By Harry Jackson Jr.
Bill Meirink didn't think much of the spill he took on his bicycle in July.
"My knee didn't feel injured then, but that's the only place I think I could have done it," said Meirink, 43. He thought about when he could have hurt his left knee, because in September it began to ache, then swell, then stiffen.
An orthopedist found that Meirink had torn a meniscus cartilage. The meniscus is the cushion between the thigh and shin bones and helps distribute weight. Damage results in pain, swelling and disability if it's not treated.
Meirink has always been a fitness buff. He has run seven marathons over the last several years. And in-between the bike spill and the physician's diagnosis, he'd competed in two triathlons.
"If you don't fix it, your leg can't extend, you can't squat, you can't run," he said.
On Oct. 8, he had surgery to remove about 20 percent of the cartilage, and the doctor suggested several weeks to convalesce.
That didn't sit well with Meirink. Months earlier, he and a close friend, Thad Gregory, had watched a movie, "The Bucket List," about two older men who decide to live some dreams before calling it a life.
"It kind of motivated us," Meirink said. "He said he wanted to run his first half-marathon."
They signed up for a run called the Battlefield Marathon. He was training, in fact, when the bike spill happened.
The Battlefield Marathon is in Chickamauga Park in northern Georgia. The park is speckled with battlefield monuments commemorating a battle that took place there during the Civil War.
Meirink redoubled his physical therapy efforts, walking three days after surgery, exercising in two weeks.
Then, at 7:30 a.m. Nov. 13, a civil war cannon fired and 750 runners took off, including Meirink and his friend.
Meirink finished a marathon, his friend finished a half-marathon.
"I had to run that with him because I'd promised, and I keep my promises," Meirink said.
Money for veterans home
But there was one more promise.
Meirink also had promised to run the race to raise money for the Fisher House. The Fisher House serves as a free home for families of soldiers and veterans who are getting treatments in the Jefferson Barracks Veterans Administration Hospital.
The Fisher House also allows active military families who have children in one of St. Louis' hospitals for children to reside there.
It has suites for 20 families; currently it's about half full.
Rachel Fernandez, manager of the Fisher House, said she's often amazed at how people find ways to raise money for the facility.
Many of the Fisher House expenses are carried by the VA Hospital. But families still need food, transportation and other amenities, she said.
"We've had people bring food, even cook dinners in the kitchen," Fisher said. "After sitting in a hospital all day, the last thing someone wants to do is come home and cook."
Meirink polled friends and associates from his work for support at his Battlefield Marathon.
After the race, he dropped off $1,500.
"It's something that needs to be done," he said. "We have to say thanks to those people who put their lives on the line to protect us."
"Holidays, birthdays & anniversaries have been celebrated with tears and smiles with people who truly understand what the other person is experiencing."
- Kamryn Jaroszewski