Comeback complete

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:46 AM ET

If you like a good story, hang around the finish line of the Manitoba Marathon. It's amazing what you'll hear.

Take the story of Pat and Brian Sandness, a couple originally from Fargo who call Winnipeg their favourite vacation spot.

After what happened yesterday, this place has a special place in their hearts for an entirely different reason.

Especially in Pat's heart.

The 52-year-old registered nurse suffered a heart attack just 15 months ago, while training for last year's event.

Yesterday, she made her comeback from death's door complete, a wave of emotion sweeping over her as she crossed the finish line after running the half-marathon.

"It was an absolute dream come true," Sandness said through the tears. "Because I'm lucky to be alive, for one thing, much less think I was going to do this again."

Sandness suffered the heart attack while running on her treadmill, although at first she thought her chest pains and lightheadedness were just indigestion. Two days later, she checked herself into hospital.

"It scared the heck out of me," Brian recalled. "You don't think of it, because she's healthy. You had no idea that would ever happen. It really makes you think."

After an angioplasty, Sandness worked her way back, determined to face what knocked her down, head-on. She'd run this race twice before, and vowed to do it a third time.

"I needed to do it again," she said. "Because that's what I was doing when I had my heart attack. I had to get back and prove to myself that I could do it. It was part of the healing process for me."

So after getting the all-clear from her cardiologist, Sandness and her husband came up from Menomonie, Wisc., where they now live, to exorcise this demon, once and for all.

And Brian, who runs full marathons like he's getting out of bed -- he's completed 54 of them -- surprised his wife by staying at her side the whole time.

"I had to run with her this year," he said. "It was so much fun just to see her be able to do this. Because she worked so hard for it."

It's stories like this that make the Marathon what it really is: a day of celebrating life.

And proving that death doesn't mean the end of everything.

Lydia Warkentin would have loved to have had her first husband at her side yesterday, but he died of brain cancer 14 years ago, at the age of 35.

Now, grieving is a long, painful process -- a marathon, you could say -- but yesterday Warkentin, 46, ran her very first full marathon, thanks in large part to the memory of Dawson Harms.

"I ran it for him and my kids," she said. "It was great to be able to do this for Father's Day."

Warkentin was hurting with two miles to go, but willed herself through it. It didn't hurt that her four kids were cheering her on not far from the finish line.

"The thing I wanted to show my kids today was that just because their father died, he can still inspire us to do our best. I know he's still around and still saying, 'Go for it.' "

More than 12,000 people went for it yesterday, in the full and half-marathons, the relay, the 2.6-mile run, the 10-km walk, even a short sprint for kids five-and-under.

There were 55-year-old teachers like Ted Swain, running to raise money for diabetes, a disease that's taken family members and friends, and 16-year-olds like Courtney Dumas of Pukatawagan, Man., who ran his first 26-miler because he just loves to run.

There were people like Chantelle Welloch-Bolt, 100 pounds overweight 10 years ago but in good enough shape to run 13 miles now, and lifelong runners like Winnipeg's Len Rolfson, who's run all 29 Manitoba Marathons.

More than 12,000 good stories. And one valuable lesson.

"Nothing is impossible," Pat Sandness concluded. "If you put your mind to it."


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