Senior beats injury, runs Boston Marathon

BY EVELYN LAU | MAY 04, 2009 7:28 AM

Jacob Heninger could have never known a simple fundraising venture would result in traveling more than 1,100 miles away to compete in the Boston Marathon.

The 22-year-old UI student competed in the Chicago Marathon in October 2008 as a way to raise money and awareness for the UI Dance Marathon. Despite being a runner in high school, Heninger had never run in a marathon before, yet still managed an impressive time of 3:03:58, qualifying him for Boston’s big race in April.

Now a couple of weeks later, the Bettendorf native reflects on the challenges it took for him to eventually place 567th out of more than 20,000 — not a bad finish for someone whose only ran two marathons in his life.

Completing a marathon has been an accomplishment in itself.

“Just finishing it — I don’t even care if you walk some of it, it makes you feel really strong and pretty much like you can do whatever you want,” he said.

The integrative physiology major initially learned he had qualified for the Boston Marathon, but he didn’t decide to run in it until around a month later. With Heninger taking the MCAT this weekend and looking to graduate with honors in the spring, his parents, Ralph and Gail Heninger, were supportive but didn’t want their son to overexert himself.

“Jacob’s pretty goal-oriented, and I think he ran the race to help him focus on goals,” Ralph Heninger said.

The Boston Marathon began in 1897 after being inspired by the modern-day marathon of 1896 Olympics. It is currently the world’s oldest marathon and annually draws more than 20,000 participants, including both professional and amateur runners.

For Jacob Heninger, the opportunity was one he couldn’t turn down. He also found running to be a good way to relieve stress rather than add on to it.

“Running is a good stress relief,” he said. “I think just going for a run — and not listening to music or anything — is a really good way to just think about whatever you have to do and all that stuff.”

While training for the marathon, he was blind-sided by pain that developed in his left knee prior to the 26.2-mile race.

“I actually really didn’t think I was going to do it,” Jacob Heninger said. “But you know, I had put in five months of training so I went to the doctor and they gave me some, like Prednisone-derivative drug and that helped out a lot.”

One of his physiology teachers recommended he see Dr. Paul Baumert at UI Student Health.

Baumert had an area of interest in sports medicine and experience working with the football team. When Heninger arrived, there wasn’t much time to fix his knee.

“When he came to me, it was down to the last week before the marathon,” Baumert said. “My main goal was to determine if he had any structural damage or if the pain he was experiencing was more mechanical, just an irritation or inflammation.”

Jacob Heninger was diagnosed with Plica Syndrome, an inflammation of the knee joint. However, he was also informed there wasn’t any structural damage, meaning his knee wouldn’t be affected in the long run. Baumert just told him to avoid putting pressure on his knee beforehand and to put ice on it, which helps kill the inflammation. With the doctor’s OK, Heninger was ready to head to Boston.

Leaving the Eastern Iowa Airport at 6 a.m. on April 19, he flew to Chicago before arriving at Logan Airport in Boston. He was greeted by Beth Larkin, his mother’s cousin, whom he had never met before. She drove him over the hilly part of the course, giving him a preview of what the next day would be like.

Still, the night before the race, Jacob Heninger found his nerves getting the best of him.

“I was really tired from being up until like [4 a.m.] so I took a nap and then couldn’t really fall asleep because of that,” he said. “I was pretty excited but nervous because I thought there was a chance, if my knee started hurting again, I was just going to have to drop out.”

However, the morning of the race, Heninger was ready to go, sporting green shorts and a black Iowa shirt in the chilly New England weather. While running, he surprisingly heard chants of “Go Hawkeyes” but also felt pain in his knee. But once his adrenaline took over, much of the race went by in a blur.

“I was just really on Cloud Nine pretty much, basically the whole second half,” he said. “Just with all the crowds, it all went by really fast.”

With a time of 2:51:58, Heninger finished in 567th place, an achievement he and those who helped him won’t soon forget.

“It’s just very satisfying and very rewarding to be involved with someone like Jacob and have an outcome like this,” Baumert said. “It makes us feel good and look good all the way around. And really, he did all the work, he’s the one who did all the preparation [for this].”

After this experience, Heninger has future plans to keep competing in marathons — turning back to Chicago, where it began for him.

“I got to get my knee better first,” he said. “But I think at the end of May, it’s 20 weeks away, that’s usually when I like to start.”

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