Michael Mader used crutches to complete the Boston Marathon last month.
Whenever the 49-year-old Lower Township resident felt the urge to quit, he leaned on the memory of brothers Chris and Michael Herndon. They were Mader’s best friends, former classmates at Lower Cape May Regional High School, and both died this year.
“Their mantra was ‘Never quit,’” said Mader, who completed the race for the seventh straight year. “I wrote ‘Never Quit,’ on my shoe before the race, and I looked at it a lot. Even though they’re gone, I know they were there with me.”
Chris Herndon died at age 48 on Jan. 2. According to Mader, he was driving to work in Gainesville, Florida, when he suffered a fatal heart attack that Mader attributes to Lyme disease.
His passing hurt Mader to his core. Chris, a tall, muscular athlete, introduced Mader to triathlons about a decade ago. In 2017, they completed a full Ironman together.
Six weeks after Chris’ death, his brother, Michael, took a surfing trip to Puerto Rico with 10 friends. He was celebrating his 50th birthday but also was hoping that catching some waves would help soothe his soul.
“I was told he came out of the water and said he wasn’t feeling right,” Mader said. “Two of the guys are physician’s assistants and tried to help, but his aorta ruptured.
“They were my best friends for 38 years, and I was devastated to lose them. They were both supposed to come to Boston with me and stay with us this year. Instead, I had to give both eulogies six weeks apart.”
Mader, who is co-owner of Cape May Running Company and head of U.S. and European operations for Australia-based Greenlight Clinical pharmaceutical company, was depressed and distraught.
He didn’t run a single mile for 10 weeks. Finally, his wife, Katrina, insisted he had to start training or would have to withdraw from Boston.
“My wife pushed me out the door,” he said. “She helped me get my mojo back, though I only trained three weeks for the race.”
He crossed the finish line in 3 hours, 57 minutes, 34 seconds. Later that day, he saw the viral video of the 31-year-old Marine veteran who crawled across the finish line.
He got chills when he discovered the former Marine’s name is Micah Herndon.
“He’s not related to my friends,” Mader said. “But it’s pretty amazing that he refused to quit, just like they always told me.”
Mader is entering the Escape the Cape Triathlon next Sunday.
He is still getting over the loss of his friends and has not trained as hard as he has for past ETCs.
If necessary, he will need only to look at his shoe and lean on those crutches.
But no matter what, he will not quit.
David Weinberg’s Extra Points column appears Wednesdays and Sundays in The Press.