When Ian Warshak arrived at the 11th annual Humana Rock 'n' Roll San Antonio Marathon & 1⁄2 Marathon early Sunday, he removed his legs and checked them in with race officials.
The 38-year-old father of three who lives in Stone Oak then donned his racing legs, made sure they were properly aligned and headed to the course for his second half-marathon in two weeks.
Running 13.1 miles or even a full marathon of 26.2 miles in blade prosthetics is nothing compared to what Warshak has been through.
“I’ve been in rehab hospitals and I’ve seen people in all kinds of conditions and shapes,” Warshak said. “I hope I can inspire others with whatever situation they’re in. There was a little old lady who inspired me when she had her legs amputated and she was walking around and I was still in a wheelchair. So I hope I can do that for someone else.”
In 2012, less than one year after his wife, Denisse, had given birth to their third child, Warshak felt like he was coming down with something. He tried to tough it out, but after a day he began to feel so bad, he went to the emergency room. Not long after, he fell into a coma, a state in which he stayed for nine days.
He had contracted a bacterial infection caused by the Group A Strep that causes strep throat. He went into septic shock with multi-organ failure and wasn’t expected to live. He lost blood flow to his feet and fingers, all of which had to be amputated.
His recovery was slow and grueling, learning to walk again and learning to function in a modern world where so many things are designed around and made easier by a grip and fingers.
He hadn’t been a runner prior to his illness but decided to take up running to stay fit after learning to use his prosthetics. There he was Sunday morning perched against a stage at the start line in one of the fastest waves of the race. He’s come a long way.
“It’s a sense of accomplishment,” Warshak said. “I like running. I like the exercise. I like being out here with other people who are doing the same thing. I just like it. It’s kind of weird, I didn’t even start running until I was in my mid-30s.”
Warshak finished the half-marathon in 2 hours, 6 minutes, 46 seconds. Silas Kipruto of Kenya won the elite men’s race in nearly perfect race conditions in 1:04.2. Caleb Hoover finished second more than 2 minutes later in 1:06.31.
Canadian Sasha Gollish, a former Pan American Games bronze medalist, was the first woman to cross the finish line in the half-marathon in 1:13.35. Alia Gray was second in 1:15.38.
While there was a relatively small field of elite runners with fewer than 50 registered, more than 20,000 competitors were expected to participate in this year's race, including local leaders such as retiring City Manager Sheryl Sculley, Assistant City Manager Lori Houston and Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales, who were photographed together during their appearance at the start line in downtown San Antonio.
When the first waves began leaving the start at 7:15 a.m., the temperature was 51 degrees with a light breeze and sunny skies, basically ideal race conditions. They were a welcome change from the past two years when all or part of the race was contested in the rain.
Temperatures had risen less than 10 degrees when runners began finishing the half-marathon, and they weren’t significantly higher when Brett Morley won the full marathon 2 hours, 30 minutes, and 41 seconds after the start. Daniel Garza was second in 2:37.19.
Leticia Acosta Perez won the women’s marathon in 3:03.04, topping Morgan Mengini, who was second in 3:05.43.
The first San Antonio resident to cross the finish line in the half-marathon was active duty Air Force 1st Lt. Sean O’Hollearn, who was stationed in San Antonio for nurse training this summer. He grew up in Portland and was a walk-on distance runner at the University of Portland.
‘Perfect,” O’Hollearn said. “Literally, the most perfect day of all time. You couldn’t ask for anything more as a runner. No wind, sunny, nice and cool. Perfect. The crowd was great, too. It was a nice course.”
O’Hollearn said when he first started running as a freshman in high school he was the worst on his team. He stuck with it and used Sunday’s half-marathon as a training run for the Houston full marathon in seven weeks.
“I realized that in a lot of other athletics you kind of have to be talented sometimes,” O’Hollearn said. “You know, you have to have the physical attributes. In running, it’s about the work you put in. You don’t need to be special in any way. Anybody can do it. In my opinion we’re all born to run.”