If you live in Town & Country, you have undoubtedly seen a tall, blonde, and suntanned runner. His name is Eric Strand. Eric’s day job is VP of Sales & Marketing at Creve Coeur-based Drury Hotels. Eric joined the City’s “Parks and Trails Commission” about 13 years ago with a desire to connect the City with a trail system. Over 12 years and 35,000 miles later, Eric got his wish. Knowing Eric, I suspect that he kissed the pavement before his first run on the new trails. Dreams might take a decade, but they do come true!
I have known Eric for about 15 years. Our sons have been friends since their Mason Ridge days and, to this day, remain close. Eric and his wife, Tami, have raised 3 beautiful, talented children. Collin is 25, Kaity is 22 and Zach is 23. Collin works with United Healthcare in Springfield, Mo. Like his Dad, running is in his blood. Dad and lad participated in the Chicago Marathon last fall.
Unfortunately, Collin broke his leg on Super Bowl Sunday, causing him to be sidelined for a while.
Kaity just graduated from Truman State University in Agricultural Science and will be working on her Masters in Animal Reproductive Physiology at Mizzou next year. She will be running her first distance race at the St. Louis Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon this October. Kaity has always had a love of horses- I remember her volunteering at Longview Farm Park as a teenager in the stables. She currently has 3 horses of her own, was a member for 4 years of the Truman State University Equestrian Team and served as its President this year.
Zach is currently enrolled in the Engineering program at Clemson, and will graduate next year. He is the Production Manager on the Clemson SAE team- they build a ¼ size Formula One racecar each year and compete against other schools. He also is working in a co-op program at Club Car in Augusta designing, testing and building golf carts and small vehicles. The Strand kids undoubtedly make their parents proud every day.
Eric’s wife, Tami, is his biggest fan. She follows him around the country, supporting his desire to brave the elements, run until he drops and apply Band-Aids and antiseptic ointment as needed. Tami is the Director of Clinical Performance Management at St. Lukes Hospital. She and Eric have been married for 28 years, and, if you ask Eric, he considers himself to be the luckiest guy in the world to be Tami’s spouse. Even though she’s at each of Eric’s marathons, Tami doesn’t have running in her blood. She’s run a few half marathons but prefers to swim and manages to work out 6+ times a week.
Eric began distance running when he was 39 years old, right after he finished grad school. He had more time on his hands and his initial goal just to complete a marathon. He completed the marathon, but lost to a few 70 year-olds. After that, he was hooked.
An added bonus to all that running is that he can eat anything his heart desires!
For the next 11 years, his dream found him participating in 35 marathons all over the country, including Boston, (five times!) Chicago and Pikes Peak. Eric completed Pikes Peak twice, huffing and puffing his way up 14,000 feet to the summit. The Pikes Peak Marathon is 13 miles up and 13 miles down on rocky terrain that looks like something only mountain goats should navigate. It wasn’t unusual for Eric to see injured runners cut, scraped, bloody or simply out of gas and not able to move. The elevations at Pikes Peak wreak havoc with all the runners: it’s the lack of oxygen.
Eric did point out that airline pilots get supplemental oxygen as the planes rise above 10,000 feet of altitude. He admitted to occasionally feeling “fuzzy in the head” as he ascended the mountain. I asked him how he handled the last few gritty, grueling miles of Pikes Peak- when things got tough, he begin counting every step. As he was counting, he admitted that the lack of oxygen made it a little difficult to count past 6 or 7 without losing his place.
Reaching the summit was a moment of sheer joy. The view from the top was spectacular. Anyone else would be hooping and hollering just to finish, then collapse in an exhausted heap. But not Eric. In typical “Eric Strand fashion,” he complimented the staff of volunteers for being “the best out there.” Imagine ascending hills, rock, brush, making it to the top, and then telling everyone else how much you appreciate what they do because they’re volunteers. That’s just how Eric rolls.
If you want to be astounded at the drive and sheer will that Eric possesses, check out the YouTube video he created and narrated while running the marathon.
You get the picture. Eric loves to run! He claims that “When I run, I decompress.” Watching his video, I don’t know how that’s possible. But, to each his own.
Although he has competed in some of the countries toughest marathons, he has never considered fundraising for a cause. This August, with the Leadville 100, that will change. The event is an ultramarathon, held in Leadville, Colorado. It happens to be on his 52nd birthday. I’m thinking that his birthday wish is to simply finish the race alive. With altitudes of up to 10,000 feet, and 100 miles long, it must be completed in 30 hours.
The charity that Eric is supporting is St. Lukes “The Life & Hope Fund.” Eric picked this particular charity because Tami works at St. Lukes, and he knows how tough a cancer diagnosis is for all involved. “There are many hidden costs involved in cancer treatment,” says Eric. Eric’s Mom, Corrine, has lost 2 husbands to cancer. I’m proud to be Eric’s cheerleader because I’ve beat cancer twice.
The Strands are matching each and every donation made, up to $5,000. The foundation doesn’t pay any salaries; it directly assists cancer patients in the St. Louis area who lack adequate health insurance. The fund will cover costs for prescriptions, transportation to medical appointments and much more. Currently about $3,500 has been raised, and it is already being put to use by patients at St. Lukes undergoing cancer treatment.
Diane Jorgenson, Director of Social Services at St. Lukes Hospital, recently gave Eric an example of how the money is being used. A patient undergoing treatment for her second bout of cancer came to Diane, explaining how concerned she was over the mounting bills she is accumulating. She had a part-time job to supplement Social Security, but had to quit because of the fatigue that goes along with cancer treatment. With continual trips to St. Lukes, the cost of gas for her car was cutting into any money left over, previously earmarked for her medical bills. She had nowhere to turn until she was directed to Diane. Diane was able to give the patient some gas cards, easing the worry that goes along with cancer treatment. The patient was elated with the help she received from the Life & Hope Fund. And, there are more stories just like that out there.
If you know the Strands, you know how sincere they are about raising funds for such a worthy cause. So far, about $3,500 has been raised and the Strands are matching every donation. If you, your family or friends have been touched by cancer, or if you know Eric and applaud his scrappy determination, or, if you are just looking for a way to make a donation that stays in St. Louis, please think about the Life & Hope Fund. So, come on, make Eric part with $5,000 before the Leadville 100 in August!
To find out more about Eric and his obsession, the Leadville 100 and the Life & Hope Fund, or to make a donation to this worthy cause, visit his website at www.leadfeet.com