Steve Todd may have been the last participant in Saturday’s Bridge Run to cross the finish line, but his accomplishment, doing so after recovering from a stroke, makes him stand out.
Before suffering a stroke five years ago that left the right side of his body paralyzed, Todd had been a very active person. As a telecommunications technician at Tulane University for two decades, he used to take the opportunity to walk across campus on a daily basis.
“At Tulane I would go walking around buildings, climbing steps. I had a good one or two mile path I used to take a day or get on a bike and ride six or seven miles,” he said. “It is just common sense that if you want to live this is what you have to do. If you are not doing something and sitting on your rear end, you are gong to have problems.”
Despite trying to stay in good shape, Todd had high blood pressure. His doctor noted the problem, but did not think it needed immediate treatment. However, on the night of April 9, 2009, Todd was playing a computer game before bed when something went wrong.
“All of the sudden I fell out of my chair. I thought ‘my God my chair broke!’ When I tried to get up I had this dead weight. I couldn’t even sit up,” Todd said.
Todd crawled to his bedroom door and yelled for his son to call 911.
In a matter of minutes Todd went from being a healthy, independent 45-year-old to being on the brink of death. In fact, his stroke was caused by a brain aneurysm, which in many cases is a deadly condition.
For the next two months Todd was hospitalized. After leaving the hospital, he was confined to a wheelchair for six months.
“I wanted to get out of that wheelchair. It’s an awful existence to know you can’t go anywhere. I couldn’t do anything, really. You have to rely on everybody,” he said. After his insurance quit paying for physical therapy sessions, Todd was on his own. However, he was determined to better his situation.
“I basically taught myself how to walk,” he said.
First Todd started taking short walks around his block in Mimosa Park. Slowly he worked his way up to further distances, such as making his way to Winn-Dixie, which is nearly a two-mile round trip.
After working his way up to the two-mile walk, Todd got an advertisement in the mail from Anytime Fitness and he found out he was eligible to receive a free gym membership under his health insurance plan. So in January 2013, he joined the gym.
“I started out with the stationary bikes and my goal really was just to do some exercising and hopefully bring down my blood pressure more than anything else,” Todd said.
Andrew Blackwell, a personal trainer at Anytime Fitness, noticed Todd’s drive to improve his situation.
“When he first joined we went through our first session that we normally have with new members and after that every couple of months he would come and say, ‘I mastered this, what can I do next?’” Blackwell said.
It was not long after he joined the gym that Todd first got the idea to compete in the Bridge Run.
“I had this crazy notion of trying to do the Bridge Run because all of the people were training for it in the gym,” he said. “I saw them and I said, ‘look at these people, they are all trying and doing things. It’s obvious they are really working hard to do this.’ I couldn’t help but think it is three miles and I already walk two miles, it’s not that much more.”
However, Todd had to overcome a serious problem. He had not used a treadmill since his stroke and was concerned that the belt may cause him to fall.
“I was so terrified, I set it at the lowest speed and I tried it. I slowly, slowly built it up to two miles an hour and increased it,” he said.
After Todd told gym staff about his goal, they began training him for the 2014 Bridge Run.
“I remember telling him one time the biggest problem was going to be his endurance. We needed to make sure his muscles could endure the length of time,” Blackwell said. “I said, ‘I want you to work up to an hour on the treadmill.’ He was doing 20 minutes at the time, but he came back to me four days later and said, ‘I did an hour and a half.’”
Before long, not only was Todd training on the treadmill, but he was training on an incline to make it more like walking up the bridge. Then four months before the race he progressed to walking on the levee with Blackwell beside him on Mondays and Wednesdays.
“A lot of times you’d see him out there on Fridays on his own,” Blackwell said.
Then came the day of the Bridge Run. Because Todd had been training at two miles per hour on the treadmill, his goal was to complete the trek in an hour and half, which worked out to a mile in every 30 minutes. At that pace, he knew he would be the last competitor left on the bridge.
“I kept joking that I am going to be so slow that the guys are going to be picking up the cones right behind me, and when we got downhill there were no cones for a while. The cone guys had already picked up all of the cones behind me and the cone guy passed me up. How’s that for slow?” he said.
However, Todd was not alone. Blackwell stayed by his side as well as other Anytime Fitness employees and fellow gym members wearing purple shirts with motivational sayings aimed directly at Todd.
Although Todd struggled with pain due to the leg brace on his paralyzed leg rubbing up against his skin, he kept going and beat his goal by finishing the race in an hour and 26 minutes.
When they made the last turn before the finish line, Blackwell said it was heartening to see so many supporters waiting on them.
“As we were making the turn for that final stretch you could see just a sea of purple shirts. Honestly, it gives you chills to see that kind of outpouring of support from our members,” Blackwell said.
When asked if he ever thought about quitting, Todd was incredulous.
“No, are you kidding me? These people put forth so much effort, they put forth as much as I did, and I’m going to quit?” he said.
After reaching his goal of completing the race after training for more than a year, Todd said he is already looking forward to next year’s race.
“What I would like is for my leg to be able to go up to three miles per hour and I’d be able to get over the finish line in a hurry,” he said.