No one would have blamed Kristen Hallock-Waters if she stopped running.
After struggling to complete her second New York City Marathon in the fall of 2009, she knew something was wrong. Three months later, she fainted, diagnosed with bradycardia, a slow heartbeat, and given a cardiac pacemaker.
The pacemaker did not mark end to her running career, though; it was just another obstacle to overcome.
“It wasn’t that I was afraid to run again, it was a more of a fear that I wouldn’t be able to run anymore,” Hallock-Waters said.
Her passion for running was born out of tribute to her late husband Jeff.
Jeff was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme on Jan. 5, 2004. He was treated at The Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke University and participated in several quality-of-life studies sponsored by the Tug McGraw Foundation. Jeff embodied the “ya gotta believe” spirit made famous by McGraw, and he endured four craniotomies, weeks of radiation therapy, four years of various chemotherapies and months of speech, physical and occupational therapy. Through it all, he never lost his strength, determination, humor and incredible smile, Hallock-Waters said.
“He was an endurance cyclist, and even during treatment, he never lost that commitment. He rode his bike through four years of chemotherapy, it was very important to him. He was an inspiration to me,” Hallock-Waters said.
Jeff completed the American Cancer Society Bike-a-thon from Philadelphia to the New Jersey Shore the day before flying to Duke for his third brain surgery for a tumor recurrence. Sadly, Jeff passed away on Nov. 26, 2007, just three days after his 42nd birthday. Hallock-Waters thinks of her husband often during her runs.
“I think about him a lot when I run. That connection he had with being outside, with being in nature. I know he would be proud of me,” Hallock-Waters said.
She admits he would have been surprised to watch his wife turn marathon runner.
“I don’t think he would have seen this coming, but he would have supported it. There are so many people who can’t physically do these things because of health reasons, so as long as I can I will,” Hallock-Waters said. “You can find ways to be healthy and to be active. You can overcome.”
After her pacemaker was implanted in 2010, Hallock-Waters resumed training, running four half-marathons and two 10-miles races. And in 2013, she returned to the New York City Marathon to once again run for her husband with the Tug McGraw Foundation’s team. Her commitment has impressed family and friends as well as raised a few eyebrows.
“Everyone has come to expect it from me, they’re proud of me. I think there are some people that are concerned, but all my physicians say it is perfectly OK. Some say I’m a little bit crazy too,” Hallock-Waters said with a laugh. “After the pacemaker was put in, I was determined to do it again. I have this feeling, more like I want to prove I can do anything that anyone else can.”
Hallock-Waters moved to Tabernacle 14 years ago from Long Island, and the area has provided a perfect backdrop for her long treks.
“I’m in a good spot definitely, running through Tabernacle is beautiful. I’ll run into downtown Chatsworth. I like to go through Shamong into the trails through Wharton State Forest and around Atsion Village. There are no shortage of great, beautiful places to run in this area,” Hallock-Waters said.
The scenery will be slightly different when Hallock-Waters participates in the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon on Oct. 5 in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn., as a Medtronic Global Hero.
This year’s team includes runners from 10 different countries: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, Israel, Italy, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States. Each runner has a medical device to treat conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, spinal disorders, chronic pain or neurological disorders. The Medtronic Global Heroes program, launched in 2006, celebrates people who have overcome chronic disease conditions and continue to demonstrate a passion for running.
“Through their running and service, the Global Heroes represent fully-empowered patients who not only actively manage their own health needs, but are also proactively contributing to the well-being of their families, friends and communities,” said Dr. Jacob Gayle, vice president of the Medtronic philanthropy, in a statement.
Global Heroes are selected by Twin Cities In Motion, the non-profit organization that directs the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon. Each participant and their guest are awarded a race entry and travel expenses to Minnesota. Hallock-Waters has already spoken to other participants in preparing for the event.
“I’ve spoken to other racers from Brazil and Switzerland, which was really great. It was interesting to speak to other runners who have an electronic pacemaker and their experiences and what they’ve had to overcome,” Hallock-Waters said.
She has a message to those who may think it is too late or too difficult to make a change in their day-to-day health.
“It is never too late if you put your mind to it. Not every day is a good day but you make yourself do it, and if you don’t do it one day because you’re too tired or you can’t, the next day is a new day,” Hallock-Waters said. “It’s never too late to embrace a healthy lifestyle.”