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Elijah’s Story: Community-Oriented Runner Trains with Sports Performance

Elijah’s Story: Community-Oriented Runner Trains with Sports Performance

Elijah discovered his passion for running in the United States Navy. Having never run competitively, as his high school didn’t have a team, he found he had a knack for running the Navy’s daily 1.5-mile run. It was simply something he was good at and enjoyed–that is, until a fellow recruit with running experience noticed his talent. He quickly became a good friend and helped Elijah realize his potential and add structure to his increasingly difficult runs. “In college, after the Navy, running really became a part of my daily life, and I started to get competitive with it,” Elijah says.

When Time Catches Up

Nearly 20 years of competitive running and more than 30 marathons eventually caught up to Elijah’s legs, which is what first brought him to UPMC Sports Medicine. “One of the many communities of runners I belong to is the Pittsburgh Pharaoh Hounds,” Elijah says. “Many of my friends in the group had seen Dr. Onishi at UPMC for their running injuries, and they stressed that he is ‘all about getting runners back to running.’ He was the first person who came to mind.” So, that is where Elijah’s story took him next. He visited Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R) physician Kentaro Onishi, DO, at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.

Dr. Onishi evaluated Elijah’s condition, including performing an ultrasound on the affected area, and noticed clear issues with the tendon connection in his hamstring. It was certainly strained, and Elijah could feel that. He complained of soreness, tightness, and chronic pain there, even when he wasn’t running. “I was still able to run, but it was uncomfortable. It just wasn’t right,” Elijah says. For his particular condition, Elijah shares that Dr. Onishi immediately referred him to Ron DeAngelo, MEd, CSCS, director of sports performance, at the UPMC Freddie Fu Sports Medicine Center, believing that Ron’s expertise would provide the best chance for Elijah to have a full recovery and continued success in his sport.

Recovering with Ron

Elijah began to see Ron for an hour session every other week, (performing assigned exercises in between, and could feel the difference. “Based on his performance with other athletes, I didn’t hesitate when Dr. Onishi sent me to Ron,” Elijah says. Of all the routines he and Ron perform, Elijah says that the Gameday Speed Routine has made the most difference. This routine involves breathing exercises, including full expansion of the lungs, and activation of key muscle groups for runners, including the hips, hamstrings, quadriceps, calves, ankles, and other key joints. “It’s all about getting the body activated and fully warmed up for performance,” says Elijah. “I even performed an unintended experiment with this routine that seemed to prove its worth as a stand-alone warmup.”

In November 2019, Elijah arrived at an 8k race (4.97 miles) and began his warmup, which would typically include a one- to two-mile jog. That day, he decided to begin with the Gameday Speed Routine. Elijah had remembered the race start time incorrectly, causing him to hurry to the starting line before completing his warmups. “It turns out, I was ready,” Elijah says. “Although I didn’t complete my usual warm-up, the Gameday Speed Routine had primed my joints enough that I didn’t hurt myself, and I performed just as well as I’d expect to on any other day.”

Continuing to Improve

Today, Elijah still uses what Ron has taught him in his warmups and runs, and he typically sees him every other month for a check-in. Their check-ins consist of reviewing Elijah’s progress and learning new, more advanced warmups and exercises. “He is more than just prescribing me something and moving on to the next patient. He is diligent, his exercises are targeted, and he is genuinely interested in the outcome. Ron’s a smart guy,” Elijah says. “He often checks in with follow-up text messages too.”

An engineer by trade, Elijah stresses that Ron’s detailed explanation of the routines and why they were working on them meant a lot to him. He wants to know the specifics of what each exercise is helping with, and Ron has no trouble relaying that. “I definitely feel a lot better than when I first reached out about my pain,” Elijah says. “I’m aware that this wasn’t a miracle cure, and I still have occasional pain, but it depends on how much I do the exercises. As I continue to do the work Ron has given me, I continue to improve. I’m definitely on the right track.”

Elijah says that the routines he’s learned from Ron also have helped him stay active during current quarantine from the COVID-19 pandemic. “Pittsburgh has plenty of trails and places to go where you can be mindful of your distance from others, so I personally haven’t had much difficulty getting in the exercise that I need to,” he says. “Trying to maintain this routine helps create some sense of normalcy.”

The last event he participated in was in February 2020, which was a two-day event in Tampa consisting of a 5k, 8k, 15k, and half marathon. “Ron’s guidance helped make that competition possible for me,” says Elijah. Moving forward, he still plans to run the Pittsburgh Marathon, which recently became virtual, and he continues to train for the London Marathon, which has been postponed until October.

A Reason to Run

Like many runners in Pittsburgh, Elijah is very close to his community and generously gives back. For his 40th birthday in 2018, he knew he wanted to celebrate something larger than himself. “Obviously, my mind gravitated toward something running related,” Elijah says. “I also wanted this to provide long-term support and exposure for something important.” He decided to run a full marathon, 26.2 miles, in under three hours every month of his entire 40th year—12 marathons in 12 months. But it wasn’t just for him. Getting the community involved was the goal, and that’s exactly what he accomplished.

Elijah had other runners and supporters guess his finishing times each month and, based on how close they were to the real time, he’d donate a certain amount to PUMPed to Run, a running group comprising local homeless shelter residents and volunteer mentor runners. His generous donations prompted others to not only guess his times, but to donate to the organization themselves.

Now that’s an athlete we’re proud to know. All of us here at UPMC Sports Medicine wish Elijah nothing but the best in his upcoming competitions and community activism in our hometown of Pittsburgh.

Read more stories from performance services patients.