.

QiJiao is now actively involved in patient support groups at Beijing Friendship Hospital. As a Global Champion, she plans to share her experiences and encourage others to exercise and live a healthier life.

2018 Medtronic Global Champions Honorary Alumnus Ambassador

Sean Doyle

Huddersfield, England

We’re proud to introduce one of our two 2018 Global Champions honorary alumni ambassadors, Sean Doyle. Many will recognize Sean from the 2017 Global Champions team and be familiar with his inspiring journey with heart disease.

Still an avid runner, Sean’s target goal of 1,800 miles in 2018 is within reach. He regularly competes at parkrun UK (150 races to date) and participates in races for his running club. Sean’s story of survival and recovery has been featured in a variety of media in the UK, including BBC TV, ITV network, and local and national newspapers.

Read about the Global Champion Marathon Runners.

The submission deadline for the 2018 program has closed. We can notify you when the 2019 application is available.

Medtronic Global Champions recognizes athletes from around the world who have received medical technology and therapies to treat health conditions such as heart conditions and disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, neurological disorders, obesity, gastrointestinal or urological disorders. Implantable devices and treatments represented may not be for everyone. The Global Champion patient stories capture individual experiences; individual results may vary. You should consult with your physician about any questions or concerns you have related to your own health.