Jacob Zinn :: journalist + photographer

JRNL 1261 – Making It to the Finish Line

JRNL 1261 – Advanced Journalism

April 2009

Making It to the Finish Line

Brent Kruger is running for his fiancée’s life.

He is set to run the Bank of Montreal half-marathon on May 3 for Allison Dagneau, his wife-to-be who was diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma in August 2008.

He admits he’s not a natural athlete—he is quite tall and has a stocky build, not exactly suited to lengthy runs downtown.

But even if his body wasn’t made to run, his motivation won’t let him stop short of reaching his goal.

His hat promotes Team In Training, the organization he’s running in, though his sandals aren’t proper for running and unseasonable for February.

“I’m not a runner at all,” said Brent, 28, sitting in a Starbucks. “Everyone I talked to about it is like, ‘You’re running? You’re insane.’”

“The first thing I said was, ‘You’re nuts.’ But because of why he was doing it, it meant a lot,” said 26 year-old Allison.

“But I still think he’s crazy.”

Allison isn’t the only one who thinks so—it seems to be the general consensus from everyone who knows Brent.

“In the beginning, it was like, ‘Do you run?’” said Allison with a laugh, but noting that he’s gotten nothing but support from everyone.

She and Brent were matched together on eHarmony.com in May 2006, but their relationship didn’t begin right when they met in person.

Allison said, “He told me he only wanted to be friends, which ticked me off ‘cause you don’t pay 60 bucks a month to meet a new friend.”

Then they started dating in January 2007, but for as long as Brent has known Allison, she’s had a history of health issues.

He was visiting family in Saskatchewan when he got the phone call from his wife-to-be, who inspired him to run for leukemia and lymphoma research.

He’s never had a loved one go through cancer before and remembers the initial feeling of shock when he answered the phone.

“You automatically go into panic mode, like, ‘Is it life-threatening? Is she going to be around until she’s old?’” said Brent.

He felt bad standing in the hospital, wearing rubber gloves and a mask to visit his exhausted fiancée for chemotherapy sessions.

“He’s come to every treatment with me … he’s always been there for me, always making sure I’m okay,” said Allison.

When he left the hospital one day, he heard a radio commercial for Team In Training, and it was at that point he decided to run.

“If Allison can go through six months of chemotherapy, I can go through 21 kilometres of running,” he said.

“I have to raise a minimum $2,000 to go to the Vancouver marathon and 75 [per cent] of the $2,000 goes to the society.”

The remaining 25 per cent goes to administration and everything above $2,000 goes to the cause—Brent’s aiming for $3,000.

“I was looking for something to do other than just cutting a cheque … something to show for it,” he said.

He hopes the money raised will help all cancer patients, saying, “I wanna be a part of making their lives better.”

His Team In Training webpage says he’s raised $1,200 through online and mail-in donations, and he has 12 sponsors.

“We need your support to cross the ultimate finish line—a cure,” reads the webpage under a photo of Brent and Allison with shaved heads.

He’s planning a pub night sometime in April, but in the meantime, he’s been following a training schedule in preparation for the marathon.

During the week, he does strength and endurance training—anything but running, because that’s what he does on Saturdays.

The runs get longer every week, but his friend Matt Dueck, 22, rides his bike beside him, pushing him the entire way.

“It started off at four kilometres and now he’s up to seven kilometres, and soon it’ll be 10 kilometres,” said Matt.

“My first time doing the four kilometres, I thought I was going to die,” Brent said with a laugh.

Matt said, “For seven kilometres it’d take him about an hour and a half. Last Saturday, we did seven kilometres in 45 minutes. Pushing him helps.”

Sundays are his day of rest, but even though he works weekdays for a paper delivery company, he’s also a music intern at White Rock Community Church.

Brent studied music at Bethany College in Saskatchewan before he packed his bags and moved to British Columbia in 2005.

Pastor Steve Doerksen met Brent on a young adults retreat two years ago and noticed his passion for worship ministry.

“There was something about the guy that I wanted to get to know,” said Steve, whose invitation to Brent became an internship with the church.

He gets to hear about Brent’s Saturday runs every Sunday morning when Brent’s muscles are sore and stiff.

“I myself have been incredibly impressed from a guy that really didn’t run that much,” said Steve of Brent’s dedication to the cause.

As well, Brent is up early on the Sabbath, strumming an acoustic guitar before the church that has been behind his cause all the way.

Steve said of the church-goers, “They’ve responded really well to Brent. We have a very intergenerational congregation and everybody seems to absolutely appreciate him.”

“He brings a real sincerity and he brings a real dedication to what he does. He’s a very likeable guy.”

Allison finds the same thing, saying, “He’s just an overall friendly guy, likes to meet new people and always making new friends.”

She’s seen Brent’s relationship with the church grow in his time there and how the community has gotten to know him.

“He’s been extremely faithful to this church and he loves what he does,” said Allison, who attends services with him every Sunday.

The weekly church bulletin says to pray for Allison as she undergoes the last of her treatments, but Brent has his own bad news.

Members of the church let out a collective gasp when he says he’s been let go from his paper delivery job.

But Brent’s not one to let a lay-off get him down and within weeks, he’s secured a job that might even help his marathon training.

“I’m working for Strides Orthotics … people come in there, they get their foot assessment, and then I help make the orthotics,” he said.

He’s a few months into his training regiment, and by now, he’s developed a routine for his Saturday practice runs.

After a breakfast of Cheerios and a banana, he stretches for half an hour before running out the door and down the street—way down the street.

Using MapQuest, he’s made a 10 kilometre route from his house to King George Highway, then all the way back home.

“Because the marathon is gonna have some hill climbing, I specifically run that way because on the way back, it’s pretty much all uphill,” said Brent.

He also has a pedometer to count his distance along the way—he can see his progress flashing back at him on an LED screen.

But his body is beginning to show signs of wear and tear, namely his feet that are supposed to walk him across the finish line next month.

“After my last long run, I really had quite an intense pain in my left foot,” he said, which he believes might be a stress fracture.

He’s waiting for the results of an x-ray to find out what kind of condition he’s in, but the doctor hasn’t called with any bad news.

The doctor advised Brent to run on grass and sand instead of pavement because soft surfaces put less pressure on joints.

“I need to keep active instead of sitting on my butt and hope my foot gets better,” he said while still following the doctor’s orders.

Fractured foot or not, Brent fully intends to run the half-marathon and he hasn’t gone easy on his practice runs either.

When is foot started feeling better, he went on a 12 and a half kilometre run through Stanley Park with no injuries to report.

Maybe it’s because his new job at Strides Orthotics has also gotten him a new pair of shoes.

But it’s not the shoes that are making his foot feel better—it’s his determination to follow through on the goal he’s set for himself.

At this point, the half-marathon is less than a month away and he only has a few Saturdays runs left as the big day approaches.

He’s shown no signs of slowing down, and it shows—Steve and the church have recognized the effort Brent is making.

“This is one way where he can give back not only to her, but to the society in general by upholding the cause,” said Steve.

Allison maintains he’s the “same old Brent” as before, but through this experience, she’s seen how much he cares for her.

She said, “It’s made me realize how committed he is to me and it’s made me realize that he’s going to be there for me.”

She’ll be waiting for him at the finish line because he’s been with her every step of the way.

Update: About a week before the half-marathon, a PET scan confirmed that Allison is cancer-free. Brent finished the 21 kilometres in under three hours. Allison and Brent got married on June 6, 2009.

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