West Chester teen could be youngest with cystic fibrosis to complete a marathon

WEST CHESTER TWP. — A West Chester teenager might be the youngest person with cystic fibrosis to run a marathon.

Nolan Runkle, 14, completed the Mount Desert Island Marathon in Maine last weekend.

“It’s crazy,” he said. “I never thought that I would do a marathon in the first place, let alone be the youngest person with cystic fibrosis to do it.”

Nolan has been running for years, following in the footsteps of his dad, who has run more than 140 marathons. He started cross country in the 7th grade, and currently runs for the team at Lakota West Freshman School.

“When Nolan was three, we were at the Lakota West freshman building,” said his mom, Megan Runkle. “All of a sudden Nolan just turned around to me and goes ‘Mama, these legs are made for running,’ and took off.”

Nolan was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis a few days after he was born. It’s a genetic disorder that “affects the lungs, pancreas and other organs”, according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

“Every morning and night I have to take pills,” Nolan said. “I also have to get in therapy.”

Each morning, Nolan uses a nebulizer to break up mucus in his lungs, and a vest machine that helps shake out mucus that’s been broken up. He wears the vest for about 30 minutes each day.

“It’s just part of our everyday life, just kind of built it into our family,” Megan said. “I don’t even think he really notices it too much anymore.”

The diagnosis hasn’t stopped Nolan from chasing his dreams. He ran a half marathon last year. This year, he knew he was ready for the full race.

“My dad was like, ‘Hey, there’s a marathon popping up in Maine, you want to go?’” he said. “He was saying it’s kind of like a joke, but I knew I wanted to do it.”

Nolan started adding extra runs into his training schedule. He was already running about “25 miles a week” as part of his cross-country team.

On Oct. 15, he crossed the finish line with a time of 5:12:57.

“I was tracking him on my phone and as I see him, he’s about a mile ahead of me,” said Rob Runkle, who ran the race too. “Then he’s about two miles ahead of me. I was grinning from ear to ear because I was super proud because I was like, ‘Not only is he doing this, but he’s beating me.’”

His family believes he might be the youngest person with the disorder to complete a marathon. They hope his story can be an inspiration to others.

“If a 14-year-old can do it, a 14-year-old with cystic fibrosis, you can do it,” Rob said. “Whether it’s sports, any activity or any event, you can train for it. You can do it. You just have to have the desire to want to do it.”

Nolan is already looking for his next race. He hopes sharing his story brings more awareness to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

“Without the CF foundation and all the new pills safe they’ve been making, I wouldn’t have ever been able to do this marathon,” Nolan said. “I would have been stuck in a hospital bed my whole life, so I just want people to know it exists and that they can help.”

The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation is in “relentless pursuit” of a cure, according to the organization’s website. You can make a donation to the organization’s efforts at www.cff.org.

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