ELMHURST – Paul Krauter of Elmhurst never ran more than a few miles until two years ago.
When his cousin, Tom Verachtert, who was diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) four years ago, and his wife, Dawn, heard that Krauter planned to run two marathons and an ultra-marathon in three months in an effort to raise money and awareness for ALS, they were shocked.
Dawn Verachtert said they were very touched, but also surprised because until just a few years ago, Krauter wasn't known for his athleticism. Yet, on Dec. 7 he completed a 50-mile ultra-marathon.
After reading Running on Empty by ultra-marathon runner Marshall Ulrich just because he thought it looked interesting, Krauter felt inspired. He soon fell in love with the solitude running provided him. He used the time to decompress and think.
His cousin's condition weighed on him.
"ALS is just such a God-awful disease," Krauter said. "You almost feel hopeless."
Krauter knew many people run to raise money and awareness for various causes, but he wanted to really make a difference for those with ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease.
"I don't think people realize there's no medication out there for ALS," Krauter said.
Dawn Verachtert explained she feels many people don't focus their support on ALS because there isn't a cure. If someone made a new discovery or breakthrough, it might draw attention; but for now, the Les Turner ALS Foundation provides support for the Verachterts.
Krauter thought if he set an ambitious goal, he might be able to raise more money and educate more people about ALS, a terminal neuromuscular disease that attacks a person's muscles.
Krauter committed to running three long-distance races totalling more than 100 miles as part of the Les Turner ALS Foundation's Run for ALS. He began in September with the Advocate Dryer Fox Valley Marathon, then the October Bank of America Chicago Marathon and just completed his goal with The North Face Endurance Challenge in San Francisco.
"I still can't believe I did it," Krauter said.
The final race was an ultra-marathon measuring 50 miles but also included large elevation changes on a dirt trail course that overlooks the Pacific Ocean at times. Although Krauter knew it would be the most difficult of the three races, he said the Endurance Challenge was harder than he expected.
Still, he finished in 12 hours and 45 minutes, including an accidental four-mile detour, and raised about $2,700 for the Les Turner Foundation. Most importantly, he wants to run another ultra-marathon.
"So much of it is your attitude," Krauter said.
That positive attitude must run in the family because his cousin, who now uses a wheelchair and relies on a device called a DynaVox to communicate, has quite the sense of humor.
The DynaVox has six voices, three male and three female. Even with all that variety, Tom Verachtert, a Palatine resident, insists on using the British woman's voice to make his family laugh.
Verachtert, 47, reads constantly but now uses his DynaVox to read electronic books since he's no longer able to hold books and turn pages. He also loves to play opponents from all over the world in online chess.
"If you saw our family room it has two gigantic book shelves all full of the books he's read," Dawn said.
He holds a bachelor's and master's degree in chemical engineering, but after he earned his MBA from the University of Chicago, his most recent job was managing new business development. He was forced to retire at 44 because of his declining health.
Dawn Verachtert said the Les Turner Foundation has helped her family in many ways, from providing clinics where she can bring her husband to see multiple doctors in one visit to in-home nurse visits. And foundation grants have helped them purchase items like the $15,000 DynaVox machine.
She said she's grateful for the financial and in-person support the Foundation has provided, and for Krauter's dedication to helping the cause.
"It's really nice that there's another person to help you," she said.
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How to help
To donate to the Les Turner ALS Foundation, visit www.lesturnerals.org.