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Throwback Thursday: Former Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football Player - Pat Fallon

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Set your target, write down all of the things you have to do to hit that target in the center and then do it.

Fallon had never run a marathon before ... (Smiley N. Pool - Staff Photographer/The Dallas Morning News)

Hopefully, wherever you live, things are starting to open up some and you are able to get out and about once again. During this shelter in place time, I have tried my very best to walk every day. Well, when it wasn’t raining, or wasn’t cold ... give me a break, I’m trying. I used to be a runner, but my knees don’t seem to like that any more. On days when I need a little motivation, though, all I have to do is pick up former Notre Dame Fighting Irish football player Pat Fallon’s story, and then I think I can do just about anything. Would you like to hear Pat Fallon’s inspiring story? Here it is!

Every life is full of ups and downs, successes and failures, triumphs and tragedies. It’s how you react to each success and failure you face that will determine the course your life will take. Do you see life as a glass half-full experience, or do you always see life as a glass half-empty? Have you built a village to support you and cheer you on? Former Notre Dame wide receiver Pat Fallon has done just that. After being mentored at Notre Dame by head football coach Lou Holtz, Fallon has held on to some key Holtz-isms that have helped guide him through the rough waters of life, eliminate the naysayers, and have turned his failures into glowing successes. Now a successful business owner, a member of the Texas House of Representatives, and World Marathon Challenge survivor, Fallon has not only never turned down a challenge, but also faces each and every one with a fearlessness and positive attitude that we can all learn from. How does a kid from Pittsfield, Massachusetts, play on a national championship winning football team at Notre Dame while simultaneously completing Air Force ROTC, and then continue to serve his country in political office? This is Pat Fallon’s story.

“I grew up in Pittsfield, Mass. in the western part of the state, and my father is a 1957 graduate of Notre Dame. So much like a lot of other ND children, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame played the perpetual role as the good guys and teams like USC and Alabama (back in the 70s) were the bad guys. It was always a dream of mine from an early age to play football at Notre Dame. When we would toss the ball around, I would project myself playing football for the Irish; never a professional team. Always Notre Dame. Then you start to take your dreams more seriously and begin to develop as a player. Gerry Faust was the head coach at Notre Dame when I was in high school but he did not recruit me to play football at ND. Two of my high school football coaches played at the University of Massachusetts, which was a Div I-AA school at the time, so I took their advice and guidance and went to U Mass. From the very first day I arrived at U Mass the only thing I wanted to do was get good grades and go to Notre Dame. You see I didn’t even get accepted into ND my senior year in high school. It was a good lesson to learn as a high school student: you’re going to fail, you’re going to have challenges; it’s how you overcome them, circumvent them, and climb them that matters.”

“As I was crying, sitting on my front porch on April 7, 1986, with a very thin white envelope in my hand from ND, I began to formulate my plan. I am going to U Mass, I’m going to spend a year there, study very hard and then transfer to Notre Dame. I would tell people at U Mass when I met them, ‘Oh I’m not going to be here more than a year; I am going to transfer to Notre Dame.’ Everyone would say back to me, ‘Yeah whatever.’ No one really took me seriously. My friends were rather indifferent. I didn’t study all that much in high school. As a result, I was just a B student. Not bad but not exactly ND material either! But my first semester at U Mass I got a 3.77 grade point average (GPA), and my second semester I got a 3.5 GPA. That first year at U Mass I didn’t play football, I didn’t do any extracurricular activities. I was very focused and all I did was study. It was a large state school, a world of difference from ND. I applied to transfer to ND after my freshman year at U Mass, and I got a thick manila envelope in the mail on June 20, 1987. Not that I remember the exact date or anything!”

The Notre Dame Years

Getting into Notre Dame is an accomplishment to be celebrated, but being a transfer student at Notre Dame came with challenges.

