GETTING THEIR LIVES ON TRACK AFTER HEART SURGERY, FOUR MEN RUN RACE FOR SURVIVAL.
``Everyone said the four old guys with fixed-up tickers couldn't win, but we showed them.''
- George Simon, a member of the gold medal-winning ``Bypass Four'' relay team.
They've been called the most mind-boggling sports team of all time, and they just might be.
Four men in their 70s, all triple- and quadruple-bypass recipients, coming together at the 1994 National Masters Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Ore., to win the 400-meter relay race in 59.9 seconds in their age group.
Quickly earning the nickname ``the Bypass Four'' after leaving half a dozen other relay teams - whose runners had not undergone bypass surgery - in the dust.
The record books show that not only did they blow away the teams in their age group, but they also finished only a 10th of a second behind the time of the winning relay team in the 60-69 age group - none of whom had undergone bypass surgery.
``We wanted to show the world that there could be a new life after bypass surgery and that, with proper care, the mind and body could accomplish wondrous things,'' says George Simon of Sherman Oaks, who ran the first leg on that historic team.
Now 82, Simon was invited this month by the Preventive & Rehabilitative Cardiac Center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center to be the first bypass patient to ever make a presentation at the hospital's annual patient education lecture.
A grandfather of nine - all runners like Grandpa - Simon stood at the podium and told more than 100 recent bypass recipients to dream big dreams and never give up.
That anything was still possible for them. Even winning a gold medal.
``George is a champion, a poster child and inspiration for all people living with heart disease,'' said Dr. Noel Bairey Merz, Simon's cardiologist and medical director of the women's health care program at the hospital's cardiac center.
``It's been 25 years since his triple bypass surgery, and he's proved that not only is a normal life possible, but you can go out there and win gold medals.''
Maybe, in 2005, with all the advanced medical technology and data available, that might not sound like such a feat. But back in the early '80s, doctors were telling their heart patients after bypass surgery to take it easy, not to push things.
``Bypass rehab was very conservative and well-monitored,'' Simon says. ``No one was recommending sprinting as a form of exercise.''
Then the Bypass Four came along, to rewrite the record books in medicine as well as in track and field.
They met through a runners' magazine for older athletes, and, before long, they were comparing their scars and dreams, Tim Murphy says with a laugh Thursday by telephone from his home in Texas.
By all rights, he and Simon, along with Bill Weinacht from Ohio, and Tom Miller, who passed away a few years ago, shouldn't have even been going to those senior track meets to compete.
But they all shared one thing, besides a bad ticker, that would make them a winning relay tea: They refused to give up.
``We were all runners when we were young, and we were all going to be runners when we were old, heart bypass or no heart bypass,'' said Murphy, who ran the anchor leg for the Bypass Four.
They were all back on the track after their surgeries - walking slowly at first, then jogging, and finally sprinting again.
George had been tinkering around with the idea of forming a relay team to show what could be accomplished after bypass surgery, but it had to be the right team.
``We could not just be a team of old farts running around the track - it would be embarrassing,'' he said. ``We had to show a high quality of life.''
It took nearly 10 years, but the Bypass Four finally came together in time for the 1994 National Masters Track and Field Championships. It was their chance to show the world they weren't freaks, George says.
``We wanted to show the medical profession that the human body, after bypass, can take a lot more stress than previously thought,'' he said.
So, when the gun went off that October day, George Simon ran like he never ran before. After 100 meters, he handed the baton to Bill Weinacht, who did the same to Tom Miller after his 100-meter leg.
Then they all watched Tim Murphy - after his quadruple heart bypass surgery - bring it home the last 100 meters to win in an incredible 59.9 seconds.
Leaving a lot of people scratching their heads at the Bypass Four - wondering if maybe they had just seen the most mind-boggling sports team of all time.
Dennis McCarthy, (818) 713-3749
(color) George Simon, 82, displays a photo of his relay team, the Bypass Four, that ran a winning 400-meter race in 1994, even though all four men had undergone heart bypass surgery.
Evan Yee/Staff Photographer
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Mar 6, 2005|
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