AVON, Ohio — Most runners know challenges. Because in their weakest moments on the course, their strength takes over.
Brad Way, 50, of Avon, knows this more than anyone. He's been running for about the last 10 years.
"I ran a few races, some half marathons and just kinda got the bug," Brad told us.
He didn't just catch the bug; he was going after the ultimate challenge: The Boston Marathon.
"Took about three or four years," Brad said.
He qualified in 2020, but the race was canceled because of the pandemic. This past March, he was ready to go for Boston. Then, another challenge ... maybe his biggest one yet.
"I had gotten sick and at the time I thought it could have been COVID, like everyone thinks these days. And, over a period of a day, I had passed out several times," Brad explained.
At Cleveland Clinic's Avon Hospital, there was an unintentional discovery.
"They performed a CT scan and found the aneurysm, which later determined that it had really no relation to the passing out," Brad said.
He was diagnosed with an aortic root aneurysm, a potentially life-threatening condition.
"The size of his aortic root was quite substantial," Dr. Tamanna Singh, Cleveland Clinic sports cardiologist, said. "Definitely within the range of where dissection or aortic rupture can definitely occur."
Brad would have open-heart surgery. He had so many unknowns on his mind.
"The first several days was really rough for the family, and just to digest what this would mean for the future," Brad expressed.
Plus, he had this looming: The Boston Marathon was just five months away. Brad wondered, as his dream was slipping out of reach: Could he do the unthinkable?
"I had been working towards this. And so, I asked, as we compared expectations and notes, it looked like it was at least a possibility," Brad said of talking with Dr. Singh.
Dr. Singh is a runner herself and volunteers at the medical tent at the Boston Marathon each year. She knew Brad could get there.
"I see myself as an advocate for my patient athletes and that was the role I needed to play for him," Dr. Singh. "It's about getting to the start line healthy and getting to the finish line healthy."
For Brad, training was slow and steady.
"After I got home from surgery, I started walking quite a bit. And then after six weeks, I started running at a fairly slow pace," Brad said.
A few months later, on October 11, 2021, it was time. The ultimate challenge had arrived. And Brad was ready.
"The environment is, people are so enthusiastic about everyone running, no matter where you're from, what pace you run, everybody's cheering you on. So the whole 26 miles is filled with just great spectators," Brad remembered.
As he inched closer to the finish, faces he loved carried him home.
"So I had my niece, my sister, my son, and my wife," Brad said.
The memory of seeing them along the race is emotional. Through tears, Brad said of the moment, "It was great."
He finished the race in 4:45. An impressive time considering what he had just overcome.
But there was one more face Brad needed to see.
"There was a lot of volunteers in the med tent and the person was very nice, but said it was not that easy to locate professionals. And I basically said, 'I had heart surgery five months ago and she's my cardiologist.' And with that, he said, 'let me see what I can do,'" Brad recalled.
It was the most unforgettable thank you.
"It was amazing. I mean, just to thank her for her support," Brad said.
"I'm grateful to Brad for what has taught me. I don't need anything from Brad. For me, as a physician, it's incredibly inspiring to see my patients pull through," Dr. Singh said.
In the greatest challenge of Brad's life, running pulled him through.