If truth is stranger than fiction, marathoner Richard Brodsky has quite a tale to tell. That he has lived to tell it will make the 59-year-old even more extraordinary Sunday when he and his wife, Jodi, line up with nearly 25,000 others for the start of the ING Miami Marathon and Half Marathon.
Brodsky, of Atlantic Beach on Long Island, N.Y., and his wife, who grew up in Miami Beach, have competed together in about 30 marathons. The last 25 have been gifts.
In 1997, Brodsky was diagnosed as HIV-positive. He shared the news the same day with Jodi, who had been his wife for 17 years, was the mother of his three daughters — and hadn’t a clue about his then-recent affairs with men.
Jodi, who is HIV-free, stuck by Richard’s side, only to endure even more devastating news five years later after he had a seizure while making an appearance at a Greenwich Village Barnes & Noble to publicize the book he wrote about his HIV diagnosis.
Brodsky had Stage 3 brain cancer.
Doctors told him that he had two to four years to live, and that he might want to get his final plans in order. But he had other ideas.
“When can I run again?” he asked his doctors soon after the November 2002 surgery to remove the malignant tumor.
“They looked at me like I had two heads, like, ‘What are you talking about? We hope you have a funeral plot.’ ”
That was more than nine years ago. So excuse Brodsky if he doesn’t break four hours Sunday in the 26.2-mile run, which starts in front of the AmericanAirlines Arena and winds through Miami and Miami Beach before ending at Bayfront Park.
The spirited, resilient Brodsky crushed the four-hour barrier with a 3:23:23 in the New York City Marathon the year after his HIV diagnosis. He ran his fastest post-cancer time — 4:27:15 — at the ING Hartford Marathon in October.
“Running saved my life,’’ said Brodsky, who said he has remained faithful to Jodi since learning he was HIV positive. “That and a very, very loving wife who stayed supportive. The fact that she remained married to me — I’m lucky on a lot of different levels.”
He has shared his good fortune with thousands of orphans on another continent. After surviving cancer, the former architect vowed to “do something to help people with HIV and cancer” by creating the Richard M. Brodsky Foundation and the World AIDS Marathon in Kenya.
Each year, in advance of World AIDS Day on Dec. 1, the Brodskys travel to Kenya — the past six marathons have been in Kisumu, near Lake Victoria — to produce the marathon and provide food, clothing, medication and other necessities for young Kenyans. He also produces two annual 5K charity runs on Long Island.
Wanda Myers, a Baptist minister in Massapequa, N.Y., sings the national anthem for one of Brodsky’s 5Ks. “He’s a true miracle story,” Myers said.
Brodsky’s neuro-oncologist, Casilda Balmaceda, agrees. Whatever remains of his brain tumor is “dormant,” she said, adding that fewer than 5 percent of patients with his type of aggressive tumor, glioblastoma multiforme, survive 10 years.
Balmaceda said she “usually believes in hard data, and there’s no clear indication or documentation that aggressively participating in sports will increase survival. But in his case, it makes me wonder. He’s a wonderful human being, and he turned around his life after a very negative diagnosis.”
Long Island pediatrician Richard Sartori accompanied the Brodskys to Kenya in December to run the marathon and examine 56 children, nearly all of them suffering from malaria.
Sartori says he was buoyed by Brodsky’s spirit. “He’s quite a character,” the doctor said. “Definitely inspirational. This man was supposed to be dead 10 years ago. Anybody else would have been curled up in a fetal position. He said, ‘The hell with this. I’m going to run.’ ”
And Jodi Brodsky, a 1972 graduate of Miami Beach Senior High, has run right alongside him.
They met while she was earning her law degree at the South Texas College of Law in Houston, and their first date was a run through Houston’s Memorial Park.
“When he first told me about the HIV,” she said, “I was shocked. The girls were in camp. He was my best friend and I had no idea. I felt sorry for him. We were both very naïve.
“Running is our passion. Richard is so busy working on his foundation and getting people to know what he’s doing that he’s not focused on, ‘Oh my God, what’s the next MRI going to say?’ ”
Their daughters, now young adults, don’t like to talk about their dad’s tribulations. They’re just happy he’s alive. Jodi, who works in retail sales for Nike and Quiksilver, said she and her husband practice safe sex and she gets tested for HIV every three months.
“We’ve taken a bad situation and tried to make it positive,” said Jodi, who needs to run a 4:10 Sunday to qualify for the Boston Marathon.
“I’m getting faster, so you never know.”
Richard said his health is strong thanks to nine pills daily, including anti-seizure medication. He said his T-cell count is well above the danger zone for AIDS, “and the viral load is undetectable.”
He still gets headaches, however, and is prone “to stress out.” Running helps, he says, as does his intensive fundraising.
“He’s out there knocking on doors,” Sartori said. “I’ve seen him at midnight start asking for donations on a subway full of teenagers who have been partying. I’m waiting to get beat up, and eventually somebody says, ‘That’s enough!’ and puts $5 in his cup.
“He’s had a lot of doors shut in his face and he’s beyond caring about what people think. He’s beyond blessed, and he’s coming to Miami.