By Karen Lozano
A “short” chat with Fred Myetich might easily turn into an hour long discussion covering everything from gastric bypasses to romance to life in a wheelchair. He definitely loves to talk, he’ll be the first to tell you, but his folksy persona is perfect for a new member-at-large on the ShadowChase Running Club board of directors.
Wait, … what? A man in a wheelchair sits on the board of a running club? Absolutely!
“I think I’m rather approachable where people can come talk to me, and it’s a great way for me to give back to the club,” he explained. “I really want to thank everyone for including me in everything. ShadowChase is such an encouraging, uplifting group of people. That’s why I wanted to run for the board of directors, to give back what everyone has given to me.”
Myetich, who is married to the club’s vice president, Debbie, explains that he first joined ShadowChase because of his wife. She had gastric bypass surgery, joined the club’s training group in 2013 to train for the 2014 Modesto Marathon. Fred followed suit, having bypass surgery, losing “a ton of weight,” then joining ShadowChase in 2014.
“I came with her one time to a meeting and that’s when someone asked Debbie if I was going to do the training group too. I was told there was someone else in a chair (A.J. Mitchell), so I figured why not?”
Myetich laughs about when he first started training with Mitchell. He showed up in a hospital wheelchair and proceeded to “dump it.”
But since then, he has “rolled” to a 2015 half marathon finish, and improved his time by 32 minutes in the 2016 half. He’s done several other shorter races along the way, but unfortunately he considers his racing career over.
“I fully expected to cut another 20 minutes off my time but I blew my shoulders out,” he explained. So now he sits in a rehabilitation facility in Stockton, the nearest facility with room, rehabbing after shoulder surgery.
“That’s what I get for waiting until my 50s to start exercising regularly,” he joked.
Although he probably has every reason in the world to whine, Myetich is very matter of fact about his situation. The 53-year-old suffers from “hereditary spastic paraplegia,” which was diagnosed around the age of 25 or 26.
“My roommate at the time asked why I was limping. It was so slight I didn’t even know it was happening,” he explained. “Then my foot started ‘dropping.’
“The nerves don’t fire when I want them to. I can feel my legs. I actually have a lot of strength in them, I just can’t control it. From the waist down I’m losing control of the muscle.
“I’m like a poster child for the disease,” he added, explaining that he has pretty much followed the expected progression timeline. “It started with a limp and all that fun stuff, then the leg started bouncing. I started walking with a cane, then used a wheelchair for the first time around the age of 33.”
Myetich is most upset by the fact that he can’t be around to help out with the club, although he is managing with one arm to put out the ShadowChase monthly newsletter. February marks his first year of taking over the newsletter duties.
“I really enjoy being out there, cheering everyone on and helping where I can,” he said. He is a valued member of the timing team, helping to time local races, and he enjoys doing park cleanup, as well as talking with the membership. “If anyone has a question or something they want me to bring up to the board, I’ll be there when I can.”
He’s also more than happy to share about life after bypass surgery.
“It’s the only way I could have gotten thin,” he explained. “I was 330 pounds at my heaviest. I got down to 201. I hadn’t been that size since I was 13. I really wanted to see 199, but that’s not going to happen now. But I’m holding at 220.
“It’s made a complete difference in my life. Yeah, I can’t eat like I used to but I feel so much better, and the energy I have now … I never realized until after I lost the weight.”
And he’ll easily talk about his life as a romantic.
He tells the story of how he first met his future wife after spotting her at the bowling alley. He walked up to her, pulled out a comb, and asked her to comb his hair. Yes, she fell for it. Little did she know at the time that he put that comb away, and for their 10th anniversary he had it matted and framed and presented it to her.
He’s sad that while in rehab he’s missing Debbie’s birthday, their anniversary, as well as the anniversary of their first meeting (Feb. 4), and their first kiss – Feb. 11, 1988 at 10:26 p.m., thank you very much.
And he’s especially missing his ShadowChase friends.
“When I first joined I thought everyone was fake because everyone was so encouraging. I can’t believe what a great bunch of people we have. … If they need me, I will be there as much as I possibly can for them.”
If you’d like to see a ShadowChase Running Club member profiled in the Volunteer Spotlight, please email Karen Lozano at email@example.com.