Training for a marathon involves months of practice, starting with short runs leading up to 26 miles. Training is earnest and intense, and includes everything from selecting proper shoes to pre-race nutrition. In other words, to even complete the marathon, one must be in top condition.
At one time, Edmonds resident Evans Wilson was a healthy athlete. He was a star runner at the former Woodway High School, and competed in state championships. He attended the University of Washington, and after brief stints in Boston and Dallas, returned to Edmonds and settled in a home near his aging mother.
In 2011, at age 57, Wilson began having knee pain, a common enough ailment for former runners. The doctor suggested a walking regimen. But when Wilson attempted even small hills, his breathing became so labored that he couldn’t even talk or call for help. His wife was very worried. And then began a series of tests and specialists, and for three years Evans suffered, until medical professionals got it right. He was finally given a name for his breathing difficulties: pulmonary fibrosis. But relief at finally finding a name for his condition quickly turned to anguish when he learned that victims of “PF” have a much shorter life span.
Pulmonary fibrosis is an incurable and progressive scarring of the lungs. Ultimately fatal, the annual death rate for PF is the same as breast cancer. Since PF doesn’t have the visibility of other diseases, it is difficult to raise awareness and funds for the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation. Understandably, the foundation is vital to those stricken, because it can organize resources and quality care to those who may feel they are suffering alone. The foundation is a lifeline for educating families and organizes local support groups for those with the disease.
Wilson is trying to change all that, one step at a time, by walking in the Seattle Marathon this Sunday, Nov. 27. He is hoping to raise $50,000 for the PF Foundation, for use in research and education about the disease, which affects 1 out of 200 adults over the age of 65 in the U.S. So far, Wilson has raised $15,750 from friends and neighbors in the community, but is inviting others — including business leaders and corporations — to support the PF Foundation.
For Wilson, participating in the marathon — he’s believed to be the first person doing so while using oxygen — means raising the visibility of pulmonary fibrosis. September was PF Awareness month, and it slipped by with little public recognition. While PF causes 40,000 deaths a year, similar to the numbers for breast cancer, it hasn’t received the level of awareness that includes pink ribbons on NFL football jerseys.
Wilson said he has given the challenge a lot of thought. “I am doing this to highlight the impact this disease has one’s life, between the first onset of symptoms, and the end stage time of the disease,” he said. Seeing a pulmonary fibrosis victim, with oxygen in tow, at the Seattle Marathon will help the general public realize that financial aid is paramount for the research and development of a cure for this insidious disease, he explained.
The marathon will start at the Seattle Center at 5th and Harrison Street. Nearly 15,000 runners and walkers will wind their way through the streets of downtown onto the Mercer Island Floating Bridge, and the turnaround point of the 26.2-mile course.
Wilson’s wife Alicia will accompany him, carrying a second oxygen tank, “so I don’t have to refuel as often,” Wilson said.
You can help Wilson’s efforts in two ways. You can donate online here: firstgiving.com/fundraiser/evanswilson/seattlemarathon. Or if you or someone you know is already planning to run the marathon, you can run for Evans Wilson and the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation. Simply mention your intention at registration, and you will also receive a discounted fee.
— By Beth Bond