August 2011

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live in a man's world points, all in the sweltering heat of mid-July. Not only did Fortney run to push his athletic ability to the brink, he set an ambitious goal of raising $10,000 for Gilda's Club Madison, a nonprofit offering social and emotional support to people affected by cancer. It's a crucial resource, Fortney says. And when he believes in something, he's not afraid to go the extra mile for it. Or an extra 135. Today you're a seasoned runner, but almost seven years ago you were a non-runner who had been told you might never walk again. How has the physical transformation changed you as a person? I'm really a different person. I mean I'm the same person, but I'm different. I think deep down I always had this desire to be an ad- venturer, to be an explorer, to push my limits, but I didn't pursue any of that until a back surgery caused spinal trauma. [My surgery] took a lot away from me. Eventually I got so frustrated I decided I'm just going to get into the best shape I can to see what's left of my body. You were also diagnosed with cancer when you were just 19. How did that influence your determination to be an athlete who runs for charity? I didn't think it affected me that much because I was diagnosed, did my treatment, and was cured—if you will—and then I put it behind me. But as the years went by I found myself circling back to pick that part of my life up. And that's when I started raising money. Darren Fortney Going the extra mile for a good cause By Kelsey Bewick Seven years ago, Darren Fortney laced up his sneakers and ran around the block for the first time. On the heels of a surgery that had threatened his ability to walk, Fortney, who also beat cancer at the age of 19, had the simple goal of getting in shape. A little over- weight and out of breath, Fortney hated his first jog. But deep in- side, something compelled him to push farther. And just one year later, the project manager for Short Elliot-Hendrickson finished his first half-marathon. Fast forward to today and you'll find Fortney's sudden passion has evolved into die-hard obsession. Not only has the 43-year-old father knocked out numerous Ironman triathlons, he's become known as one of the top endurance athletes around. And he's just getting started. This summer, for the second time, Fortney completed what is widely regarded as the most challenging foot race in the world: the most challenging race in the world: The Badwater Ultramara- thon, a nonstop 135-mile trek from North America's lowest point in California's Death Valley, to Mt. Whitney, one of the highest We caught up with Fortney for a chat after the July 11-13 race A 135-Mile Run Later… The race: To finish the 135-mile ultra- marathon, Fortney pushed himself through illness that set in at mile 40. He finished in 45 hours! 26 BRAVA Magazine The shoes: As air temperatures topped 100 degrees, the temperature on the pavement was nearly double. Fortney ended up going through three pairs of shoes. August 2011 The fundraising: He set a goal to raise $10,000 for Gilda's Club Madison—and blew it out of the water, raising nearly $13,000 for the nonprofit. The nonprofit: Gilda's Club Madison is the local chapter of a national orga- nization aiming to support all people affected by cancer. Visit the group online at Why Gilda's Club? Because Gilda's Club doesn't focus on just one type of cancer and they focus on the social and emotional side of treating people. We're getting pretty good about treating cancer, the physical side—the ra- diation and the chemotherapy. It's the other stuff that's left on the table. Back in 1987 [when I was diagnosed], it was a whole different world…there was no support. Gilda's Club helps address that. The Badwater Ultramarathon covers 135 miles through Death Valley, Calif., in the middle of summer. I heard you've trained in a sauna for this. Is that what it ends up feeling like? The heat is suffocating…it's claustrophobic. It's really hard on the feet. The radiating pavement temperature is over 200 degrees so your feet are just being cooked in your shoes. Is it true that you go through multiple pairs of shoes because the bottoms melt? Yes, the glue on the soles of the shoes can just completely melt off and eventually peel away. You also need to have pairs of shoes that are at least one size bigger, because when you run for that long your feet swell up. It sounds brutal! What do you say to those who think you're crazy? I can count a dozen people doing crazier things than I'm doing, so I always think I'm relatively normal compared to them! But if you know what you're doing, you're around good people and you're smart about your body and nutrition, I think people are capable of a lot more than they give themselves credit for. ••• Photo by David King

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