While serving as a surgeon during the Vietnam War, 27-year-old Air Force Major Richard Newman found one effective method to cope with the stress: running. After the war, his daily habit evolved into a lifelong love for running marathons, but he had no way of knowing that his passion wouldn’t keep him completely immune from a heart attack decades later.
“There was a perception that if you can run a marathon, you’ll be spared cardiac disease," Newman tells CultureMap. "My parents had no history of [heart attacks]. I violated this notion."
The first marathon Newman ever ran was the San Antonio Marathon in 1978, which he remembers as "an incredible experience and accomplishment for me" and "the beginning of my enthusiasm for the event."
37 years later, as Newman prepared for the 2015 New York City Marathon, he went on one last run with his wife, Julie. But disaster struck:
“I collapsed with no heartbeat. Thankfully, Julie started hands-only CPR for the next 13 minutes. Apparently, many startled bystanders watched. No one seemed to know CPR. Fortunately, one person called 911 from Julie’s phone and placed the phone next to her on speaker to Emergency Services. EMS arrived and shocked me with their defibrillator which started my heartbeat. I woke up in a local hospital with no knowledge of what happened and a painful chest wall from broken ribs from her life-saving CPR.”
Julie Newman is a PhD professor at the UT Health San Antonio School of Nursing, and Newman credits his survival to her CPR.
“It would be great if everyone understood the importance of hands-only CPR in saving lives. It is imperative to begin CPR as soon as someone is found without a heartbeat because oxygen-rich blood is pumped to the heart and brain during CPR. If there is more than a few minutes delay with not resuscitation, waiting for EMS to arrive, there’s a much higher incidence of irreparable heart and brain damage or death. Successful resuscitation requires, more often than not, breaking the ribs at the breastbone attachment.”
Thanks to Julie’s life-saving CPR, Newman had no muscle damage to his heart or neurological problems. He eventually had to have an internal pacemaker/defibrillator placed, but that didn’t stop Newman from resuming his marathon habit. He was determined to get back to his marathons as safely as he could, and the husband-wife duo ran the New York City Marathon in 2016.
Now 75 years old, Newman plans to mark the occasion with an impressive marathon milestone: the 2022 New York City Marathon on November 6 will be his 75th.
“My routine through the year is jogging 25-30 miles per week," he says. "I try to do a 20-miler a month before the event and taper long runs following."
The San Antonio native’s favorite restaurant is La Fonda on Main, but since he'll be running in New York City, the pair will likely celebrate at his favorite NYC restaurant, Carmine’s.
What advice would Newman give to those who might want to give marathons a try?
“Exercise is important. Running seems to be my passion. As a surgeon, it works to transfer the day’s stress to asphalt. My motivation started with the death of my father in 1977, running in his honor, as do many participants in this event. My brother’s death in 2010 was another major stimulus. Over the years, my goal was to stay sub-four hours and thankfully I was able to qualify for Boston on one occasion. Now, after having a cardiac arrest, I feel blessed to run ahead of the street sweepers and match my age in marathon events. Some advice for early runners looking toward their first marathon would include having good shoes, starting slowly, staying hydrated with electrolytes, and most of all, run for the finish and not for the clock.”