Kirk Disrude: From Stroke Survivor to Marathon Runner
PE teacher goes from hole to whole; from stroke survivor to marathon runner.
To a wrestler, the aim is to pin the foe.
Beth and Kirk Disrude
To a body builder, the quest is physical perfection.
A football player will endure repeated collisions and pain beyond any average man’s idea of “fun.”
Those pursuits require time, focus and physical sacrifice. Bones are broken, trophies are lost and greatness is awarded to scant few. Those endeavors require one muscle above all: heart.
Kirk Disrude did all of these things with a little dark hole in his. A hole he never knew existed until he found himself on the floor of his bedroom with the walls whirling around him.
In September 2011, Kirk was a healthy, 38-year-old PE teacher and coach. He woke up one Tuesday morning and reached for his shirt, only to feel “as if a rubber band had snapped in my head.”
“I totally lost my balance and fell,” he said. “I sat there for minute and thought, ‘This has to go away.’ Seconds passed, and then I thought, ‘This isn’t going away. This isn’t right.’”
Kirk’s wife, Beth, was awakened by him calling her name. She thought he might be battling vertigo, or an extreme migraine. Then he became violently ill.
Beth called her brother, Robert, who lived nearby. They carried Kirk to the car and arrived at the hospital in less than 10 minutes.
The problem eventually was traced to the hole that had been in Kirk’s heart since birth. Everyone is born with it, but most close on their own.
His hole caused a stroke.
“There are usually precursors,” Kirk said, “but I never felt anything.”
Kirk was in and out of consciousness for three days. While he lay in his bed alternating between vomiting and sleeping, his wife had one rule for visitors that echoed her husband’s athletic mindset: no crying allowed.
“What we needed to convey to him was that he was OK and that he was going to be OK,” she said.
When he finally regained consciousness, he looked confused and asked his wife what was happening. He took a few seconds to collect himself and then asked, “Is the baby OK?”
Beth was 20 weeks pregnant. Within hours of his return to consciousness, Kirk asked nurses to bring a monitor so he could hear his unborn son’s heartbeat.
As the steady beat of Logan’s heart resonated in his room, Kirk and Beth fell asleep. They shared a hospital bed for the next four days.
Kirk’s support system included family, co-workers and students.
In fact, he continued teaching from afar.
“I wrote a note to them explaining my stroke, asking for their support and saying that I needed help with exercises, and I needed a nutrition plan,” he said. “I had a lot of them email me workouts and diet plans. It was unbelievable.
It was so cool.
“Here I am as a teacher responsible for showing them how to be healthy, and now it was their turn to help me get healthier.”
Four months after his stroke, Kirk underwent a cardiac catheterization to close the hole in his heart.
He and Beth celebrated by training for the Chicago Marathon.
It was his first marathon and her second. They trained wearing special T-shirts; his read “Stroke Survivor” on the back, hers read “Life Saver.” During training, Kirk pushed Logan in his stroller; sometimes Kirk used the buggy
to maintain his balance.
The 26.2-mile run was tough. But Kirk and Beth steeled their resolve by thinking of other stroke survivors, everyone who helped with Kirk’s recovery and, of course, Logan.
They finished in 5 hours, 31 minutes, 35 seconds.
Nowadays, Kirk occasionally naps, and sometimes gets headaches. Most of all, he’s thankful to be alive, a sentiment that comes through in each email he sends. They close with, “To a healthier tomorrow.”
“It’s hard to have a son sitting here and looking up at me with a lifetime ahead of him that I want to share, and know that I could have another stroke,” he said. “Hopefully it will all work out to where I can be with him for
a long time.”
Kirk has also become a passionate volunteer for the American Heart Association. He’s been working at various association youth events, such as a “White Out” fundraiser at his school and a “Red Out” assembly at a nearby
His boundless energy extends to his community.
Kirk has created “Project Live Long” for his high school students, requiring them to research one of the five main causes of death in the United States, then to come up with preventive lifestyle changes for themselves and their loved ones.
At the hospital where he was treated, Kirk and his wife are helping with the stroke support group. And they’ve started a program to help recovering stroke patients prepare for what’s ahead.
“We are still learning how to cope with challenges we face as a result of the stroke,” he said. “Yet we take our time and cross each hurdle carefully to make the best choice in our new life.”