“I learned a lot at 19 years old as a transfer student at Notre Dame. Getting into Notre Dame was all well and good except for the fact that they didn’t have housing available for transfer students. They sent you a list of apartments and rooms you could rent in South Bend. My parents were teachers making modest salaries and so I took the cheapest room available, which was a little over two miles from campus. It was a house in downtown South Bend, down the street from Tippecanoe Place, owned by two sisters in their 80s. I had access to my room, a bathroom, but had no access to the rest of the house. I could not have guests over. I had to get up extra early to catch the bus to school, and had to leave campus earlier than I would have liked in order to make the final bus downtown. Had I studied harder in high school, I probably wouldn’t have had this problem, but instead I had to pay my dues. The two sisters may have seemed a bit senile to me, but when rent was due, they were as sharp as tacks!”

“During my first year at Notre Dame, in the back of my mind, I kept wondering if my football career was over or if I should try and revive it. At first I was just so happy to be at Notre Dame. But with that accomplishment in hand, there were the beginnings of what became an unremitting undercurrent that just wouldn’t go away: revive your football career.”

“I was dating a girl that first year at ND who lived in Breen-Phillips Hall. I was quite fond of her. Beautiful girl. Well one day I was walking over to see her and saw her a bit too cozy with another fella on the quad. I was furious. I didn’t confront her, and obviously didn’t see her after that either-not that she was all that concerned of course! What I did was channel that anger. I asked myself why I wasn’t pursuing my dreams. Why not try out for the football team and let the chips fall where they may?! Right then and there I marched straight over to the football office and shared my intentions with Coach (George) Kelly. I wanted to participate in winter conditioning and try out for the football team in the spring. He instructed me to come back tomorrow and they would get me started.”

“Winter conditioning was fascinating, but when you are hungry, you do have somewhat of an advantage. I was not as fast as Pat Terrell, or as strong as Ricky Watters, but my desire was white-hot. You have to get over the doubts as to whether or not you belong. You have to say yes, yes I can do this. I was extremely active at winter conditioning. One of the graduate assistants called me, ‘The Worker.’ I had carpet burns all over my legs from the artificial surface. The pain actually felt good to me because it showed I was putting in the extra effort. Some of the other reserve players, however, didn’t like it. Mark Green and Steve Belles helped me out and took me under their wings. Pete Graham, Antwon Lark, James Dillard and many other guys began to see that I wasn’t just going through the motions but that I really wanted to contribute and compete. The guys started to see that I had something and I began to fit in.”

“After winter conditioning I was invited to play spring ball and that was an awesome experience. But you go from being thrilled about the invite, to being worried about the fall season. Pete Cordelli was the receivers’ coach at the time. Two of top receivers (Pierre Martin and Bobby Carpenter) left ND and so opportunities began to open up. Tony Rice was absolutely wonderful in every regard. He was always so positive. He didn’t care if you were Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown or someone coming off the bench, he always had a smile for you, a helpful suggestion, a tight spiral, and a pat on the back. Even if you did something wrong, he encouraged you.”

“Senior Brad Alge was another guy who mentored me. He had a knee injury but he was one of Coach Holtz’s favorites because he was one of those guys who could never be outworked. There was something special about that 1988 Notre Dame football team when you saw it unfold. Ned Bolcar, Mark Green, Corny Southall, George Streeter, Tony Rice, Andy Heck, Wes Pritchett, Frank Stams, they were players first but they were also leaders who coached their fellow teammates. Especially Pritchett and Stams who were fifth year seniors. If they went in early to practice, you went in early to practice. They set a good example for all of us. If we hadn’t had their leadership on that 1988 team there’s no way we go on that 12-0 run.”

“At the end of spring ball they let you know whether or not you made the team for the fall season. My parents had limited resources, similar to many of my peers who were also from middle class families, and when I went home for breaks I would take the train back to Massachusetts; a 15 hour overnight train from South Bend to Pittsfield. On my trip home at semester’s end, my parents picked me up in the morning, and at that point I hadn’t even told them I was participating in winter conditioning and spring practice, let alone that I had made the team for the fall. Well, I had mentioned it to my mom in somewhat vague terms, but she was supposed to have kept it a secret from my dad (which she did not). When I got off the train I joyfully told them I had made the team. Having that opportunity was such a tremendous experience for me. To see the pride and joy well up in my dad’s ND Alum eyes was a special moment!”

