Greg Wagner, Aneurysm Survivor and Boston Marathon Runner

Greg successfully completed his second Boston Marathon yesterday. Here is his story from the Washington Post:

Seated at the small dining room table at his parents' home just outside Damascus, Greg Wagner paused to consider why he quit his job in marketing to focus solely on training for the Boston Marathon, which he will run Monday for the second time in three years. Why would he put his body, which still feels the effects of a stroke and brain aneurysm when he was 3 years old, through the grind of 26.2 miles?

"Here's a great example of why I run," the 25-year-old said methodically to avoid stuttering, a result of the stroke. "I put up as a Facebook status a while ago: 'This is gonna be my final marathon,' and within 10 minutes I had five responses from different brain surgery survivors telling me, 'No, you can't.'

"It's not that they expect me to run," he added, "it's that it seems almost they find their strength through seeing me accomplish what they think is impossible, and really, what everybody I've been in contact with thinks is impossible."

Wagner ran the Boston Marathon in 2008 and finished first in the mobility-impaired division, running the course in 4 hours 6 minutes 51 seconds. Built more like a linebacker than a long-distance runner, Wagner spent much of his childhood in physical therapy and still suffers from streaming numbness down the right side of his body.

As a result, he puts considerable weight on his left side when he runs and has limited control of his right hand. It also affects his peripheral vision, something that hindered his run in 2008 at the infamous 88-foot final climb between the 20- and 21-mile mark, Heartbreak Hill. Although he tried to run along the right edge of the course, he was cut off at the top of the ascent by a passing runner and his left leg "locked up" when he put full force on the limb. At the time, he was on pace to run a 3:30 marathon, his goal this time around.
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Wagner completed the race, but the IT bands that run from the quad to the calf had tightened like a rubber band and impinged on his kneecap. The injury forced Wagner to take nine months off from running and skip the 2009 marathon. Now he wants to push his body to the brink again. But Wagner's perpetual drive sometimes worries those around him.

"I think what he's doing is a fantastic accomplishment, but it scares me, too," said his father, Chuck. "I remember when he fell over in the back yard with the brain aneurysm, I remember him almost dying in my car [on the way to the hospital], and so that's a vision I'm never gonna be able to get out of my head. He wants to make an example of himself and I'm proud of him that he wants to do that. But I'll be glad when the marathon thing is over with."

Wagner was a talented baseball player who taught himself how to pitch after watching Jim Abbott, the former major leaguer born without a right hand. He even got a couple professional tryouts but never played at the junior varsity or varsity levels at Damascus High. "He tried out two years running," Chuck said. "They kept him out of a lot of things. He was discriminated against, quite honestly. . . . I think he's doing this to compensate for what he didn't get out of baseball."

With no sponsors, Wagner trains by himself, running laps around his Damascus neighborhood and lifting weights at a local gym. The D.C. area's snow-filled winter limited his training time and forced him to fly down to Florida for some intensive workouts. He also must stretch his left leg four times a day in an effort to avoid the same injury that befell him in 2008.

"I've lived with my disability for so long, I know how to push through it, so I know at some point, it's probably gonna be painful," Wagner said. "I've dealt with the pain. If I can survive brain surgery, I can run a marathon for 3 1/2 hours."

Wagner hopes this year's Boston Marathon, which he says will be his last, is a launching point for a career as a disabilities advocate and motivational speaker. He left an Arlington-based consulting firm last October, wrote a book he's trying to get published, and started a Web site, http://www.gregwagnerdetermination.com.

And as he approaches the finish line, down Boylston Street and past the Boston Public Library, he'll have around 20 friends and family members waiting for him. Among them will be 23-year-old Jack Cutler, a Newton, Mass., native suffering from epilepsy. He's one of the 1,800 people Wagner met through Facebook, the reason he says he'll put his body on the line one final time Monday.

"You're constantly made to believe there are these huge limitations on your life, and Greg has really pushed the boundaries," Cutler said. "Greg makes it his mission almost to prove these limitations are not gonna stop him from accomplishing his goals in his life, and that's incredibly inspirational." akes it his mission almost to prove these limitations are not gonna stop him from accomplishing his goals in his life, and that's incredibly inspirational."

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