Maumelle’s Ryan Westin had a bit of an incentive to complete his goal of finishing a marathon in all 50 states last year, and now he’s hoping to continue to pay it forward.
Cancer has touched Westin, about to turn 34, twice. He was diagnosed with Stage 1 melanoma on his chest in 2008, just before the Little Rock Marathon. Two weeks after surgery, he ran 4:54.12 there to notch the second on his 50-state quest.
His stepfather, Frank Lagotic, was diagnosed with Stage 4 prostate cancer in August 2011. By then he had completed 32 of the 50.
"So I tried to speed through everything to make sure he was there when I finished," Westin said.
He made it.
Lagotic, who won the 1968 Southeastern Conference cross country championship while competing for Florida in 1968, was able to put the medal around his stepson’s neck after Westin completed his 50th — in Vermont — on July 8, 2012.
When diagnosed, Lagotic was given months to live, but Westin said his stepfather was continuing the good fight.
Westin’s mother, Jean, and Lagotic joined him on several of his marathon trips.
"Every now and then they would go places with me and get their minds off what’s going on," he said.
Westin, a kindergarten teacher at Romine Elementary in Little Rock, wants others to learn from those experiences.
"My adage is to try and pay it forward," he said. "I was able to catch mine early. There’s so much publicity about and awareness of breast cancer, for example, but lots of cancers don’t get that publicity. I’m always telling people what to look for. I’ll say, ‘I don’t want to scare you, but you might want to get that odd mole checked out.’ That’s happened in South Dakota and Alaska.
"You never know when something could happen."
Westin grew up in Gainesville, Fla., and started running in middle school. His stepfather was a major influence. He went off to the University of Central Florida in Orlando, but a knee injury kept him from running collegiately. While off for six years following the injury, he married, moved to Maumelle for his wife to attend law school in Little Rock, and divorced.
He’d run one marathon, in Orlando, before moving to Arkansas on his birthday, July 31, 2007. The Little Rock Marathon in 2008 was No. 2. Mississippi, Louisiana and Tennessee followed later that year.
"At first I saw all these other people doing two marathons in a weekend and I was thinking, ‘That’s insane, dumb,’" he recalled.
And now he’s one of them.
Originally, 50 States was to be a lifetime goal. He drove to many of those early ones, but eventually his parents "sponsored" him by paying for flights.
He completed Texas, Oklahoma, Georgia, Nebraska, Missouri and Alabama in ’09, and Kentucky, Indiana, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Montana, New Hampshire, Maine, Iowa and West Virginia in ’10.
Nevada, Arizona, Maryland, Virginia, New Mexico, Minnesota, Idaho, Utah and North Carolina came in ’11 before Lagotic’s cancer diagnosis. By the end of the year, he had finished Ohio, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Michigan, Delaware and New Jersey.
In 2012 he completed South Carolina, Washington, Oregon, Massachusetts, California, Hawaii, Kansas, New York, North Dakota, Colorado, Wyoming and Alaska before finishing all 50 with Vermont on July 8.
He said 710 people had accomplished the goal before him, and that he was the 18th-youngest to do so and the youngest in Arkansas to complete the feat.
Kansas was his only failure. He got his first DNF (in a 50K race) in 2010 but redeemed himself with a marathon in Olathe in April 2012 with a then-personal best of 3:47.39. He lowered that to 3:28.55 in New York a couple of weeks later and to 3:19.48 in North Dakota on May 19. That record stands.
He’s a member of the 50 States Marathon Club — touting the group with a tattoo of its symbol on his right shoulder — and the Marathon Maniacs.
Since finishing the 50-state feat, he’s completed three marathons, a 28- and 31-miler, but a torn calf muscle has dogged him since the spring. He rushed his recovery, he said, and has paid for it.
He uses his running in his classroom. He brings his medals to school and allows his kindergartners to wear them as a reward for good behavior. He helped start a walking program for the Romine students.
Why is he a marathon maniac?
"I enjoy running, the running community, going out and seeing America," he said. "It’s a fun sport where you can’t call timeout with two miles left to go; you’ve got to keep on going."
But he is smart about it. During his first 30 races, he said, three people died, two of whom pushed their bodies beyond where they should have.
"Anybody can do a marathon," he said. "It’s just what time do you want to do it in. They have eight-hour paces, and when you see that group at the finish line, you’ll see people who look like offensive linemen.
"My melanoma scar is an RPM gauge. I look down and if it’s a color it’s not supposed to be, I slow down."