How to be Inspired by Great Running Stories—Part 2
Welcome back to the Inspirational Running series. Last time we started in Wales and you learned how love and running can not only coexist but also thrive. We talked about how a man ran the entire Cardiff Half Marathon course hiding a box containing an engagement ring in his hand while his girlfriend ran beside him to. At the end of the race he proposed to her. Hey, what can I say. I’m a romantic, and the story touched me.
Here is The Happy Couple Again
You also discovered a surprisingly story about defying the odds. Croatia. Former drug addict,from Croatia, Tadija Opacak, who had suffered from cerebral palsy from early childhood becomes a super marathon runner. As you recall, in the beginning of the story Tadija’s life was a wreck. He had allowed his frustrations to turn him into a drug addict.
When all was lost, Devine intervention gave Tadija hope. He had a chance encounter with an Adventist priest who changed Tadija’s life by giving him the support needed to overcome his addiction.
Though Tadija Was no Longer a Drug Addict, His Body Was Still Broken And Weak From Years of Use
Now this time you’re going to learn how he strengthened his body to become the super runner described above. Read on…
Story 3: Defying The Odds. The Community Helps. Imagine this. You have suffered from cerebral palsy, and years of drug abuse have damaged your body to the point that you can barely walk. You would obviously need a lot of help as you attempt to move better and longer.
The Road to Recovery
The friends from the community helped Tadija to improve his walking by “practicing with him walking up and down the stairs of residential buildings. It required a large amount of discipline, much effort and pain, but his walking became better and more stable.” 
The Urge to Give Back
Sometimes when I’m in my room, particularly on a late dark night when all is quiet and there’s just a flicker of light streaming through my window shades, I’m reminded of my past. I think of all the people I was fortunate to meet who had a positive impact on my life. For example, when I first came to America as a kid from South Africa I attended private school where I met a girl, Jackie, who looked like a young version of the American actress Suzanne Pleshette . I knew very little about American culture, and Jackie quickly became my American ambassador . She was patient as I asked questions ranging from American slang to baseball. Now, after getting my Master’s in Mass Communications, I often coach college students with their writing.
So I instinctively understand How Tadija, reflecting on his life, would want to reach out and give back. In an interview with Matija Prka for the British Medical Association [BMJ], Tadija tells his story and states:
“My mother died in 1986, and I was asked by the Church to take care of an old lady into whose apartment I soon moved. I also started selling religious books, earning just enough to make ends meet. The old lady died soon after, leaving me the apartment.”
His Flat Became a Refuge
Just as his body was healing so too did Tadija begin his journey to emotional healing. Coming from a dark place, he nourished his brain with positive thoughts and sought a practical way to help people in desperate situations. As Medical intern Matija Prka tells it, Tadija’s “apartment became a refuge for dozens of young people seeking a way out of drug addiction. Many of them had never felt parental love, some did not even know who their parents were. Tadija accepted them and they, in turn, respected him like a father, knowing that he would do anything for them.” 
Running Becomes An answer When Physical Rehabilitation Fails
Imagine this. You are starting to heal from the toll that cerebral palsy has taken on your body. You feel strong enough to take long walks, but then you start having circulation problems due to your past drug addiction. The usual physical rehabilitation doesn’t help. What would you do? Well, Tadija Opacak turned to running. In his own words he states:
“I took the advice of a friend, an amateur marathon runner, and decided to start running. I went to the town’s stadium and did my first lap. It wasn’t easy… When I made the first lap around the stadium I cried. I did another one, and another one, and then every morning before work I went running. Each day I did a few more laps.” 
Tadija Had Found His Passion in Running
The Reborn Athlete Test His Limits
He ran his first 7 km race in August 1992, and his first Olympic marathon on 2 May 1993, where he came fifth. In the same month he also ran a 61 km long super marathon, coming 58th out of 120 athletes.
“I had no chance against professional track and field athletes,” he smiled, “so I decided to run super marathons as an amateur runner. I dedicated my early races to seriously ill young people: two friends on dialysis who needed kidney transplants and a soldier with shell fragments in his head. We raised enough money, not just me, others helped a lot But it worked.” 
The Reborn Athlete Discovers His Mission
I am moved by how Tadija, accepting the embrace and help of his community, turned his life around to the point where he was transforming his body from that of a hopeless addict to that of a competitive athlete. I have to also say I think this was the pivotal point where passion and the need to give back gave focus to Tadija’s mission of helping those who were suffering from serious illness.
The Reborn Athlete Takes On His Toughest Run
The culmination of his humanitarian achievements was the ultra long marathon from Prevlaka to Vukovar. “It took me six months of preparations, but I ran the distance of 913 km, divided into 13 sections, from 4 to 16 May 1997. That was my longest race. I cannot think of any other route in Croatia that could be longer.” 
You have just read the story about a man who overcame cerebral palsy and drug addiction to became a successful ultra long runner, embraced and revered by his community. What Tadija Opacak did was a remarkable example of a man refusing to allow himself to be defeated by his circumstance. He defied the odds. Training your body, after weakened from illness, to run a marathon is an impressive feet. Imagine, however, that you are a 75-year old cancer survivor and you dream of reaching a goal of 100 marathons. This the topic of my next post. I hope you’ll be as inspired as I was. If you want to read the series from the beginning, here is the link:
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1Prka, Matija. “Defying the odds.” Student BMJ, 2001, P. 156. health