by Caitlin Henning (WCAS07)
With every stride, every push of the pedal, David Pokorny (C89) spread the message.
His mother, Pat, is one of 600,000 Americans diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease, the most common genetic life-threatening ailment. Despite its deadly effects, PKD is not well known.
In August Pokorny set out on a 1,000-mile journey to pay tribute to his mother, increase awareness of PKD and support the researchers seeking its cure.
Pokorny stumbled upon the idea while running up the trail of the 2005 Pikes Peak Marathon, a race that leads runners 13 miles up the bald side of the 14,110-foot mountain before the 13-mile descent. Before he reached the finish line, Pokorny decided he would return for the 51st running of the race in 2006. Only this time he would get there by bike.
After pondering the plan with his mother and his wife, Michelle, David organized the Ride to Pikes Peak, a 990-mile journey from his home in St. Louis to Manitou Springs, Colo., near the foot of the famous mountain.
“It sounded like an adventure,” Pat said, remembering her reaction. “Not necessarily a good idea, but definitely an adventure. David’s not quite right in what he asks his body to do.”
In December, David bought a spinning bike and spent the winter training in earnest, waking up at 4:45 a.m. to cycle in his basement before work. On weekends he would bike 100 miles, sometimes more.
In recognition of explorer Zebulon Pike, David, a history enthusiast, plotted a somewhat winding route across Missouri, Kansas and Colorado, tracing the expedition route blazed by Pike two centuries earlier. On Aug. 3 the Pokornys set out from Fort Belle Fontaine Park in St. Louis, site of Pike’s departure.
David and Pat, who followed her son in an RV, spent 12 days on the road, covering as much as 150 miles a day while dodging thunderstorms and enduring 100-degree heat. Along the way, David used his connections as the director of marketing for Fox Sports Net Midwest to set up on-field events before Major League Baseball games in St. Louis, Kansas City and Denver to promote PKD awareness and organ donation.
PKD affects 12.5 million people worldwide. Diagnosed with the disease as a young newlywed, Pat has lost her mother and six siblings to PKD. Tests show that David and his two siblings do not have the disease.
A kidney with PKD essentially self-destructs over time as cyst after cyst forms and bursts, breaking down the organ’s ability to filter the body’s toxins. The disease can be treated with dialysis but has no cure. The only real hope is for a transplant.
Pat is an eight-year kidney transplant survivor. “She’s made full use of that gift,” David said in a TV interview. “If you register as an organ donor, you are really given a chance to make a difference beyond even what you think is possible with that gift.”
On Aug. 20 David ran the Pikes Peak Marathon a second time, finishing 20th out of 528 male participants. But this year as he approached the final stretch, his mom and Clayton, his 7-year-old son, were there to cross the finish line with him.
It was the end of the race but only the beginning of their efforts to raise the profile of PKD. “Opportunities in life are given. It’s up to us to accept them,” David said. “We are so glad we went after this one. It was awesome.”