“Playing football at Notre Dame was like being in a different kind of classroom. There was so much that I was trying to soak up that I started taking copious notes about the whole experience. A lot of it is unprintable (Fallon laughs), but funny. Coach Holtz said it over and over again, ‘I look at myself not as a football coach but as a teacher. It’s my job to teach you to not only excel on the football field but also to excel in life.’ At the time we may not have appreciated it as much as we should have and even been a bit skeptical of those words. My teammates and I had our fair share of ‘too cool for school’ moments on the campus way back then. But in hindsight, with the wisdom of a few decades now under our belts, we see with perfect clarity what Coach was doing and what he meant.”

“If not for the experiences that I had with the guys on that 1988 squad and that group of coaches, I would not have tried to do a lot of things I’ve done and experienced in my life. I wouldn’t have been as eager to leave my comfort zone - you know what feels safe. I don’t know if I would have become an entrepreneur, started my own business, or ever even run for public office. A lot of the time we are taught that success, or notable success, is for other people. You are just supposed to get a job and be employed. But if you have a calling for something more, you have to scratch that itch or you are never going to be happy with yourself. When I saw Todd Lyght get drafted in the first round of the 1991 NFL draft, witnessed one of my teammates and friends being that successful on the big stage, I begin to realize that success doesn’t only happen to strangers, it can happen to guys like us. Even, maybe, to me! And though I wasn’t drafted into the NFL, that didn’t mean that I couldn’t achieve my dreams. You’re not going to succeed at everything you try, but that’s okay. When I did cold call sales in my 20s I would welcome the no’s. I figured that for every seven no’s I got, there would be three yes’s. So the quicker I got the no’s out of the way the quicker I could rack up the yes’s.”

“Running for political office was interesting. We’ve all had people in our lives that encourage us, and people in our lives that are negative. Many motivational speakers tell their audiences, ‘take the toxic people who point out every obstacle to you and eliminate them from your life, and keep the positive ones.’ Just by having that one person in your life who believes in you, you can often go much further than you ever thought you could. The positive people in your life are there to believe in you until you can believe in yourself. You’re going to be down sometimes, especially after you fail and throw yourself that pity party, but then you need to find someone to help you get back up, who can help expedite the process. You make these lifelong friends in college, friends who shared experiences with you, such as Notre Dame football, they become your brothers.”

“As a student-athlete at Notre Dame you have to be extremely disciplined with your time. Then I was also in Air Force ROTC so I was juggling class, football, and my ROTC obligations. For a while I was working, too, but I had to give that up to do ROTC. I did sell t-shirts door-to-door to help pay for school and expenses. Time management was a huge component of being successful as a student-athlete; being able to expand your comfort zone and do things that felt uncomfortable, even though difficult, was crucial to cultivating your character and a critical ingredient to your growth as a person. Having the belief that you can do more than you think you can was, and is, important to being successful as well. It was neat to be that young and have people say, ‘You are on the ND football team?! Wow.’ That really did make your heart glow.”

Professional Career

“It’s challenging for a lot of people when competitive team sports are no longer a part of your life. When that’s gone so many people feel that loss and go through a transformation period from athletics into regular life. You have to start this next chapter of your life with new goals and interests to fill that void. For me that new goal was becoming an entrepreneur. I wanted to start my own business and work for myself. Coach Holtz taught us to write down our goals and make a plan on how you’re going to get there. You can’t hit a target you can’t see, so create the target. And that’s just what I did.”

“After I graduated from Notre Dame, I served in the Air Force until I was 26 years old. After I was honorably discharged, I wanted to start a business. So I set my target and worked backwards from there.

• How do I start a business?

• How do I create a successful business, take care of my employees and my customers and become independently successful?

• And long term, how do I get into politics so that I can once again serve and give back to this amazing country that’s already given me so much?”

“I started my company out of my living room in a rented house in Wichita Falls, Texas. I had a total net worth of about $80. No kidding! But with drive, perseverance, a bit of good fortune and a growing team of dedicated employees, Virtus Apparel and our sister companies now employ nearly 100 people, we have 12 locations and have been blessed with an ever growing bottom line for nearly two decades. This success enabled me, in 2009 at 41 years old, to seek public office for the first time as I ran for a city council seat in Frisco, Texas. Frisco, at the time, was the fastest growing city in the country. In 1990 there were approximately 6,000 people living in Frisco. In 2000 that number jumped to 30,000 and in 2009 it tripled to 100,000 people. Today there are approximately 160,000 people living in Frisco. In the next 10 years it is predicted it will reach 300,000 people.”

