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FL veteran beats odds to complete Marine Corps Marathon

A local Japanese resident runs through the finish line during the 52nd Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Iwakuni Marathon and Half Marathon at MCAS Iwakuni, Japan, April 7, 2019. The event was held by Marine Corps Community Services Iwakuni in order to strengthen the bond between the local Japanese community and the air station. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Andrew Jones)

Terry Bruce honestly didn’t know if he could complete the 2019 Marine Corps Marathon.

What he did know, though, despite a quintuple bypass surgery some years before, and a couple of knee surgeries, including one just months before the marathon, was that running the 26.2-mile course was a mission from God.

Bruce, now nearing his 69th birthday, served in the Marine Corps during Operation Desert Storm, the 1991 operation against Iraq. Retired since 2015, but a firm proponent of the well-known maxim “Once a Marine, always a Marine,” running the Marine Corps Marathon had been on Bruce’s “bucket list” for a while.

And it turned out that is was on someone else’s “bucket list” for him as well, a fact that became blindingly clear to Bruce during a Sunday school class.

“I felt like God said, ‘Go do this’,'” Bruce said. Then and there, he announced his intention to run in the marathon.

It was a stunning pronouncement.

It was true enough that, after his quintuple bypass, Bruce by 2015 had worked up to running in half-marathons.

He was, however, then sidelined by a back injury. And when he was able to walk again. he suffered a knee injury — a torn meniscus, a cartilage injury that required surgery. He was, though, able to return to walking, and even riding a bicycle.

Then, in February of last year, he injured his knee a second time, after falling in a Panama City home where he was working to help the city recover from 2018’s Hurricane Michael.

Nonetheless, he announced his intention to run in the Marine Corps Marathon, just eight months away, to his surgeon, Dr. Theodore Macey of Orthopaedic Associates in Fort Walton Beach.

“He comes limping in and says he’s going to run 26.2 miles,” Macey remembered as he and Bruce visited recently in an Orthopaedic Associates conference room. “I’m thinking ‘You want to do what?'”

For a 20-year-old, Macey explained, coming back from a torn meniscus is a three-to four-week process. But for somebody like Bruce, with a cascading series of other medical issues, rehabilitation is considerably more complex.

“What I do is half of it,” Macey said. “The patient has to rehabilitate.”

“With physical therapy, you have to have a goal,” Macey added. And that, he noted, was the thing Bruce had going for himself.

By June, Bruce was able to start a running schedule to prepare for the marathon. To avoid the Florida heat, he awoke in the early morning hours, embarking on a regimen of running five minutes and walking one minute for as long as he could.

With the Marine Corps Marathon fast approaching, Bruce’s best run was an 18-mile jaunt that also fell short of the recommended 14-minute-mile pace for the marathon.

“I … knew in my heart that the only way I was going to do this was by God’s hand,” Bruce said.

As he wound through the streets of Arlington, Virginia and Washington, D.C., during the Oct. 27 marathon, Bruce wasn’t quite keeping up with the recommended 14-minute-mile pace. His strategy, modified from his training runs, was to run for three minutes, then walk for 30 seconds, although he would keep running past the three-minute mark on downhill slopes.

Still, he said, he “hit the wall” and had to battle through cramps and a stomach issue.

“I think the only time I really felt confident was when I saw the 26-mile marker,” Bruce said.

But he finished, describing the feeling of seeing the finish line underneath his running shoes as “kind of like acing a test.” If, that is, acing a test also is accompanied by “tears of joy.”

And of course, there was the “victory lap” of sorts that he took recently at Orthopaedic Associates with his marathon medal.

“He shows up here a couple of weeks ago, and says, ‘Look what I got,” a smiling Macey, himself an Air Force veteran, said.

“Dr. Macey was very instrumental in me doing this,” Bruce said.

Bruce freely admits, though, that while he’ll keep up with exercise, his running days now likely are over.

“I’ll be doing good if I ever do another 5K,” he said.

Still, he wants his story told, and Macey is one of the people who will tell the tale of Bruce’s grit and determination to patients.

“We use examples like that all the time,” Macey said.

And so it is that, on occasion, Macey will start future conversations with some patients this way: “I’ve got this old guy who ran the Marine Corps Marathon … .”


© 2020 the Northwest Florida Daily News