Health crises didn’t stop this pair from running
Stride for stride, Judith Critzer and Kevin Lynch crossed the Falmouth Road Race finish line for the second time together this past August – casting any shadows of doubt far behind them.
The pair’s unusual partnership was forged by their own individual healthcare crises over the last two and a half years and their mutual support and commitment to recover and return to the sport they love.
Critzer, who is a pulmonary therapist at Falmouth Hospital, met Lynch initially in 2013 as her new patient. He had recently undergone chemotherapy, radiation, and had his left lung removed after being diagnosed with lung cancer.
“One of the first things I asked him was what he wanted to get out of pulmonary rehab and he simply said he wanted to run the Falmouth Road Race,” said Critzer. “He was emaciated and very thin from cancer treatments with only one lung and he looked so fragile. But he also radiated this energy and I knew he would put forth the effort.
“We started running outdoors together that spring and while he had this chronic cough, and there were times he had to stop, he always tried his best.”
Lynch, who was perfectly healthy before his lung cancer diagnosis, said “pushing past” his illness was difficult but the weekly training at the Frances A. Crane Wildlife Management Area in Falmouth helped him on an emotional and physical level.
“I ran the Falmouth Road Race about 10 times before I got sick, as well as half marathons and 10K’s. I really love to run so it was a goal for me to get back to that,” Lynch said. “It was definitely tough and I had to put in a lot of work to just run two to three times a week but the more Judy and I trained together the better it became.”
The efforts paid off and in 2014 the duo ran the entire 7.2 mile race together and Critzer, who is also a marathon runner, called the experience “unbelievably amazing.”
Unfortunately, the celebration wouldn’t last long.
Three weeks later, after running the Main Street Mile in Falmouth, Critzer suffered a debilitating stroke that would leave her unable to walk or talk – let alone run the ultra 100-mile marathons she was used to.
“I passed out in my car after the race was over and someone found me and called an ambulance,” Critzer said. “No one thought I would ever come back to work and while it was horrible and a bad time for me, I fought my way back and three months later I was working again. When I saw Kevin I didn’t even have to say anything – we just knew that we would run again.”
And they did.
The pair unbelievably pushed past the pain and trained through another cold winter and into the spring. But this time it was Critzer who needed to start slow.
“As quickly as we could we got back out there and started running four days a week,” she said. “Kevin put so much effort into it that he got me going. No matter what, he never complains. He does whatever it takes to keep going and this time around I took a page from his book,” Critzer said. “We both worked incredibly hard to get back into shape leading up to the Falmouth Road Race and it felt so good to have someone by my side in my time of need.”
When race day finally came, it was one of the hottest days of summer. But the heat didn’t deter Critzer and Lynch, who arrived to cheering fans and supportive spectators.
And right before the gun went off, through the haze, Critzer spotted Jeffrey J. Spillane, MD, FACS,-the same physician who performed Lynch’s lung surgery. She immediately asked Dr. Spillane, a Cape Cod Hospital thoracic surgeon, to join them and he ran behind Critzer and Lynch from beginning to end.
“It wasn’t part of the plan for me to run with them but it ended up being an honor,” Dr. Spillane said. “They both went through hell and yet still had enough fire and determination to say ‘I’m going to run again.’
Dr. Spillane said the “fierce determination” both Critzer and Lynch possess is inspiring.
“Not only did Kevin undergo radiation and chemotherapy, he had his lung removed and that in itself is a very large operation and causes a chronic shortness of breath. To be able to run again is pretty impressive,” he said. “And Judy, is equally remarkable . She has been so wonderful to so many of my patients, and with Kevin she went well out of her work responsibilities to be there for him. They are exceptional people.”
Lynch, whose cancer is now in remission, said he has been “humbled” and “amazed by his journey with Critzer and Spillane.”
“It was so unexpected to have Dr. Spillane behind me during that race and it felt so good,” he said. “It just goes to show that when things are hard, you just stick with it and you get through it.”
And while Critzer’s next goal is to eventually run in the Boston Marathon, she and Lynch are planning to run in the 2016 Falmouth Road Race – a tradition fueled by friendship and inspiration.
“So many people have been supportive and it shows you a lot about the Cape Cod community and the amazing people that live and work here,” she said. “And yes, we ran the Falmouth Road Race for the second time and I feel like we deserved that. When we are out there during the race and even when we are training we know that we’ve run faster before becoming sick but it doesn’t matter because we have each other.”