Running for Their Lives

Trucker/runner Mark Wagner collects donations for his marathons to help Zambian AIDS widows and orphans.

Not everyone gets a second chance. Mark Wagner did. And he used it.

Wagner, 43, a company driver for Petro Chemical Transport, underwent aortic valve replacement surgery in January 2000. With a mechanical heart valve, Wagner had what he called “a new lease on life,” and he wanted to make it count.

“I was given a second chance with my heart valve. And I wanted to give kids a second chance.”
On New Year’s Day 2002, Wagner, of Port Orchard, Wash., made a commitment to run every other day, starting off on 1.5-mile runs and setting his sights on longer distances. The training was not easy.

“When I started, every mile was scary,” he says. “I thought I’d have a heart attack while I was running.”

But he stayed at it and ran a 10K (6.21 miles) race on July 4 of that year. Two weeks later, he ran a 15K (9.32 miles) race. After that run he made it a goal to run a marathon.
On Oct. 6, 2002, he ran one, finishing the Portland, Ore., marathon in 4 hours, 55 minutes, 32 seconds. That run made Wagner only the second person in history to run a marathon with a mechanical valve, according to Runner’s World magazine.

His goal to help children through his running was achieved in February of 2003, when he teamed up with World Vision, a non-denominational relief organization, to run marathons to raise money for Zambia’s widows and orphans affected by the massive HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa.

Wagner says Zambia’s problem is enormous. “Take a 747, which holds about 400 people. It crashes and kills everyone on board. Imagine that happening every single day for 15 years straight,” he says.

Wagner says he chose World Vision because he felt it was important to make a difference in one country, and because the majority of money donated actually goes to the children.
Since the Portland marathon, Wagner has run 5K, 4-mile, 8K and 10K races, as well as another marathon.

Wagner ran in the Royal Victoria Marathon in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, this past October, calling the run “Second Chance: A Run for Hope,” referring to both his own second chance and the second chance Zambian orphans would get through donations made on his marathon run.

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He documented his run in an e-mail sent to family and friends:
“About mile 19 my right calf cramped