Art Duerksen is a miracle!

Posted on Wednesday, September 14th, 2011 at 3:26 am

It’s not that I’m cynical, it’s just that it’s not often you see a front page article in a major daily with the title “Mystery or Miracle” and then have the writer not trash the possibility that what’s being reported is a bona fide miracle.

And to me it’s a miracle, indeed!

That a man I should know and respect and know is all too human should have a series of debilitating strokes and then successfully complete an Ironman months later, and all without ever having attempted much less trained for such an endurance test is, well, a miracle.

I know Art. He’s the real deal. He’s the guy people can look to and say he’s a Christian and feel proud. He’s walking the walk.

Or in this case, running the run, biking the bike and swimming the swim.

Which makes me wonder, did he walk on water or just swim in it?!

Read the article by columnist Scott Radley. And then feel free to support the man behind this modern day miracle: www.missionpossiblecolombia.com

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Art Duerksen in The Spec

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Strokes did not stop him Seven months ago, Art Duerksen was in hospital with his left side limp, his words slurred, one eye blind and unable to walk without a walker. He just finished an Ironman race two weeks ago. John Rennison/The Hamilton Spectator

 

Mystery or miracle?

How did Art Duerksen complete an ironman triathlon months after a series of devastating strokes? Something powerful happened at the starting line

The question didn’t just pop into his head as he crossed the finish line on an endorphin-charged wave of elation. It’d been there the whole way. Even if he still hadn’t come up with a good answer for it.

Seven months ago, he was in hospital after a series of strokes with his left side weakened, his words slurred, one eye blind and unable to take even a few steps without a walker. Now, here he was finishing an ironman triathlon. Slowly, mind you. Painfully, too. But finishing, nonetheless.

Was this a miracle?

Art Duerksen pauses to give it even more thought.

“Miracle is a big word,” he says.

Too big? To decide, we have to go back almost exactly one year. To an Ironman course carved out of the picturesque interior of British Columbia.

The Hamilton-based missionary was in the Okanagan Valley supporting his friend Gord Pauls during one of the most ridiculous athletic events ever attempted. Pauls, as some will recall, was in the process of finishing back-to-back-to-back ironmen on three consecutive days to raise cash for Haiti. Which just happens to be where some of Duerksen’s efforts are directed.

Throughout the attempt, Pauls’ wife Esther began selling the 55-year-old on the merits of doing an Ironman himself. He listened, but the idea made him laugh. After all, his resumé was shy three important criteria: he wasn’t a runner, wasn’t much of a swimmer and had never owned a bike.

“I played some handball,” he chuckles.

Before the day was done, though, a spark had been ignited. Whether inspired by her words or by her husband’s achievement — or both — Duerksen impulsively dug into his wallet and plopped down the $700 entry fee for the next year. He figured at worst he’d lose some weight and if things went really well, he’d get himself into the best shape of his life. Plus, he’d make some money for charity along the way.

As soon as he got home, he started training. His family thought he was certifiable. Yet less than two months later, he ran his first half marathon. By mid-December he was churning out the miles and turning his body into an endurance machine.

Then sitting at home one night shortly before Christmas, the room began spinning and he started feeling sick. Thinking it was the flu or maybe vertigo, he ignored it. Until it happened again. And again.

The third time was the worst. His speech became slurred and lispy. His vision blurred. His left side lost strength. His balance abandoned him. Concerned friends and family said he had to get medical attention. They were right. After a quick initial evaluation at the hospital, doctors decided he either had tumours on his brain or had suffered a series of strokes.

Neither was a great option. A CT scan didn’t offer much better news.

“They said, ‘You’ve got a big problem,’ ” he says.

A main artery at the top of his brain stem had become blocked and then had leaked. He’d suffered some brain damage. While he was in hospital, another small stroke caused him to go blind in his right eye.

Duerksen is an optimist by nature. Still, his three adult kids, his wife and his friends weren’t fooled by his upbeat attitude. What was happening scared them. Pauls says he had to grab Duerksen to prevent him from falling over the first time he tried to get out of bed to walk.

“I’ve never seen my dad in that state before,” said his oldest son, Arty. “It was pretty upsetting … it almost looked like he wasn’t there. He seemed almost lifeless.”

Pressed a bit, Duerksen admits it frightened him, too. Doctors gave him hope that he might return to his old self but prepared him for the other possibility. Medications were making him violently sick. Work and travel were out of the question. Try as he might to avoid them, concerns about his future pried their way into his psyche.

The hope he found came from telling himself things could be a lot worse.

“I’m in a bed with three other guys in the room and they’re having their dinner through a straw because they had a really bad one,” he says.

As for his triathlon dream? That was too nutty to even contemplate. When he mentioned it to his doctor, all he got was a disbelieving laugh and a stern instruction to relax and take it easy.

Then a funny thing happened. He started feeling better. Enough that a month after arriving in hospital he climbed onto the treadmill and walked for five minutes. Yeah, it was as slowly as the machine would go so he wouldn’t raise his heart rate and risk yet another bleed. But it was walking. And it wasn’t too bad.

A few weeks after he was released, he went swimming. Just two laps at first, with a snorkel so he wouldn’t have to turn his head and put pressure on the artery. But again, it felt pretty good.

Bit by bit, he added to the distances and each time he did, he felt better. His symptoms were fading. His vision returned. His speech cleared up. His strength increased. Everyone around him thought he was crazy and he wasn’t sure they weren’t right. But he persisted anyway.

By midsummer, he amazingly finished a half-ironman he’d secretly signed up to run. That done, he decided to go for the full shot.

Which is how he found himself grinding his way along the 3.9-kilometre swim, 180-kilometre bike ride and 26-mile marathon course in Penticton, B.C., three weeks ago under an unrelenting sun. Admittedly questioning his decision, especially when things got really, really hard partway through the ride.

“I was thinking, ‘What have I done?’”

But then 14 hours, 33 minutes and a few seconds after taking his first strokes in the water, the weary legs that just months before had been almost useless carried him across the finish line. Just over half a year after suffering what could’ve — maybe should’ve — been a life-altering experience for the worse, he’d finished a race most healthy people could never contemplate.

No, he can’t explain it. Who could? Which brings us back to the original question.

The idea of miracles gets thrown around pretty easily in sports. We’ve seen the Miracle on Ice. We’ve watched replay after replay of the Immaculate Reception. There’s been the Music City Miracle, the Miracle of Coogan’s Bluff and Doug Flutie’s Hail Mary. Amazing moments all, but none truly the result of something supernatural.

Was this?

Duerksen pauses again. Then starts telling one final story.

Right before the race while he was standing at the start line in his wetsuit and goggles feeling terribly unsure if he could make it, he silently asked God to run alongside him. To keep him safe but also to keep him believing he could do it.

And?

“I was happy the whole way,” he says, pointing out that nearly every photo of him taken that day shows him with a smile on his face, no matter how difficult it was.

That’s the miracle.”

 

sradley@thespec.com

905-526-2440


Sidebar

Duerksen’s cause

Art Duerksen’s Ironman triathlon was part of a larger charity effort to raise money to help widows and children in Colombia. A number of people will be running, swimming or biking a combined total of 4,000 km, or the distance from Hamilton to Medellin.

To read more about it or to make a donation, log onto www.missionpossiblecolombia.com.


See it for yourself:

http://www.thespec.com/localprofile/article/593244–mystery-or-miracle

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