“When I decided to run for city council, of course there were the naysayers. They were the same people who told me that I couldn’t transfer to Notre Dame. That I should just stay at the University of Massachusetts and make the best of it. Now they were telling me, ‘You’ve only lived in Frisco for two years, no one knows you. You haven’t been here long enough. You don’t know how to run for city council. You have a pregnant wife who is going to give birth right around Election Day. You also have a young son and a business to run.’ But I did not let this stop me. I told them thank you, but that I didn’t think the announced candidates would be as passionate about the job as I would be. And furthermore I don’t think all of the new people who have moved into Frisco care that I’ve only been here a couple of years.”

“There were four of us in the race, and if one candidate didn’t win outright (receive more than 50% of the vote), the top two candidates would have gone into a runoff election. The convention wisdom had myself and the clear favorite in the race heading to a runoff. But if you can get 50% of the votes you can win outright. I decided we were going to go for broke. If I didn’t win the election with 50% or more in the first round, the runoff would have occurred right around the time my wife was due, and that wasn’t an inviting scenario. I personally knocked on hundreds of doors and campaigned for 100 straight days. On Election night, May 9th, 2009, we received 57% of the vote. The candidate who was the clear favorite only got 29%. I don’t think we would have had that kind of outcome had I not been a part of the Notre Dame football team. That experience taught me to surround myself with people who believed in me, and to get rid of the toxic people in my life. Like Coach Holtz said, write down a goal, then a plan to achieve. Well, we hit the bull’s eye!”

“I was on the city council for three years and during my third year on council my colleagues unanimously elected me as Mayor Pro Tem (vice mayor). Just about that same time, a seat in the Texas House of Representatives came open, a position which represents 170,000 people. After getting the ‘OK’ from my bride, I decided to run for the State House. And then, yup, here are those darn naysayers again! ‘How are you going to win this seat? You think you can go from city council to state representative? There is a clear favorite running for this seat. You can’t beat her! Why don’t you just wait a few years and run for something else.’”

“My response? Thank you for your advice but I’m going to try this. It’s not up to me or my opponent, it’s up to the thousands of people that will be voting. Once again I reached back to those words from Coach Holtz, ‘Set your target, write down all of the things you have to do to hit that target in the center and then do it.’”

“I didn’t hire a campaign consultant. I would run the campaign myself. I did hire a couple of support staff and we ran an all-positive campaign to counteract my opponents highly negative approach. We ignored her and told the voters why they should vote for us, not why that should vote against the opposition. The election ended up being delayed from early March to late May due to a redistricting lawsuit. And while this delay did increase expenses, it was also a blessing. It provided us an opportunity of three more months to knock on a thousand more doors!”

“Across the state of Texas there were 35 seats that had no incumbents in the 2012 primary election cycle, and of those 35 seats, we won by the widest margin in the entire state. We received almost 73% of the vote and my competitor got just 27%. Sometimes ‘they’ don’t know all that much!”

“For the general election, which occurred in November of 2012, I still campaigned even though everyone told me I didn’t have to. We are in a very Republican district, but I still wanted the voters to know that I am acutely aware of who I work for - them! Not the special interest and certainly not anyone in Austin! In the election cycles where people are voting for the president, there is something that occurs called ‘under voting;’ which is where people only vote for the big races on the ballot, and leave the rest of the contests blank. I was curious as to how many more votes Mitt Romney got in our district, compared to how many votes I got. I started to do the math, and to my shock, it turned out that I had actually received more votes than Romney did in our House District. To not have any under voting in the year of a presidential election was quite an accomplishment. In fact, it’s pretty much unheard of to have a down ballot candidate like state representative receive more votes than the party’s presidential candidate. All of the hard work of our campaign team really had a pretty wonderful, if not entirely unexpected, effect!”

