Marty Gregoire recently set a personal best for the 5-kilometer run at the age of 38; he runs about a race a month. He works for M&T Bank, but devotes some “spare time” either raising money to help children with special needs or sending them outfits to raise their spirits.
And he has a relatively mild case of cerebral palsy.
Feel like an underachiever yet?
“Marty does what most of us think about, but rarely act upon. He focuses on what his potential is, rather what others think it should be,” said Patrick O’Connor of the Buffalo Rehab Group/RunSmart. “He also takes the time and effort to share his knowledge with other children following his path through his charity. He is an inspiration to me personally and to many other patients and athletes.”
It’s quite a story, especially for someone who perhaps never had a thought as a child that he could keep up with the other kids.
“It (CP) affects my legs,” he said. “I’ve always been able to walk on my own, but I was born with one leg shorter than the other. I had surgery when I was 2, and another operation when I was 11.
“I still run with a lift on my shoe. Every pair of shoes I have has to be specially fit for me so I can run. So $80 running shoes turn into $180 running shoes. Insurance doesn’t cover those lifts.”
Although CP usually doesn’t get worse over time, the body is designed to run and walk in a certain way. When it doesn’t do that, the body parts take a pounding.
Running in races, then, became a good-sized goal for Gregoire, the youngest of 17 children.
“I started doing races after surgery about eight years ago,” he said. “I had spinal surgery, and on the anniversary of the surgery I ran my first race, the Ronald McDonald House run. I kind of got addicted after that.”
Along the way, Gregoire discovered that he could lend a hand to young people who face similar challenges.
“I worked through a hospital in St. Louis because that’s where I had surgery (in 2004),” he said. “If there were kids that had CP, and if they wanted to talk about living with it, I can tell them about my life. Some parents are scared of what the future holds for their child. It’s my calling to share the experience, to show them what’s ahead.”
Having a child with CP can be a bank-breaking experience, and Gregoire discovered that there was no agency in Western New York designed to help out such families. So, he started one – Footsteps for WNY.
“Western New York has really stepped forward and supported our goal,” he said. “One little boy had a walker, and every time he hit a bump he literally fell forward into his face. He was afraid to walk. We got him a safer walker, and now he’s playing adaptive football.”
Along the way, Gregoire had the idea to help out affected children in yet another way.
“A little boy in St. Louis was having surgery, and I sent him a cape like a superhero’s with his initials on it,” he said. “It brightened his day, and soon I was sending another one. They realize they are heroes in their own way.
“The Cartoon Network gave me permission to use some characters, and my sister said she’d make the capes. . . . I’ve seen video of the kids when they get their capes, and it’s fun to see their reaction.”
In the meantime, Gregoire keeps running, and keeps getting better. He had surgery on his hamstrings in June, and wasn’t medically cleared to run until December. O’Connor taught him to alter his style slightly in order to use his upper body more.
It’s helped. Gregoire took a personal best of 37 minutes, 11 seconds for a 5K into the Shamrock Run. When he hit that distance during the 8-kilometer race, Gregoire’s time was 34:40. So he topped his best-ever time by more than 2½ minutes. Gregoire finished the race in 59:50. Coming up, Gregoire will take part in the Buffalo Marathon as a member of a relay team. He hopes to run no slower than 12-minute miles.
And speaking of goals, Gregoire doesn’t have any numbers in mind for future 5K’s. But sub-30 minutes sounds pretty good to him.
“If that happened, I would retire on the spot,” he said with a laugh.
• Bengal Run 5K, Buffalo State College, 9:30 a.m. Saturday, 878-6001.
• Putting Hunger on the Run 5K, D’Youville College, 320 Porter Ave. in Buffalo, 10 a.m. April 7, 884-5375.
• Young Life 5K Run, 4999 S McKinley Parkway in Hamburg, 9 a.m. April 13, 825-6702.
• Mathletes 5K, 1339 Indian Church Road in West Seneca, 9 a.m. April 13, 870-8956.
• Health Fair 5K Run, 1500 Vanderbilt Ave. in North Tonawanda, 9 a.m. April 13, 807-3715.
• Anew Run 5K, 83 South Main St. in Jamestown, 9:30 a.m. April 13, 661-3894.
• Feel the Spirit 5K, 921 Cleveland Drive in Cheektowaga, 11 a.m. April 13, 380-0231.
• Canisius College Shoes for the Shelter 5K, Canisius College, 888-2977.