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Heart to Heart - October 2018 Athlete of the Month

David Kucherawy, 66, Washington, Pennsylvania

All dog owners enjoy a bond with their pets, but David Kucherawy has a special connection with his cocker spaniel Raleigh. In fact, he jokes that in a sense they saved each other’s lives.

David has been competing in sprint track events and collecting medals in masters and Senior Games events since 2009, including a bronze and a silver at the 2017 National Senior Games presented by Humana. But lack of physical activity for prior decades almost cost his life. “I played football and tennis in high school, and some football at a Division II college. After that, I was an administrator at a psychiatric hospital for nearly 40 years and did not have the time to do sports.”

In 2008, he started having minor chest pains and tried to pass it off as a muscle pain or indigestion. “But the pains kept accelerating in duration and intensity,” he recalls. “I only had pains early in the morning, and that was when got up and walked Raleigh every day before going to work. I believe if I wasn’t walking that dog, I might not have noticed the pain until it became a massive heart attack.” Tests revealed his left anterior descending coronary artery had a 99% blockage. He had narrowly avoided what is called “the Widow Maker.”

Ironically, David had rescued a severely malnourished young Raleigh from a local animal shelter 18 months beforehand. “I now think, ‘We’re even, buddy,’” he says. “I took care of him, and he took care of me.”

It also opened a new path for David to follow to senior sports. After a stent was placed, he was advised to exercise and have a healthier diet. He began walking as part of his rehabilitation and decided to pick up the pace on his way to losing 35 pounds.

“I started racing in a little tri-county meet for seniors here, and people said, ‘Wow, you’re pretty fast, you should go to the Pennsylvania Senior Games,’ which I was unaware of. I went there and found there was the National Senior Games. So it was just one thing after the next.”

David also competes in masters track events and is proud of the 4x200 relay gold medal earned with his Philadelphia Masters Track & Field Club team at the National Masters Indoor Track and Field Championships. He’s also thankful that his health has never been better. “My cardiac visits are short now, and I haven’t had a stress test in almost five years,” he reports.  “They told me if I’m running like this there’s no need to do that.”

We wondered if Raleigh also runs with David while he trains. “No, he’s almost 15 years old now so he’s semi-retired. We still walk every day but only go a short distance now. I know he misses the times we used to take longer walks down to the college nearby, because the kids would bring Raleigh food from the snack bar.”

David Kucherawy enjoys his new journey and maintains a steady training regimen. “It’s the adrenaline rush and excitement of the competition that I look forward to,” he says, adding, “I’m so grateful that the Senior Games exist, because it provided a goal for me.”

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