Meet Adam Fitzgerald: husband, father, minister and endurance athlete. Back in 1968, Adam weighed a mere three pounds at birth. Five months later, he was diagnosed with hydrocephalus, an accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain. The prognosis was poor; doctors told his parents that he might not develop speech or the ability to walk.
A shunt was inserted and for several years, all was well. At the age of twelve, the shunt failed, and Adam went under the knife to correct it. Life hummed along until his early 30’s, and then Adam began to rack up surgery after surgery. In the last thirteen years, not a year went by that wasn’t filled with a visit to the hospital. To date, Adam has endured 28 surgeries.
“Since 2001, I have had a number of issues with the hydrocephalus among other stuff,” said Adam. “One of the biggies was the hearing loss. I started to lose my hearing about 12 years ago. Five surgeries to correct it didn’t work. I had a profound loss in my left ear. And after severe bouts of vertigo, I ended up having to have a labrynthectomy. This is where they actually remove the balance center from your inner ear. Because of this I had to relearn how to walk.”
Not only did Adam relearn how to walk, but he took up ultramarathons. His first ultramarathon was a 31.2 mile challenge that he ran just seven months after two different brain surgeries. The idea for his first ultramarathon came during the recovery process. “I have always been drawn to endurance sports. There is just something about pushing yourself to the limit to see what you can accomplish. Call me crazy, but I love it,” said Adam. “I thought it would be neat to challenge myself, and it was also a way to stick it to the hydrocephalus so to speak– letting it know, ‘I win.'” Adam finished the race in five and half hours.
Then Adam challenged himself to the Freedom Park Ultramarathon, a twelve hour run that began at 8 p.m. on December 31, 2009 and ended at 8 a.m. on New Year’s Day. The air temperature was a bone-chilling 33 degrees and snow had just fallen. The course was a one mile loop, and Adam had not anticipated nor trained for the hilly terrain. By three in the morning, Adam decided that he had enough. He was going to quit once he arrived back to the starting point during that loop. “After a few more minutes, I thought to myself that there was no way on God’s green earth that I could possibly hurt any worse than I did now,” said Adam. “So I decided to suck it up and continue. I figured I was not going to die–it was a matter of just dealing with some discomfort.”
Adam ended up in fourth place and covered 55 miles, a personal best. Adam isn’t just skilled at running, he also holds a black belt in Taekwondo, a black belt in Tang Soo Do and a purple belt in Haidong Gumdo.
Last fall, life dealt Adam another blow– he became profoundly deaf to the point where hearing aids were no longer working for him. He opted for two more surgeries to insert cochlear implants. The implants restored some hearing, but Adam found himself facing obstacles with daily communication. ” Luckily, I’m good at reading lips,” Adam chuckled. “I work in Pastoral care, so I think that all the surgeries and stuff I have gone through is almost an asset for me as I have a pretty good idea of what the person is going through. It really helps me relate to the people I care for.”
There are more ultramarathons in the works, including a 24-hour run coming up next January. If there are more surgeries to come, Adam plans to just work the ultramarathons around them.
“All my life I have been told “you can’t ____’, so my attitude is, Oh yeah?? Watch this!” said Adam. “Life has been a challenge to say the least, but I try to use the phrase that I hear a lot at Ultras. It’s all about “RELENTLESS FORWARD MOTION.’ It is not a matter of ‘if’ you will really hurt or want to give up, but ‘when’. Just keep putting one foot in from of the other and keep moving forward.”