Favorite Notre Dame Football Memory

“I was one of the two people who had the opportunity to carry Coach Holtz off the field after we won the national championship in 1988. I positioned myself behind him and figured unless someone pushed me out of the way, I’m going to do this. The plan was when we won, not if we won, we were going to carry the seniors off the field. There was no doubt in our minds, there was no chance that we were going to lose. We knew, hands down, that we were going to win that game. Underclassmen were assigned in groups of two’s and three’s to carry a senior off the field, but I hadn’t been assigned to anyone. So my plan was to carry Coach Holtz off the field. And I executed that plan to perfection! The very next morning after the championship game, The Arizona Republic newspaper ran a big photo on their front page of Coach Holtz getting carried off the field. You can see Coach with his hand up in the air, index finger raised to the heavens, and in the corner of that photo there’s a ten thousand watt smile on the face of yours truly. Man, do I love that picture! Years later Coach came to speak in Austin, Texas to the Republican House Caucus and I had the honor of introducing him. They had that photo printed out and Coach Holtz signed it for me.”

TEMPE, AZ - JANUARY 2: Lou Holtz head coach of the Notre Dame University Fighting Irish celebrates with his team when they played the West Virginia University Mountaineers in the 1989 Fiesta Bowl at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona on January 2, 1989. The Fighting Irish defeated the Mountaineers 34-21. (Photo by Fiesta Bowl/Collegiate Images)

The World Marathon Challenge

“Last summer there was a story on ESPN about the World Marathon Challenge, and up to that point I was completely unaware that this event even existed. I thought to myself, man, I’d love to do that someday. But often times you have thoughts like that knowing you’ll never actually do it. One of our friends – Jill McMillan, who lives in our neighborhood, has twin 5 year old boys. She had a friend Kimberly Wade who lives in Jerseyville, IL, who also has twin boys who were 7 years old. In Dec of 2014 one of the Wade twins, Jonny, was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer. Our friend Jill began posting about the Wade family and Jonny’s journey and struggles on Facebook, but I never read the posts. I just couldn’t bring myself to read them because it hurt too much. Having 9 and 6 year old boys myself, it just hit too close to home. So I’m ashamed to say, at first, I took the ostrich approach and buried my head in the sand.”

“One night in Oct of 2015, I was reading about the World Marathon Challenge when I saw a post about Jonny Wade in my Facebook feed. For some reason I read it. It brought me to tears. His mother asked him if he could have one wish, what would that be. Instead of answering with the obvious and expected, ‘To get better Mommy,’ Jonny responded with selfless wisdom beyond his years with, ‘I just wish no other kid ever has to get cancer.’ His words filled my soul with emotion. My God, I wanted with all my heart to do something to help this brave little boy. And then this thought popped into my head. What if I ran the World Marathon Challenge? A guy like me trying something like that could get a lot of attention. We could raise awareness and money for Jonny and pediatric cancer research! And he’s a little boy, he loves adventure, he could follow the journey and it could be a good distraction for him and his twin brother Jacky while he battles this awful disease. So here I am, 47 years old, completely out of shape, weighing in at 235 pounds, and I hadn’t even run a 5K in years. No one had ever attempted this, let alone completed this, without being an ultra marathon athlete. I contacted Richard Donovan, with Polar Running Adventures, to express my interest in participating in the World Marathon Challenge and he told me, ‘You’re in luck! A spot just opened up we have one left.’”

“Only 15 people can participate in the World Marathon Challenge each year. Now all I had to do was convince my wife to let me do this. After a 33-page PowerPoint presentation on why it would be good for our family, North Texas, cancer research and the Wade family, she said yes. She told me, ‘I’m going to let you do this, not because of all of these reasons, or the nice presents you promised me in the presentation. I’m saying yes because of the cause.’ You see, for the entire year, she had been reading Jill’s posts on Facebook the whole time. She told me, ‘If you do this for the Wade family, I am completely on board.’”

The World Marathon Challenge consists of running seven marathons in seven days on seven continents, and must be completed in 168 hours: first on a mile thick glacier in Antarctica, and then Punta Arenas, Chile (South America), Miami (North America), Madrid (Europe), Marrakesh, Morocco (Africa), Dubai, United Arab Emirates (Asia) and Sydney (Australia).

