A True Hero!


During the weekend of October 11-13, I had the opportunity to help work the hp Houston Marathon booth at the Chicago Marathon two day expo. During this time, I met hundreds (maybe thousands) of very interesting runners, walkers, and sports enthusiasts. They came in all shapes and sizes and had many stories to tell. One man in particular had such a fascinating story I interviewed him on the spot.

Jose Nebrida was born in the Philippines and by the time he was 19 years old received a high school diploma and bachelor’s degree. He left his poverty-stricken country in search of further education, more opportunities, and a better life. For the next 13 years, Nebrida worked menial jobs while trying desperately to get to the United States. “I always felt that in this country, if you are a hard worker and you believe that you can do it, people will give you a chance, an opportunity,” he said. His chance came in 1975, when Loyola University Chicago accepted him into the master’s program of social work. He finished that degree and went on to receive two more master’s degrees in gifted education and educational administration. He now works as an administrator for Beasley Academic Center, a regional center for gifted programs in Chicago public schools.

Although he was succeeding academically and professionally, his health was another story. “I was a terrible eater – I was a chocoholic,” he said. “I also smoked two packs of cigarettes a day and drank heavily on the weekends.”

A typical day for Nebrida included: Breakfast: Nothing Snack: coffee and doughnuts Lunch: Burger King, McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken or a rib joint. Dinner: same as lunch.

“I ate all the good stuff – everything was fried,” he said. Not a good idea for a man with family history of heart disease. Two brothers had already died from heart attacks at the ages of 47 and 48. At the age off 44, Nebrida decided to change his life. During the first week of his “new life” he walked one block back and forth from his house. Every consecutive week, he increased his mileage by 10%. After three months he ran one mile. Then came a 5K, 10K and 1/2 marathon. He finished his first 26.2-mile race, the 1986 Chicago Marathon, in 4:56 – and continued running marathons all over the world.

Then September 11 occurred. After the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Nebrida donated blood and money. But that wasn’t enough. While training for his 110th marathon, he decided that he would honor the victims and heroes of September 11 by carrying an American flag during a marathon in every state and the District of Columbia. “I will dedicate my running to the victims and the heroes, the firefighters and the policeman, and all those who tried to save others and died in the process. I do it in their honor. And, at the same time, it’s a payback for what this country has given me,” he said. The first marathon he completed while holding the American flag was in New Hampshire, just a few weeks after the attacks. “I made a big mistake,” he said. “I carried a 5-foot by 8-foot flag. It was so heavy that with the wind, I took two steps forward and three steps back.” Nebrida finished the race in 8 1/2 hours. He now carries a 2-foot by 3-foot classroom flag, which is much smaller and lighter. Still, however, as the miles go by, his shoulders and arms cramp and go numb- and by the time he finishes the marathon he has trouble opening up his fingers.

Nebrida had completed 12 of the intended 50 marathons when on April 28, 2002, he suffered a heart attack and had triple bypass surgery. On May 1, 2002, Nebrida began rehab and on June 16 he was walking 100 yards. Next, he signed up for the Des Moines Marathon on October 6, 2002. “My medical team of physicians, therapists and dietitian were so supportive and said I could do it,” he said. “I took it easy and listened to my body.” Nebrida finished the marathon carrying the American flag. Since his heart attack, Nebrida walks 5-6 miles every morning and follows a strict dietary regimen.

His typical day now includes: Post Walk: One large glass of Gatorade Breakfast: 1 1/2 cups oatmeal, 1/2 cup skim milk, 2 teaspoons brown sugar, plain 7-grain toast, orange juice, and green tea Snacks: grapes, pear, apples, nuts, Harvest Bars Lunch: 3-4 ounces grilled salmon, tuna, or sea bass (“the size of a deck of cards,” he said), spring mix salad with rice vinegar Dinner: same items as lunch but 1/2 the amount

Nebrida’s other guidelines include: 1. Blueberries twice per week 2. At least 12 glasses of water daily 3. Canola or olive oil only 4. No fried foods 5. Grilled or baked fish at least 3 times per week 6. Grilled or baked chicken breast without the skin 2 times per week 7. When eating out, steamed fish and vegetables, rice, low salt 8. No eggs, bacon, or red meat 9. No alcohol or smoking

Nebrida is determined to reach his goal to run a marathon in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia carrying the American flag. “We can all be united this way,” he said. 60 year old, Jose Nebrida is an inspiration and a true hero.