Pam Dickens has run in all 18 Disney Marathons, but this past race was one she's unlikely to forget anytime soon.
"It was tough," Dickens said. "Beyond tough."
That's because Dickens had to complete the 26.2-mile course minus her running partner — and husband. Billy Dickens survived a heart attack last year and was relegated to merely a cheerleader at this past weekend's event.
But for Pam, she was just thankful he was there waiting at the finish line.
"I thought about running as a widow and how horrible that would be," she said. "I kept thinking about what it would be like without him."
Thankfully for Dickens, some quick medical attention prevented that scenario. Billy, 54, called Pam at work Oct. 13 and told her to call 911 because he was having a heart attack.
"At first I thought, 'why don't you call yourself,' " she said with a chuckle. "But he wasn't sure if the ambulance could find our house (in Odessa), so he wanted to make sure I could direct them in."
Pam beat the ambulance there. After a trip to the hospital, it was discovered Billy had a blockage of the left anterior descending artery. This type of heart attack is ominously known as "the widow maker" due to its high mortality rate.
"It was the same kind (NBC newsman) Tim Russert died from (in 2008)," Pam said. "Thankfully they caught it very early. Doctors put in a stent immediately, and he felt better right away."
But running with Pam at Disney was out of the question.
"I was an emotional wreck throughout the whole race," she said. "I would just start crying at the drop of a hat thinking what could have happened."
Pam said Billy is feeling much better and has resumed activities — he's slated to run in February's Dade City half marathon. But are there plans for the Dickens, who have been married for 28 years, to tackle the strenuous Disney Marathon next January?
"Oh, you can count on it," Pam said. "And I'm sure I'll be an emotional wreck again."
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For Chris Wiegner of Riverview, completing his second Disney Marathon was a musical journey thanks to his iPod.
Wiegner, 33, used songs like More Human than Human by Rob Zombie to maintain his motivation. His musical choices helped him overcome a knee injury.
Wiegner's knee locked up at the 17th mile, and unable to run, he did speed walking the rest of the distance and jogged the last quarter mile. While disappointed he was not going to make his best time when he was near the finish line, Wiegner drew inspiration from the song Bro Hymn by Pennywise which gave him the motivation he needed.
"Although I didn't make my ideal time, nothing was going to stop me from finishing," said Wiegner.
Wiegner said he started running six years ago because he wanted to get back in shape and prove to himself he can accomplish a goal no one ever thought he could. In high school, Wiegner said he was always in the back of the running pack because he lacked endurance and motivation.
"I hated running, but now it's about determination and to prove to myself I can have endurance to run a full marathon," adds Wiegner.
Although Wiegner ran almost every day, he wasn't improving, so he joined a local running group to keep him motivated. Less than a year ago, he joined the Brandon Running Association. Since joining, his running and endurance have improved.
"The members of the group were extremely welcoming and they helped me improve my running time," Wiegner explains.
Since he joined the Brandon Running Association, Wiegner said he made a lot of sacrifices to accomplish his goal. In addition to changing his diet, he disciplined himself to run with the club at least two days a week. On Thursdays they run at Riverview High and on Saturdays they run at different locations in the Brandon, Riverview and Fishhawk area.