“So now I’ve got to get in shape! I weighed 195 pounds when I was at Notre Dame, I weighed 200 pounds when I was in the Air Force, and on my first day of marathon training, October 16, 2015, I weighed 235 pounds. And it sucked. And I didn’t like running. But I lost 30 pounds along the way and now I feel great; I feel 20 years younger. When there is less of you to carry, you get faster by the way! You have the same muscle mass, you’re just not carrying all of that fat. And then a horrible thing happened. Jonny Wade’s cancer came back and he passed away on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2015. We decided to continue on with the World Marathon Challenge, to do it as a distraction for the Wade family, and especially for Jonny’s twin brother, Jacky and to honor Jonny. We sent a packet to the Wade family that included a globe with stars on each of the seven locations we were going to be running and everything and anything we could get our hands on about the World Marathon Challenge and the trip around the world. The Wades were so supportive and were amazed that a perfect stranger would do this to honor their son. What they didn’t realize was that by welcoming our meager gesture they were the ones giving us a wonderful gift.”

“I only had three months to train. I had to be very disciplined and I ran very hard six days a week. During my most grueling week I ran 102 miles. And because of the intense training I was able to get into pretty good shape, pretty quickly. But you know, there’s really no way you can fully prepare to run seven marathons, in seven days, on seven continents. I remembered how awful those two-a-day practices were at Notre Dame, and I wondered if this would be that bad. Because up until then, those two-a-day practices were the hardest thing I had ever physically experienced.”

“We flew from Punta Arenas, Chile (at the southern tip of South America) to Antarctica for the first marathon, which was on a glacier a mile thick. Antarctica is the highest, windiest, driest and coldest of all continents. If you don’t wear polarized goggles you will be blind in an hour. There are deep crevasses and the course had to be checked with sonar and marked with flags for the safety of the runners. Let’s just say that you don’t cut corners when you’re running a marathon in Antarctica!”

“Running in temperatures of -12 degrees on a barren landscape devoid of life isn’t easy. In fact when I completed the marathon in 5 hours and 47 minutes, I was told that I became the first person in the world to do their first marathon on the continent of Antarctica. And now I can tell you why…because it’s an exceedingly BAD idea to do your first marathon on the continent of Antarctica!!”

“Of all of the participants of the World Marathon Challenge, I was the only novice long distance runner. So I was pleasantly surprised to not have finished dead last during the first marathon (I came in 11th). During the second race, we returned to Punta Areas and I was 12th with a time of 4 hours and 52 minutes. Next we flew to Miami where I finished in 13th place (out of 15), and again in 13th place in Madrid Spain, the next day. But I was finishing, and that was my goal. Finish each marathon and raise money for pediatric cancer research.”

“I had never actually met the Wade family before, I’d only communicated with them on Facebook or through our friend Jill. So I was thrilled when they flew to meet us in Florida for the Marathon #3 in Miami. Jacky, Jonny’s twin brother, ran the last mile with me and the marathon coordinators gave him a medal just like the one that I received. This is a really big deal because the race officials only give out medals to participants who finish. Jacky is the only one who has a medal that hasn’t completed an entire marathon. And up to that point there had only been 11 people who had successfully completed the World Marathon Challenge.”

“Marathon #4, Madrid (Spain) and Marathon #5, Marrakesh (Morocco) were only five hours apart, and those were very tough. Heck the entire week I only got 18 hours sleep and only 6 of those hours were in a bed! My fitbit watch was set to Miami time and grouped the Madrid and Morocco Marathons in the same calendar day. I had over 96,000 steps that ‘day’. Now at this point I had hit my physical limit. Finishing two marathons in a 24 hour period after having already completed three marathons in the prior three days brought my body to utter exhaustion and near total physical collapse. I was thinking to myself, “how am I going to be able to fly to Dubai and do another race tomorrow?” I wasn’t worried so much about finishing, I was more worried about even starting!!!”

