Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Ernie McDonald, Running Hard and Winning the Race of Life

Ernie McDonald~ Running Hard-and Winning- the Race of Life.

By Leigh Bratina for The Helena City News

“Whether it's the best of times or the worst of times, it's the only time we've got.”, says Art Buchwald, 80,the satirist known for his determination to forgo kidney dialysis and go into hospice-outliving his predicted remaining time. Ernie MacDonald is using all of his time to the fullest. Given the diagnosis in the past few years of Parkinson's disease, coupled with congestive heart failure, glaucoma, and a stroke just 2 years ago. “Ernie” as most know him by, is 81 years old and by all accounts, Art Buchwald has nothing on him. In March 2006, Ernie was sent home from the hospital bed to a hospice program. Today he is still battling health problems, but he was one of very rare few that has been “dismissed” from the hospice program. ” They say it is one in a million that come out of hospice the way I did.” proclaims Ernie.
In just a few months Ernie has gone from being linked to an oxygen tank where he struggled to take a breath, to riding his bike about town again. His wife of 24 years, Dr. Tuiren Bratina, who is 21 years his junior, finds comedy in his progress. “The hospice worker called one day to say that she was in the neighborhood and was going to stop by to check on Ernie. I told her that Ernie was not at home but out riding his bike somewhere. Ernie “failed” the hospice program shortly after that. I like to laugh about him getting kicked out”.
On any given day, you can find Ernie riding his bike in Helena, working out on his self designed exercise bars and track in his own backyard, preparing for his quarterly teaching of Sunday school class at Helena United Methodist Church or working out at Helena Fitness Center . “Everybody that sees Ernie here, ask about him’, says Helena Fitness employee Chris Wood, “They want to know how old he is. They become encouraged to be healthy after seeing him. Ernie is defiantly a motivation and a selling point.”
His wife Tuiren gives credit to him being alive to Dr. Sara Walker of Calera and his hospice worker, Heather Calhoun. Ernie credits the Lord and his workout routine to his health. Ernie became interested in fitness 69 years ago after not making the football team, due to his size. “The football coach suggested that I try out for the track team instead, and I made it. I have been running ever since.” His track career has spanned for 60 years now and he continues to travel the US to track meets. Just last month he ran in a 50-meter race at Samford Universiy and won. Next month he will compete in the 100 meter. He races in the 80-85 age bracket. He is a very accomplished runner, having the best race of his career-The Boston Marathon in 1957, when he came in 29th place as well as the All American Award when he won the 800 meters at age 75.
When asked about his feelings about the hospice program Ernie answered, “I was happy to be in the program. Because I am a Christian and a former minister and I was aware of the program and happy to be in it….until they “released me” after 2 months. But when you get into your 80’s it is on your mind. I just try to have a good lifestyle and training. I have had my ups and downs. My parents lived to be in their 70’s, so it is not in the gene pool, it’s all about lifestyle. I have been 142 lbs. consistently for the past 55 years.” Ernie is so precise in his exercise routine that he has measured the asphalt surface from the ABC store to the Helena Fitness Center (its 100 meters), “I first walk it in 60 seconds, and then race it in 30. If I come before 12PM, the payment has some shade on it from the sun at that time, so that’s when I run.”
“Everyone in Helena knows Ernie”, comments Winn Dixie employee Zodie McCall, “I see Ernie out every single day walking and riding his bike. He comes into the store, I ask him how he’s doing, and he always says, “I am doing real good”. He’s a fine man.”
A fine man he is! A retired Methodist minister and special education teacher, and having served 2 years in the military, Ernie is proud of his life. “I have 4 boys and 2 girls, 14 grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren. I am looking forward to running many more races.”

No comments: