Bryan Hojnacki, 40, of Harrisburg is a husband, father, believer and committed runner.
But running has not always been part of Hojnacki’s life, especially the type he does today.
Hojnacki, an assistant store manager for Lowe’s came to terms with some health issues in 2007 that prompted him to take a new direction. He admits he was a self-proclaimed plump 230-pound dad with a caring wife, Viki, and a darling 5-year-old daughter Paisley.
His day of reckoning came when a friend of his daughter’s said, “Your daddy is fat!”
That was the final moment of his old life, Hojnacki said.
“In the beginning, everyone needs a starting point, a moment in their life to say, ‘Hey, you can’t live like this,'” said Hojnacki.
Hojnacki also has Meniere’s disease, a condition affecting the inner ear, which regulates balance and hearing. He has lost 90 percent of the hearing in his left ear. He was fitted with a hearing aid and continues to deal with a potential loss of hearing in his right ear.
The timing was right for Hojnacki to do something about his weight, he said. The Harrisburg branch of the YMCA had just opened, so in he went to work out.
“I went gung-ho, doing cardio and weights and attended spin classes and yoga. I was able to slim down quickly and keep physically active,” he said.
In spring 2008, Viki Hojnacki decided to start running 5-kilometer races with a friend. Despite not enjoying running, Bryan Hojnacki went with Viki to keep her company and support her new habit. After repeatedly stopping after a mile or two each run, he decided he still hated running.
But he didn’t give up. In spring 2009, Hojnacki tried running again.
“I decided to try and train for a 5k with the goal of running fast enough to beat my wife’s time by at least 5 minutes.
“This was all it took. I ran the race in 28 minutes. I felt great, and it was then that I got ‘the bug,'” said Hojnacki.
He poured himself into the sport, reading books, magazines, training guides and inspirational stories of runners. He made up his mind that if he could run six to eight miles, he should train for a half-marathon.
By the beginning of May, he posted two goals on Facebook. The first was to run a half marathon by October 2009.
Hojnacki also decided that no one should just shoot for half of anything, so his second goal was to run a marathon by December 2009.
Hojnacki met both goals on time, running the full marathon at Charlotte’s Thunder Road Marathon in December 2009.
In early 2010, Hojnacki spelled out his New Year’s resolutions, which included joining a running group, improving his running times, inspiring others and running 40 miles by the time he was 40.
He joined University City Road Runners, where the members made him feel welcome, he said, offering advice and helping him keep his pace.
Hojnacki was now a muscular 180 pounds, and he continued to improve his times. As months passed, he realized he was getting closer to his last resolution.
He said he then made a deal with his body: “I will continue to push you to your limits. The brain continues to think up punishment beyond what you can endure. You have met every challenge full force, holding nothing back, but you do turn 40 this year and I have no intention on looking for a newer model; 1970 was a good year, but 2010 will be a better year,” said Hojnacki.
His goal: “40 B4 40.”
When the day of the test came – Oct. 9, 2010 – run, walk or crawl, Hojnacki was determined to make 40 miles. He had a few friends set up at different intervals to pace him and offer encouragement. Viki recruited other friends, who showed up with signs and water. His daughter told him, “You can do it, Daddy.”
At 6 in the morning, Hojnacki set out, armed with his GPS. A friend, Derrick Lashway, ran the first seven miles with him. Another friend, Emily Knudson from Empowered Personal Fitness in Harrisburg, joined him for the next 14 miles. At about mile 28, his wife and daughter met with him, bringing drinks and nutrition.
But six miles later, he was alone, and his left foot was becoming incredibly painful, a problem that started from the many miles he covered. There were no friends, family or support people anywhere. Doubt crept in, and the run became a shuffle.
He said his only thought was, “How can I tell my daughter that I quit at mile 34?”
“As I approached the beginning of my last six miles, I looked up and there were my wife and daughter,” said Hojnacki. They both jumped into the race and were not about to let him quit. He said Viki told him, “Keep going, and keep moving.” His daughter said, “You can do it, Dad. You’re awesome.”
With three miles to go, the euphoric feeling of finishing such an enormous race filled Hojnacki. He arrived at the finish line with his family.
“My 9-year-old daughter ran farther than she ever dreamed of just to help me finish my goal,” he said. “And my wife still never gives up on me, no matter how crazy my dreams get,” said Hojnacki.
He continues to push the limits. This month, he accomplished the Idiot Run, a 20-mile mountain run in 23-degree weather with 60 others training for marathons.
Another goal for the year is to run 2,011 total miles by the end of the year.
And loftier yet, he is aiming to run a 100-mile 24-hour race in September at Hinson Lake.
He keeps setting goals.
by Michelle A. Ziner