Five weeks after suffering a cardiac episode, Art Meaney contemplates his return to the sport that probably helped saved his life
After having stents inserted to addresss blockages in an artery leading to his heart, Art Meaney has resumed walking nearly an hour a day, but the 67-year-old long-time competitive runner and holder of multiple Tely 10 records is aching for a faster pace. "I've been walking along the routes I normally run, which helps relieve the anxiety a little bit," Meaney says. Photo by Kenn Oliver/The Telegram
For more than three decades, Art Meaney's heart has been in running. It's a good thing, too, because his runner's heart is what saved his life.
On the morning of June 12, while conducting a weekly Running Room clinic for would-be Telegram Tely 10-mile Road Race participants at Quidi Vidi Lake, Meaney collapsed.
After he was transferred to the emergency department at the Health Science Centre, doctors determined Meaney had suffered some manner of cardiac episode, but weren't ready to immediately diagnose it as a heart attack.
Whatever it was, news of a problem with his ticker came as quite a surprise to Meaney.
"Runners are supposedly very fit, and if you've been running for years and years and years... these things aren't supposed to happen to you."
A battery of tests conducted in the days following his collapse confirmed Meaney, 67, had two blockages in his left artery.
Were it not for his level of fitness and a strong heart muscle, things could have worked out drastically different for Meaney.
"There's always a chance that something can befall us," Meaney says, "but if we're healthy overall, there's a very good chance you can survive.
"The evidence is pretty strong that we'll recover much better if we're healthy and look after ourselves.
"The reason I'm here is the fact that I'm a runner. The doctors told me this has been building up over a number of years and it's quite likely if I had not been looking after myself and not been running, I may have had this happen 20 years ago and I wouldn't been as lucky."
Meaney attests it's not uncommon for very fit and healthy individuals to feel almost indestructible.
"You get a little smug, a little arrogant," he admits, "and think 'I'm a runner, I haven't had any problems outside the occasional ache or pain in my knee or calf muscle. I'm very, very healthy and perhaps I'm going to avoid the ailments that many other people have.'
"You feel that things are going so well that it can't happen to me.
"Well it can."
To Meaney's own knowledge, there's no history of heart problems in his family, although doctors told him he's likely subject to a genetic issue that goes so far back he wouldn't be aware of it.
Meaney underwent an angioplasty to install a pair of stents in the affected artery and was released from the hospital a few days later. He's since started walking 55 minutes a day, but he's aching to get out for a run.
"I've been walking along the routes I normally run, which helps relieve the anxiety a little bit," an upbeat Meaney says.
Later this week, he'll meet with heart specialist Dr. Susan Fagan for a stress test to determine whether or not he can get started with some easy running again.
Obviously, Meaney won't be running this year's Tely 10. It's not the first time he's missed the event, but he's been at the starting line for most of them, having competed in 30 between his first in 1977 and last year's event, which saw him finished 75th overall and first in his 65-69 age group.
Even before the heart attack, Meaney says many people asked why he didn't "rest on his laurels."
"But that's never been my game. I'll be 68 next year. I can't win the Tely anymore, but I can always try to run very well for my age and perhaps win my category."
Meaney holds four Tely 10 age-group records - 50-54, 55-59, 60-64 and 65-69 - and is already eyeing a fifth when he turns 70 in 2014.
"My long-range goal, if I'm able to get back to running at the level I was (at before), is run the Tely 10 in under 70 minutes at age 70."
It's a feat that's never been accomplished, with Fred Wight holding the division record at 74 minutes and 18 seconds.
"I've always believed in challenging mysel. This big challenge I've had recently is one I'll deal with as well," says Meaney.
"So far, so good."