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From Marlboros to Marathons- Meet Jimmy K

I grew up on the south side of Chicago where we lived for pitching pennies and lob league baseball. It’s where hot dogs rule and putting ketchup on them remains sacrilegious. Regardless of our birth names it seemed my friends and I were all given an optional “y” to add on to it.  Amongst others there were Tommy, Bobby, Mikey, Timmy, Jacky, Johnny, Pauly, Chucky, Larry, and  Chicky! In those days going for a run was furthest from my mind unless I was running  to the liquor store for
a pack of Marlboros and a 30 pack of Schlitz. By age 18 I grew a porn stache good enough to buy booze without getting carded. My place was party central every weekend.

Chicky, Larry & Jimmy enjoying a beverage after a game of pool
Chicky, Larry & Jimmy enjoying a beverage after a game of pool

I would go through phases of working out but they didn’t last. My Pee Wee Herman-like physique needed plenty of help but I didn’t take any workout program seriously.  I went through a phase in the late 80’s of wanting to gain weight so badly I went to the doctor asking if he’d prescribe amino acid pills or something to help me. He chuckled and said “if you want to gain weight drink more beer and sit on the couch.” Then I turned to a guy at work work who happily sold me some little blue steroid pills. That experiment lasted a week when my roommates convinced me that my balls would shrink down to nothing and any kids I had would be born with extra nipples. I accepted the fact that I was going to be skinny forever not realizing what the middle age years would bring.

I smoked like a chimney from age 17 to 29. One day I flicked an ash out the window of my car which came right back and landed in the eye of my then 7 year old son. He was pissed and made sure I knew how disgusted he was in my habit. I also had a baby girl who I’m sure wreaked of smoke too but wasn’t old enough to voice her displeasure or even flip me the bird. I quit the nasty habit, but not for good. Nine years later a failed marriage and some major career turmoil brought stress levels to a new high. The will power was gone and I found myself buying cigarettes again at almost 10 bucks/pack. I simply claimed stupidity when anyone asked me why I started again.

Little did I know how my life would change one fall day when I was 40. I was sitting on my patio enjoying several smokes and reading college brochures for the various schools my son was interested in attending. That is when Amanda walked into my life, literally. She saw me glancing at the Illinois State University brochure as she was walking past my patio toward her place two doors down. She said, “I went to ISU. Is someone thinking of going there”? That’s all it took to kick off a long conversation with this smokin hot lady which would lead to many more patio talks and a trip down the aisle 2 years later.

Amanda took up running on the treadmill as part of a weight loss plan leading up to the wedding. I would go to the gym with her, do some weights and occasionally try the treadmill, but I hated it. There was nothing about running that excited me…not even when Jerry Springer was on the treadmill TV. I would finish my workout and immediately fire up a smoke after. Amanda lost some weight for the big day and I was proud of her for having a goal and hitting it. She then wanted to sign up for a 8k race in 2010 and asked me to run it with her. After much hesitation I decided to start running more to prepare for my first ever race. I remember thinking, it’s about 5 miles…can’t be that bad. HA! Unfortunately giving up my smoking habit was not an option. I huffed and puffed my way across the finish line. It wasn’t pretty but I did it and felt great about it. Then I fired up a Marlboro and that too was great!

Amanda became more serious about running and by 2011 she was ready to run her first half marathon. I still had my nasty habit and didn’t get the whole running thing. In my mind I thought, could there be anything more boring? It was obvious she became passionate about it and I was impressed with her commitment. I would continue to run here and there with her but nothing serious. At this point I was smoking almost 2 packs of cigarettes each day. It was out of control!

In late 2011 a very close family friend passed away to lung cancer. That hit me pretty hard as we lost someone who had such an amazing impact on the lives of me and my kids. This was the defining moment. I remember thinking I do not want to go that way nor do I want my wife and kids to endure this kind of pain. I want to be around for my kids weddings, birth of grand kids, and grow old with Amanda. It was time to commit to making some serious changes with my habits and lifestyle. Step one was to quit smoking. I did it before for 9 years which gave me some confidence I can do it again. I touched my last cigarette on January 1, 2012. I quit cold turkey baby! This past New Years marked my 4 year anniversary of being smoke-free.

Step two was to replace that bad habit with a good one. Although attending clown school was up for consideration, I opted to start running more. I signed up for an 8k and my first half marathon right away. A bit crazy but I needed something to aim for and keep me on track. Now it was time to train. I bet it was a few short weeks before my dislike for running became more of a toleration. From there I began to find it a form of stress relief and habit. Amanda and I would run together as often as possible, find new routes, set distance goals, and buy running gear. At the ripe old age of 44 I became a runner to the point in which an off day was full of something missing. What on earth was happening to me? I was becoming “one of them”!

In April 2012 I completed my first Half Marathon in Kenosha WI. The rush I felt and sense of accomplishment created an immediate addiction to my newfound passion. In October 2012 we went to spectate while Amanda’s sister ran the Chicago Marathon. I previously told myself I would never run a full marathon. That day changed everything. What an amazing experience to stand amongst hundreds of thousands of people who are cheering on family, friends, and complete strangers. The atmosphere was electric as runners of all shapes and sizes were attempting to accomplish what a very small percentage of our population has done. This was when Amanda and I looked at each other and said, “why not us”?

Shortly thereafter we signed up to run the 2013 Chicago Marathon with American cancer Society’s Team Determination. We figured this to be a great opportunity to support a wonderful cause while attempting our goal. By marathon race day I had 4 half marathons under my belt in total. I was banged up but ready!!! Just over 21 months after giving up a 2 pack/day cigarette habit I ran 26.2 miles through the greatest city in the world. Thousands, including my two amazing children, cheered me along the way. I was overcome with emotion climbing Mt. Roosevelt before turning toward the finish line. Holy S&%T, I frickin completed the Chicago Marathon!The best moment was after crossing when I was able to share a tear and a smile with that beautiful lady who changed my life forever. Then we made out but kept it clean considering the audience!

The Kowalski's post 2013 Marathon!
The Kowalski’s post 2013 Marathon!

ACSMarathon 2013

Nobody would have guessed 30 years ago that this skinny, chain smoking, party loving dude with the porn stache would trade it all in to run marathons. Although I’m not sure I’ve traded it all in for good… I hear the porn stache is making a come back. OH YEA!!!

The Stache!
The Stache!

stache man

Dream Big Running Mates!

Jimmy K

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4 thoughts to “From Marlboros to Marathons- Meet Jimmy K”

  1. Awesome jimmy, I’m so proud of you and am very happy for you, your beautiful wife and amazing son and daughter. God bless you.

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