Longenecker overcomes the odds

By on January 4, 2017


Lititz’s Bobby Longenecker crosses the finish line at the Rehoboth Beach Seashore Marathon with top honors in 2:38.26. it marked the 27th different U.S. state in which Longenecker has completed a marathon. (Photo courtesy of Gametime Media)

Lititz’s Bobby Longenecker crosses the finish line at the Rehoboth Beach Seashore Marathon with top honors in 2:38.26. it marked the 27th different U.S. state in which Longenecker has completed a marathon. (Photo courtesy of Gametime Media)

The Rehoboth Beach Seashore Marathon’s 26.2-mile course probably didn’t seem all that long for Bobby Longenecker.

Not compared to the road he’d been traveling.

There were many miles of hurdles, doubts and struggles that the 27-year-old Lititz man had to overcome before crossing the Rehoboth finish line in a first-place time of 2:38:26 on Saturday, Dec. 3.

In fact, it was just over a year earlier that an orthopedic doctor had told Longenecker &tstr; suffering from an auto immune disorder (seronegative spondyloarthropathy) &tstr; he’d never again be able to run more than five miles at a time.

For someone with a passion for marathons, having won multiple races already, that was a tough blow.

“I work in the medical profession (as a Hartz physical therapist in Lititz), I know most of the time, doctors give you the worst possible scenario so you don’t build up your expectations,” Longenecker said. “But it was definitely hard for me to take.”

Hearing those words was one of the low points during a difficult period which started in roughly July, 2015, when he started experiencing aches and pains in his hips, feet and back. Soon thereafter, Longenecker was stricken by fevers.

Originally, an orthopedist believed he had a torn ligament in his foot. But following six weeks in a cast, Longenecker’s foot was twice its normal size and the fevers weren’t subsiding.

That led to him seeing a rheumatologist and having blood work done. He was finally on the right path, but the difficulties were far from behind him.

Through January or February of this year, he trialed some medicines which weren’t doing the job. Forced to use crutches with the cast, then a cane while still limping and experiencing a lot of pain, Longenecker eventually switched to stronger meds.

“I was just having difficulty walking and really didn’t turn a corner until I got on the right medicine,” recalled Longenecker, a 2007 Lancaster Mennonite High School graduate.

In the meantime, although he was still in too much discomfort to run, he remained active by swimming. Eventually, Longenecker got to point where he could start bicycling again.

“I love running, I love being outside and I love pushing myself, and after I got the cast off, I couldn’t bike at that point because I couldn’t put weights on my feet,” he recalled. “So I swam in a pool with something between my legs so they’d float because I couldn’t even paddle my feet because it hurt too much. After a certain point, I could start paddling with my feet and then I kinda worked into biking. I did a lot of biking through the winter and that’s how I kept myself moving and kept myself motivated.”

In time, the swelling went down and Longenecker started feeling better. So much so that in late April, he got out to the Warwick track to run 100 meters.

“Slowly I just kinda started building it up,” he said. “On the May 4th weekend, I went out and ran a mile and then I kinda built up the mileage.”

While honeymooning in June with his wife Laurel Etter, a 2008 Warwick grad, the two of them hit the pavement together for a longer run.

“That was the first time I ran more than three miles in a row,” said Longenecker, who also took advantage of his background in physical therapy to do a lot of strength exercise to reduce the stiffness and swelling in his feet and ankles.

Back on the road to recovery, he slowly but surely ramped up the mileage and worked himself into shape for the Rehoboth Beach (Del.) Marathon. In his quest to complete a 26.2-miler in all 50 U.S. states, this marked No. 27 &tstr; all of which he completed in less than three hours.

“Who knows if it will happen,” Longenecker said, “but it’s an excuse to travel and run different races.”

His winning time at Rehoboth was just over one minute in front of Lowell Ladd (2:39:47), of West Chester. Although the course was fairly flat, windy conditions that day presented a challenge, but Longenecker, Lapp and a couple others took turns at the front of the pack blocking the elements.

“It could have been a really challenging course if I was by myself the whole time,” Longenecker said, “but we all kinda worked together.”

That camaraderie helped him reach his goal of breaking 2:40 in the race. Longenecker was still roughly five minutes off his PR time of 2:33, but considering how far he had come over the previous 17 months, he was happy just to be there.

“It was also the first marathon I’ve race since getting married, so it was nice to have somebody that was I looking forward to seeing at the end,” Longenecker said. “It was definitely a long journey and I was really just thankful to be out there and able to do it again, something a year ago I wouldn’t have dreamed of, so it was a special day.”


One Comment

  1. Tom Nesbitt

    January 13, 2017 at 11:19 am

    Nice article Bruce. Bobby inspires lots of people in many ways!

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