Earlier this year, Jonathan Terrell ran seven marathons on seven continents in seven days.
“It was the highlight of my life,” he said.
A few months later, Terrell couldn’t even walk. As of late September, he was still getting about in a wheelchair
And crutches, recovering from the serious injuries he suffered when a sport utility vehicle plowed into him and a friend while they were bicycling in Virginia.
“There’s nothing like a near-death experience to appreciate what you do have,” said Terrell, 56, a charter member of Legatus’ Washington, D.C. Chapter.
Terrell was hospitalized in critical condition for three weeks, and told there was a chance he would never walk again. Undergoing physical therapy several times a week, Terrell was recovering well and planned to start walking in early October.
He even intends to run again next year, specifically a full marathon in the North Pole.
“I believe through Christ all things are possible,” said Terrell, who through his physical suffering this year is also discerning a deeper meaning and new God-given purpose to his life.
“It’s been a time of spiritual renewal for me,” Terrell said. “I wake up with pain in the middle of the night, and I now pray in the night longer than what I ever would. It’s brought me and my wife closer together.”
7 MARATHONS ON 7 CONTINENTS
On Feb. 5, Terrell was on top of the world. On that day, he ran the final 26.2-mile leg of the World Marathon Challenge.
In one week, Terrell ran marathons on all seven continents. He ran a combined 183.4 miles in Antarctica, South Africa, Australia, the United Arab Emirates, Spain, Colombia, and Miami.
Those seven days consisted of daily marathons and late-night chartered flights. He caught a bad case of food poisoning shortly before the race in Spain, but he quite literally gutted it out and finished course.
Terrell ran every single mile of all seven marathons. He made it a goal not to walk a single step.
“It went remarkably well,” said Terrell, who completed the crucible to raise awareness and funds for children’s mental health services at Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C., a cause dear to his heart.
Terrell said he raised about $300,000 for the new mental health unit at Children’s National Health System, and generated significant media attention for the cause of pediatric mental health. His story garnered coverage from several national media outlets, including Fox News and NPR.
Coworkers and people across the country also followed his journey on his blog and on social media. He filmed his first-ever “video selfie” before the marathon in Antarctica, and posted similar videos before and after each of his races.
“They quickly went viral,” Terrell said. “I still hear from people I barely know telling me that they saw my stuff on social media.”
The day after he ran the final marathon in Miami, where his wife and children went to cheer him on, Terrell said he was back at work.
TAKEN TO THE BRINK
After taking time off from serious training — he ran weekly marathons in the months leading up to the World Marathon Challenge — Terrell began preparing this past spring for an Ironman competition in Barcelona, Spain.
On June 30, he and a friend were bicycling near Front Royal, Virginia, when an SUV slammed into him and ran him over. His friend was also injured but not as severely as Terrell.
“I suffered multiple serious injuries and nearly died,” said Terrell, who was airlifted from the scene. His injuries included a broken hip and two fractured vertebrae in his back.
Reflecting on the reality of being in a wheelchair just a few months after running marathons, Terrell said he told people that “they’re really just two chapters of the same book. They both require the same mental discipline to get through.”
While in the hospital, Terrell made a confession and received the anointing of the sick. He was prepared to die, but now feels he was spared for a purpose.
SAVED FOR A PURPOSE
“I believe my guardian angel saved me,” he said. “I have a strong feeling that I was saved for a reason. Part of it is to see my teenage sons become men, but that’s not the only reason, so I’m trying to discern what that reason is.”
The answer to why he survived, Terrell believes, may be that God wants him to get more involved in public service to serve the common good.
“I do have the gifts of being able to inspire,” said Terrell, who describes himself as a policy wonk with “a bleeding heart” who believes that conservative public policies offer the best solutions to helping the poor and vulnerable in society.
Meanwhile, Terrell is hoping to start running a couple of miles a week by year’s end, and be healthy enough by March to complete a half-Ironman in Puerto Rico. Terrell expects to be fully recovered in time for the North Pole Marathon next April.
“It’s just one marathon,” Terrell said. “How hard can it be?”
BRIAN FRAGA is a Legatus magazine staff writer.