Meet RUNColumbus team member Chris Burkhardt. Chris works as a 9-1-1 Dispatcher at the Northwest Regional Emergency Communications Center in Dublin. They handle 9-1-1 calls for the northwest side of Franklin County and are the main dispatch center for the Cities of Dublin, Hilliard, Upper Arlington, and Worthington Police Depts, as well as the Fire/EMS agencies that serve those cities.
In addition to running, Chris has taken up competitive ballroom dancing. It’s been a way to continue to keep moving, while also engaging my mind. Like the running community, the ballroom dance community is very supportive and inclusive.
Why/when did you start running? Anyone who knew me back in 2006 would have found it difficult to believe that I was a cross country and track runner in high school. They may have also found it difficult to believe that I spent three years as a military policeman in the Army, where running and strenuous physical activity was an everyday thing. As a matter of fact, running had been such a dominant part of my life for so many years that I had grown to purely hate the thought of it. I didn’t just hate the thought of it…I hated doing it. I hated going to cross country practice. I hated going to track practice. I hated waking up at 4:00 a.m. to run and the words “double-time march” were words that I grew to despise.
However, the fact that I hated running is not why those who knew me would have found it difficult to believe that I’d ever done it. Not that my current physique would bring to mind “runner”, but in 2006 I was a svelte 440lbs. With a history of heart disease on both my mother’s and father’s sides of my family, I was on the fast track to an early grave. I got winded walking from the parking lot at work to the 9-1-1 center, so the thought that I would, or could, run anywhere was unbelievable.
I made a decision that, if I wanted to live more than ten years, I had to take drastic steps. Within a year, with the help of diet, exercise, and weight loss surgery, I had lost over 200 pounds. My blood pressure, which was borderline, is now good. My blood sugar levels, which were close to becoming diabetic, are now normal. My LDL cholesterol level, which was high, is now normal.
While I can certainly attribute most of my weight loss to the effects of the surgery and the restricted diet, I have to attribute the amount of weight loss and the short amount of time in which I lost it, to the exercise that was promoted by my bariatric surgeon and his staff. There is no doubt in my mind that maintaining my weight loss over the last 14 years.
But something happened during all that exercise. I started to actually enjoy it. I started to realize when people say that exercise is the best way to deal with stress, that’s not just a line to get people to exercise. It really is true. As you can imagine, working in a 9-1-1 communications center can be a stressful environment. Instead of turning to food to deal with the stress, something I had done in the past without even realizing it, I turned to exercise. Instead of an order of the house Lo Mein, I would put in a couple of miles on the treadmill. What was more amazing to me was that I was enjoying my time on the treadmill. I had started to like running and in time would run anywhere from two to six miles on the treadmill each day or every other day.
Then, in 2008, some friends encouraged me to register for a four-mile run at Alum Creek. I was leery about running out on the roads. Afraid of what might happen to my knees, which had spent years supporting my 300-400 plus pound frame. I was also afraid of how I would look, with all those runners. After all, I wasn’t really a runner. I was just someone who ran for exercise. I couldn’t possibly keep up with people who register for these four-mile road races and run for the competition. What I found out though, was that the running community is not like that at all. People of all abilities come out to run or walk. As a matter of fact, I didn’t run the entire four-mile course. I ran about three miles and walked for about a mile, but no one laughed at me, no one ridiculed me. I wasn’t the only one to slow down and walk part of the course, other runners were doing the same thing. Another thing that I found was that the running/walking community is very supportive. As I approached the finish line, those who were there to support other participants and those who had already finished the course cheered me across the finish line. They didn’t know me, they’d never seen me before, they didn’t know that this was my first race since high school. All they knew was that I was finishing, and that was all that mattered. From that point on I was hooked.
Throughout the remainder of 2008, I participated in more than thirty running/walking events. Then, in 2009, I did something that I would have never thought was possible. Even when I was running two or three or even four 5K events in a weekend, I would have never thought it possible that I would run a marathon. People who were in much better shape than I was in ran marathons. I ran 5K’s. Competitive runners ran marathons. I ran 5K’s. But I read a book and it inspired me. The book, “Marathoning for Mortals”, was written by John Bingham and Jenny Hadfield. John was someone I identified with. He was someone who started running to lose weight. He was someone who didn’t run very fast but had gotten hooked by the running community. He was also someone who had completed thirty marathons. After reading the book I decided to give it a shot and registered for the 2009 Myrtle Beach Marathon. I trained using a 20-week training program in the book, then on February 14, 2009, I ran the Myrtle Beach Marathon. By mile 16 I was wondering why I had taken on such a challenge. By mile 20 I swore that I would never do it again. But I finished. I crossed the finish line 5 hours 38 minutes and 21 seconds after I started. I came back home, proud of the finishers medal I had received. I took a week away from running, then signed up to run seven 5K and 4 mile runs. Then, remembering my promise to myself that I would NEVER run another marathon, I registered for the Columbus Marathon that following October. I have now run a total of six marathons along with the countless 5K’s, 10K’s, and races of other distances. I’ve run races in 37 states so far and have set a goal of running a race in all 50 states.
What excites you about being part of the RUNColumbus Race Series and Team? The RUNColumbus Race Series spoke to me because it was another goal to accomplish. It was a series to keep me motivated and keep me accountable.