“When we got to Dubai, we had a little time and I managed to get three hours of sleep in an actual bed before the race, and then something magical happened. Something I can’t really explain even now. I don’t know how or why it happened, but it did. You see up until this point I was averaging five and a half hours per marathon, which I thought wasn’t all that bad for a 48-year old man who has never run a marathon before in his life and only trained for 3 months. But right before the race in Dubai I got a text from my wife that said when Kimberly Wade, Jonny’s mom, had gotten back to Jerseyville, IL, from Miami, she’d had the worst day since Jonny’s passing. She went to visit his grave site and couldn’t even leave. Her sister had to come and pick her up. It had only been three weeks since the funeral, and it was just their family in the house. The realities of losing a child were settling in. A family of four was now only a family of three. My heart bled for her. I suddenly felt this white hot flame within my chest. I was bound and determined to do something for Kimberly. I couldn’t give her what I wanted but I could give her what I had. And today I could run. And today I was going to run all out for her.”

“Of the 15 competitors, there were four that I just flat out couldn’t compete with: two of them were 27 year old US Marines, Dan Cartica and Cal Ramm, and Cal was on the Marine Corps Marathon team! When not running seven marathons in a row both were capable of running 26.2 miles in two and a half hours! No shot to compete with them. Another was an Australian named James Alderson. He’d competed in over 150 Ultra Marathons (at least 50 Kilometers-32 miles) and is a world class distance runner. The fourth was Becca Pizzi, a 36-year woman who has been running long distances since she was a little girl, has completed over 50 marathons and is also a highly competitive cross fit athlete. And even though all of the other runners are far more experienced than myself, better trained, more talented and most of them have been smoking me during this adventure, I figured I got an outside shot, a long shot, of competing with them. In short, the best I can do is 5th place. And that is NOT a probability, just a remote possibility. So that was my goal for the day. That was the gift I wanted to give Kimberly. Fifth place.”

“As soon as the gun went off in Dubai, I came out like a bat out of hell and the other runners are all thinking that I started out too fast. All of the marathon books say that if you start out too fast you will hit a wall somewhere around mile 18, 20 or 22. But at the halfway mark, I’m in fourth place and I’m miles ahead of my normal pace. Well, that dreaded and feared wall never came, for the first time all week I ran the entire race (never walking once) and I also never stopped for a bathroom break. I ended up finishing in fifth place, with a time of 4 hours and 19 minutes. An hour and a half faster than the marathon I’d run the day before, when I could barely walk onto the plane! It was a miracle. How on earth was I able to shave that much off my time? No one could believe it. The organizers couldn’t believe it. The other participants couldn’t believe it. I knew why I did it, but I didn’t know how I was able to do it. I was and still am absolutely convinced that Jonny Wade was the wind at my back and I had a guardian angel with me for those four hours in Dubai. I can’t explain it any other way. And together we gave his mom some warmth and solace. It was proof for her that Jonny was on this journey with us.”

“As amazing as Marathon #6 turned out, what happened the next day eclipsed even that. We flew to Sydney, Australia, for the seventh and final race. It was hazy, hot and humid; and it was an out and back marathon, which meant you ran the same out and back course for 13 roundtrips. It turned out to be as monotonous as it was painful! As we were getting ready to start the wind was at our back, which meant that when we turned around the wind was going to be in our face, making any time we had gained on the way out turn into a net loss. I was trying to figure out how to stay hydrated without over hydrating, how to limit my pit stops, how much water to drink to combat this heat, how many goo packs to take; so many calculations to make. One of the participants, James Alderson-Ultra Marathon man, was from Sydney, Australia, and lived just five miles from the course. Before the race, James was explaining to me, ‘You’re going to like the outbound leg ‘cause the winds with us, but you’re going to hate the return!’ Then James asked me, ‘Are you going to thrive today Pat or just survive?!’ I told him that I wanted to break the 4-hour mark today. I wanted to do that for the Wade family. Only four of the competitors had been able to do that this entire week: James, the two US Marines, Cal Ramm and Dan Cartica, and Becca Pizzi. James was a bit taken aback to say the least. He explained that while he was truly amazed and impressed with my performance in Dubai, that running a 4-hour marathon is much different than running a 4-hour 20-minute marathon; it’s a different animal. It’s nearly one minute faster per mile. He told me he was going to try and do a 4-hour marathon today, but he wasn’t even sure he could do it. And hell, he had beaten the Marines in Dubai and had actually won that leg. It was the only time the Marines didn’t finish 1-2. So four hours was a tall order for anyone. Even James. For me, he feared it was simply out of reach. And if I pushed too hard I was risking an injury that could end my challenge and I’d be unable to finish.”

