MARQUETTE, Mich. (WJMN) – Derek Lindstrom’s passion for running was cultivated during his time as a multi-sport athlete at Marquette Senior High School. Shortly after graduating in 1981, Lindstrom ran his first marathon.
“I ran all through my 20’s, 30’s, and’40s and I always looked for that next marathon, that next race, that next Ironman, that next bike ride,” said Lindstrom. “I craved that, and I still crave that. On Saturday morning, going on 20-mile runs with my friends. It’s just what I loved doing.”
Lindstrom’s running journey took him all over the U.S., running in major cities such as Chicago, New York, and even the Boston Marathon, which he qualified for 33 years in a row. But, it was a race in the U.P. he talks about the most.
“For years my favorite race was the Big Bay Relay from Marquette to Big Bay,” said Lindstrom. “I was lucky enough to be on the winning team 17 times and 14 times in a row.”
In March 2018 Lindstrom’s life changed after he suffered a stroke. While in the hospital, a more serious diagnosis was discovered. On the outside, Lindstrom looked every bit of the Ironman that he was, but inside his heart was weak. He was going into heart failure.
“It just felt like I lost my identity on who I was,” said Lindstrom. “You know, coaching athletes, racing, stuff like that. I was just lost on what I should be doing and the whys. You know the why me? That kind of thing. You know everybody has a journey so it was just my turn.”
Since his diagnosis over four years ago, Lindstrom says he’s dodged many bullets coming close to death on several occasions.
“Yeah, it’s been more than a few,” said Lindstrom. “Whether it be clots stuck in my arm or one time in my leg which are always scary. You know twice where I have flat-lined. I have a defibrillator that zapped me back to life. The last one in March I honestly don’t know how I survived that one I got nine staples in my head.”
Rather than slow down to try and avoid death, Lindstrom says he will not stop moving.
“It’s hard to wrap my head around not racing anymore,” said Lindstrom. “That was a passion for close to 40 years. I just craved being at a start line of frankly anything. It could be a 5K trail run, it could be an ultramarathon or it could be a bike race. I loved competing and I loved seeing how hard I could push myself. So, that’s been hard.”
Lindstrom will need a heart transplant in order to prolong his life. He says the very passion that has kept him fit his whole life is a big reason why he’s unable to get on a transplant list today.
“It’s an interesting double-edged sword,” said Lindstrom. ” I’m transplant worthy, but I’m still too fit. If I was fit you know, I’d be transplant-less. So, do you stay fit and stay off of the list because that is the journey? Or do you slow down get out of shape and get on the list quicker?”
With his heart working at only 15% of its capacity, Lindstrom is unable to run like he used to. He still does have the strength and stamina to hike which is an activity that has filled the void.
“I don’t want to stop living life,” said Lindstrom. “I don’t want to sit back and not do this and I could I got probably a bigger excuse than most people. No, tomorrow is not guaranteed and I can’t imagine not doing this.”
Despite not being able to run as he used to Lindstrom stays heavily involved in the sport as a race director. He helps put on races through Wisconsin and the U.P. such as the Queen City Half-Marathon, and Marquette Marathon to name a few. And while it’s not Lindstrom crossing the finish line at this time, he says he still gets excited watching runners push themselves to their limits and conquer the distance.
“That is my happy place,” said Lindstrom. “To watch someone crush a race, and it’s different for everybody, it’s very fulfilling. It’s a lot of work to put on a race, but it’s wonderful.”
With tens of thousands of people awaiting a transplant right now, Lindstrom has made it his mission to raise awareness of the lack of organ donors.
“It’s something I don’t understand,” said Lindstrom. “I don’t know why someone would not be. They’ve made it so easy in checking a box on a driver’s license and you’re an organ donor.”
For now, Lindstrom travels weekly to Milwaukee for testing while waiting on the day he’s able to get his transplant. If he’s not there you can probably find him on the trail heading up Hogback Mountain. A trek he only became aware of a few years ago thanks to a friend who took him there.
“It’s stunning here I can see from Big Bay to Harvey and sometimes I will come here and turn around and go back and sometimes I will come up here and I will sit for an hour and a half. I will work, reflect, and drink a bloody mary, not that I would, but hypothetically.”
And when he finally does get that call?
“The first thing I think of is, what marathon am I going to sign up for?” said Lindstrom. “That is the goal. Once I receive a heart it’s training day one. To win a marathon again with all my friends and family would be pretty cool.”