Exorcising the Demons - Page 2
In 2008, Bruner’s father, Wil, then 68, was diagnosed with a lung disease with no known cure. The family turned to the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, which approved his application for a lung transplant.
“The transplant hit me on a very deep level,” says Bruner. “Someone was willing to give another man a chance at a few more years. I took a very close look at myself and realized, ‘I’ve been destroying the gift of life.’”
His father had once been an avid runner, so Bruner decided to follow in his footsteps and started jogging. With the help of Nicorette gum, he quit smoking within two weeks—and, while he was at it, also gave up drinking.
Clutching to memories of competing alongside his father in local 10Ks and biathlons when he was younger, Bruner laced up his running shoes every day despite feeling awful for the first three months. He stayed committed because running filled a lot of time and kept him accountable.
Marcel Payne, a runner and counselor in a recovery program whom Bruner had met in classes at Augusta State University, challenged him to run a local 5K. Bruner struggled but finished the race in about 27 minutes. Four months later, he ran the Augusta Half Marathon in 1:42.45.
Barely a year passed before he competed in his first ultra, the FATS 50K in North Augusta, South Carolina. “When I reached the 26.2-mile mark,” he says, “I wondered, ‘Where are the medals, champagne and dancing girls?’ I only saw trees.” He pushed on, finished second in 4:52 and knew then he wanted to be an ultrarunner.
In late 2011, his father developed an abscess in his lungs and diverticulitis in his colon and was treated in Jacksonville. The stress took its toll on Bruner. After 18 months of sobriety, he had a relapse, but an outpatient substance-abuse program helped him find his way back to health.
The past year, Bruner has been more balanced—working out at the gym regularly, taking antidepressants, studying public health with the goal of earning a PhD in epidemiology and completing eight ultras, three marathons and a 70.3-mile triathlon. In 2012, Bruner returned to the FATS 50K, capturing his first ultra win, in 4:28, and gaining a supportive network of runner friends.
With encouragement from friends, Bruner tackled Alabama’s Pinhoti 100 later that year, finishing in 29:17:14. Though he enjoys the speed of road running (marathon PR of 3:01), he prefers the peacefulness and camaraderie of trail races.
Says Betty Bruner, “It’s joyful to see him finally getting over all that darkness.”
Editor’s Note: Andy’s father, Wil Bruner, passed away on April 2, 2013.