“By this point, after running 157 miles in 6 days on 6 different continents our bodies had had it! We were all pretty seriously banged up. Everything hurt. We were using icy hot, Advil, pain patches, five-hour energy drinks, we had shin splints, aching IT bands, sore hamstrings…the works! James then told me, ‘OK, if you want to try and run a 4-hour marathon, stay with me, and I’ll pace ya!’”

“The first lap out I stayed right with him, the wind was at our back which was helpful and then we approached the cone to turn around and I hear James say, ‘As soon as we hit the cone and turn ‘round the wind will be in our face,’ but it wasn’t. A small miracle occurred and just as I hit the cone to turn around the wind changed! It was at our back the entire return leg as well. I looked up at the stars and whispered, ‘Thanks Jonny!’ James said he’d never seen that happen before on Manly Beach. In fact, for the rest of the race the wind was never a factor.”

“The humidity lifted on lap three. The temperatures dropped on lap five. And then James was suddenly way out in front of me and I became very frustrated that I could not keep up with him. I shouted at him when we would pass each other in opposite directions that I needed help with pacing because I hadn’t bothered to bring my phone along for time because he’d promised to pace me. So being from Sydney he had plenty of friends that had come out to cheer him on. He deployed his friend Peter to run with me. Peter was a trooper and stayed with me the whole rest of the way. Then on lap ten he told me I was doing very well, but the time keepers wouldn’t tell me my time (which later on I found out was because they didn’t want to jinx me). Meanwhile, the race organizers told everyone what I was trying to do and how fast I was going so everyone in the crowd started to cheer for me. On the last lap, lap 13, Peter tells me, ‘When you get to the half mile marker, I want you to sprint home as fast as you can.’ I did as instructed and took off. Close to the end, there was a woman 100 meters from the finish who was holding a United States flag and a Texas flag for me and I grabbed them from her and sprinted home as fast as I could. I get to the finish line and they tell me, ‘We’ve got good news for you, you broke four hours. You finished in 3 hours and 53 minutes, you came in third place, and you beat James (he had to stop at the aid station). The only two people who were faster than you were the two marines, and they only beat you by a few minutes-which was remarkable considering that in Antarctica they had bested me by two and a half hours!’ I went from running the first five marathons and just surviving, to actually competing in the last two marathons. After hearing the stories from my last two races, Kimberly was 100% convinced that her son, Jonny, was with me; that it was his sign to us that he is still with us. Just beautiful.”

That night, Jan 29, 2016 Pat Fallon became only the 14th person in the world to complete The World Marathon Challenge and even more impressively he became the first person in the world, without previous marathon experience, to run 7 marathons in 7 days on 7 continents. Also:

Total Notre Dame Graduates to have completed the World Marathon Challenge: 1

Total Southern Cal Graduates to have completed the World Marathon Challenge: 0

Fallon did not have a lucky number before running and completing the World Marathon Challenge, but now he sure does.

“I ran 7 marathons in 7 days on 7 continents for little Jonny, who was 7 years old when he was diagnosed with this rare form of brain cancer. I flew to my first race on a 777, and I also flew home from my last race on a 777. My bib number was No. 7 for all 7 races. On race number 7, I broke the 4-hour mark by 7 minutes. On February 7th, we reached our donation target of $77,777.77 on a church donation of $7,000. I will never look at the number 7 the same ever again.”

If you’d like to donate to help find a cure for pediatric cancer, please visit: www.KidsShouldntHaveCancer.org

The above except of Pat Fallon’s story is from my second book, The Men We Became, More Echoes From the End Zone.

Cheers & GO IRISH!

Photo courtesy: The World Marathon Challenge/Facebook