Don’t call Patrick Alcasid a hero.
He didn’t ask for three stress fractures in a row. He didn’t ask for hypercalciuria. And he didn’t ask for severe osteoporosis at age 37. All he ever wanted to do was run.
But despite his modesty, his calm voice and his even-tempered demeanor, make no mistake: Patrick is tough as nails. Jersey tough.
I caught up with Patrick — a fellow member of Christian Brothers Academy’s class of 1991 — earlier this winter at a coffee shop near his home on the Jersey Shore. And after nearly 24 years, I really didn’t know what to expect. But he immediately greeted me with a hug, as if no time at all had passed. It’s impossible not to feel both at ease and energized when you’re around him.
Patrick’s journey as a runner would be arduous even without his health issues. He and his wife Nina are both doctors who work up to 110 hours per week, and they have a young child. That’d be more than enough for just about anyone, but the unflappable Patrick realized in his mid-30s that all the fruits of his hard work would be worthless if he couldn’t enjoy them. He told me, “I was at the point in my life where I was like, ‘Wow, this is great. I have my career. I have my family. Now, what kind of internal goal could I have? In order to raise my family and be there for my kids forever, for how ever long it takes, I’d better take care of my health.”
This part of the story is familiar to a lot of us. When he was young and single, with plenty of time on his hands, he ran on and off. But then the pressures of work and family started to pile up, and in his own words, Patrick “wasn’t doing anything active at all.” He chose running for the same reason many people do — it’s simple. He started out with the goal of running a two-mile race in Manasquan. But then he caught the bug.
Unfortunately for Patrick, he already had a big hobby. Fortunately for him, it was one he could combine with his newfound passion for running — because he’s a Disney fanatic. A cousin told him about the Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon, which winds through the parks and ends in EPCOT with a finish line party that boasts great food, plenty of vino, a DJ, character meets and lots of other fun. So that became his goal.
Training started to go really well. Patrick ran a sub-24:00 5K, and his longer runs had him on track to finish the 13.1 miles in under two hours. And then: disaster. Every runner’s worst nightmare struck. Patrick suffered a stress fracture in his leg. And as soon as that one healed, he got another. And then a third.
He says his doctors had begun to joke, “Maybe you have osteoporosis. Why do you keep breaking things?” But by the third stress fracture, everyone realized that there was something wrong. It wasn’t just bad luck, or overtraining, or rushing back too fast after the last injury. So Patrick underwent a bone scan, and at age 38, he learned that he had severe osteoporosis. His scan suggested he had the bone density of a 78-year-old woman.
It turns out that Patrick suffers from hypercalciuria, a kidney disorder that causes him to excrete too much calcium. That calcium has to come from somewhere — and you guessed it, it comes from his bones.
Anyone who’s ever had a major illness, surgery or injury that requires time and lots of doctor visits knows that it’s very easy to get sucked into a vicious cycle of doubt, anger and self-pity. But that’s just not Patrick. He spent about a year and a half as a patient, but he simply wouldn’t let it get in the way of life or drag him down. He says, “I kept myself busy. In that year, I took four days off… And one of the biggest hurdles was trying to ignore the naysayers… But there’s a handful who said, ‘You’ll never run again.’ One of them even said, ‘Your dreams are shattered.’ Well no, they’re not shattered. So I kind of used that in almost a selfish way, like ‘I’ll show them.’”
That might have been the most emotional Patrick got during our hour together. But even then, we were just two old friends catching up over coffee. There was no anger in his voice, no rise in his tone. It’s just his story. He knows it’s a good one, and he knows it can inspire us, but he’s quick to point out, “There are worse things in life that I could have had. This was a relatively OK thing, it’s treatable. There are people who have a lot worse things… I didn’t plan, ‘OK, now I’m injured, now I can be a hero.’ I just wanted to get better.”
You might be asking yourself, “How exactly do you recover from something like this?” You use a kneeling scooter to get yourself around while your fractures are healing. You inject yourself every day for more than a year with a drug that helps you retain calcium. You adhere to a very strict diet that requires moderation in just about everything — even healthy foods like leafy greens. You obviously have to be very careful not to fall or even take a bad step that could break something else. And you lean on your loved ones for both physical and emotional support.
As it turns out, not only was Patrick dealing with his injury and illness, and keeping up his insane work schedule — he and Nina were in the middle of moving. “My wife did double the work of the packing and all this stuff, without a question. The night we actually moved to our house, I went to the emergency room that night because there was a problem with my injury.” And living that life was definitely frustrating. “I couldn’t make [my son] cereal.”
Many, many people’s stories end here. You get injured, you come down with a major illness, and you have to shelve your dreams. Patrick Alcasid wasn’t willing to let that happen to him.
It took a full year of therapy before his doctors — all of whom were runners, too — gave him the OK to begin training again. As you might imagine, he was basically starting from scratch. And he knew that he had to go much more conservatively than he had before his injuries. He says, “Injury has definitely slowed me down, and I’m OK with that… After my injury, I’m a little more careful now. I’m trying. I’m still seeing what I can do, but I’ll work my way up gradually, and I’m OK with that.”
But again, don’t let his modesty fool you. Since his injuries, he’s run five half-marathons and two fulls. That includes the Goofy Challenge at Walt Disney World, where he ran the 13.1 one day, and 26.2 the next. That’s something that many accomplished, injury-free runners can’t lay claim to.
And Patrick is going to keep on trucking. He plans to run the New Jersey Marathon this April — and I hope to be able to hand him a cup of water along the way.
Most runners will never have to overcome the challenges Patrick has. But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from him. If you do get hurt or ill, and you’re sidelined for a long time, Patrick preaches patience. “Take care of yourself and your health. Without that base, you won’t be able to fulfill your goals and get better. What happens is when you’re on track to a goal… your mind is set on the goal. That little wrench in it, you want to get over that as fast as you can… But no, now you have a new goal. You’ve got to get yourself better. Because if you push through that too much, if you just brush it aside, you’re not going to fulfill your goal. Find health providers that you trust. Listen to them, listen to your body, and trust that it’s all for the good.”
You can read more about Patrick Alcasid’s running journey on his blog, CouchToGoofyChallenge.Blogspot.com.