Jodi and Richard Brodsky are celebrating their 32nd wedding anniversary this weekend by running in the 14th Ocean Drive Marathon today.
As if the 26.2-mile trek from Cape May to Sea Isle City wasn't enough of a challenge, there are also five bridges and a seemingly annual head wind. Still, the Brodskys are competing in the race for the fifth time. Considering the obstacles the Atlantic Beach, N.Y., residents already have endured, the marathon is relatively easy.
Their marriage nearly ended 15 years ago. Richard Brodsky was diagnosed as HIV-positive in 1997. He said in a phone interview that he contracted the disease as the result of several affairs with men.
"The hardest thing I've ever had to do in my life was tell my wife I was HIV-positive," Brodsky said. "When I told her, I offered her three options: we could stay married, we could get divorced or I could kill myself. Thankfully, she wanted to stay married."
Five years later, Richard Brodsky wrote a book entitled "Jodi: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told." On Nov. 1, 2002, while doing a book signing in New York, he suffered a seizure and was soon diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.
An operation removed 85 percent of the malignant tumor and he also underwent radiation treatments. But oncologists gave him two to four years to live.
"After the operation, I wanted to know when I could start running again," he said. "They told me to forget about running and start making my funeral arrangements."
Today's marathon will be his 26th since being diagosed with cancer. Together with his wife, the former architect and father of three daughters also formed the Richard M. Brodsky Foundation to raise awareness about AIDS and cancer in Africa and the United States.
Among the events they sponsor are the 5K Run/Walk for HIVers, Cancer Survivors & Friends in Oceanside Park, N.Y., and the World AIDS Marathon in Kenya.
In August, he will celebrate his 60th birthday.
"Other people obsess about turning 30, 40, 50, 60 and I think that's crazy," Brodsky said. "Age seems irrelevent to me. I'm just thrilled to be alive."
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Brodsky is not the only person who has overcome adversity en route to the starting line today. The 800-plus runners expected to compete also includes Dr. Phillip Fields, a 64-year-old college professor from Mobile, Ala.
Fields, who teaches human anatomy at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia in 2007. When doctors told him he would no longer have the stamina to run another marathon, he set to prove them wrong by running a marathon in each of the 50 states.
Today's marathon makes New Jersey his 44th state in 38 months. Five of the marathons were completed while undergoing five months' worth of chemotherapy last year.
"My red blood cells and hemoglobin have been slow to receover, so my marathon times are much slower than they were a few years ago," said Fields, who qualified twice for the Boston Marathon in 1996 and 2004, respectively. "But I'm still enjoying myself. The way I look at it, this is a great way for me to see the country. I always wanted to travel, but managed to put it off."
One of his earlier races provided a life-changing moment. In October, 2010, while running in the Prairie Fire Marathon in Wichita, Kan., Fields met a woman who told him about her young daughter who had been diagnosed with leukemia and was starting chemotherapy.
Fields developed a website (www.marathonwithleukemia.org) and has been running in an effort to raise money for Nemours children's health system and for the treatment of children with cancer.
"I'm hoping to complete all 50 states by the end of this year," Fields said in a phone interview. "But I won't be finished. After that, I'll start all over and try to do different marathons in every state."
Much of the attention today will be focused on the dozen or so male and female runners who will be contending for the overall and age-group trophies. The Ocean Drive Marathon has gotten bigger every year - last year's event drew more than 900 entrants - and lures elite marathoners from throughout the country, plus Australia, Canada and Costa Rica.
But the runners in the middle and back of the packs are just as motivated to cross the finish line at JFK Promenade in Sea Isle City, no matter how long it takes.
Brodsky has actually gotten faster in the last year, which he credits to accupunture treatments, massages and Bikram Yoga. He is hoping to complete today's race in 4 hours, 26 minutes, one minute faster than his previous race, and eventually wants to break four hours by his 65th birthday.
Even if he doesn't reach his goal, he won't stop. In last year's ODM, a leg injury slowed him to the point where an ambulance followed him the last 10 miles and he needed nearly six hours to finish.
"I could be depressed about a lot of things," Brodsky said. "But I live my life and run marathons with the same philosophy. I just take everything one step at a time."
Contact David Weinberg:
14th Ocean Drive Marathon
Start: 9 a.m. today, Beach Avenue, Cape May
Finish: JFK Promenade, Sea Isle City