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‘Doctor Dribble’ gives runners a dose of willpower

Darren Weissman dribbles two basketballs while practicing Monday, Jan. 19, 2015 at Alice Wainwright Park in preparation for the Miami Marathon.
Darren Weissman dribbles two basketballs while practicing Monday, Jan. 19, 2015 at Alice Wainwright Park in preparation for the Miami Marathon. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Doctor Dribble’s finest moment came over a year ago in November at the 18-mile mark of the 50,000-strong New York City Marathon.

There, Darren Weissman, the Miami man who has become a national sensation by dribbling two basketballs while racing 26.2 miles, saw two runners with their wrists tied together — one of them blind.

Bounce-BOUNCE, bounce-BOUNCE, bounce-BOUNCE came the rhythmic cadence.

“Do you know who that is?’’ the able-bodied guide asked his blind friend.

“That’s Doctor Dribble!” the blind man shouted.

Weissman, 32, whose next conquest is Sunday’s 13.1-mile portion of the Miami Marathon and Half Marathon, said he’ll “remember that image’’ for the rest of his life. “I was exhausted. I was freezing. I was tired. And then I saw that man looking toward me with a huge smile.

“He kept me going the last eight miles.’’

In turn, Weissman has done the same for the thousands of runners he has passed en route to the finish of the 10 full and 22 half marathons he has completed dribbling since 2013 in Miami.

He’s in the Guinness Book of Records for “fastest marathon dribbling two basketballs’’ — 4:39:12 on Feb. 17, 2013, at the Fort Lauderdale A1A Marathon. His fastest marathon while dribbling was last year’s Miami race in 4:16:15, but he said he didn’t want to pay the $700 and go through the lengthy validation process again.

“I’m not going to worry about updating my record every time I beat my own time,’’ he said.

Weissman said he does it to inspire others, which adds to his happiness quotient, which is already pretty substantial.

It also doesn’t hurt business.

This exceptionally fit man, who grew up in Country Walk and graduated from Killian High, has been training and developing young basketball players as a private coach for 15 years — former UM three-point star Jack McClinton, Miami Palmetto High graduate/New York Knicks guard Tim Hardaway Jr. and current West Virginia standout Jonathan Holton among them. He’s also a personal fitness trainer for adults.

“Great mentor and one of the friendliest guys you could ever be around,’’ said Holton, who grew up in Coconut Grove and said that Weismann helped him “in basketball and life’’ during his teenage years. “He’s awesome at ball control and is in amazing shape.’’

Holton starts for the nation’s 18th-ranked basketball power and was asked how hard it would be to dribble two basketballs continuously for 26 miles.

“Impossible,’’ he answered, laughing. “That’s crazy. I definitely couldn’t do it. Keeping a constant pace and concentrating would be too tough. I’m still working at dribbling two basketballs at once.’’

Weissman attended FIU part-time until he dropped out because his business had blossomed. He said he became fascinated by dribbling when he was about 5 and “dribbled everywhere.’’

He came off the bench for Killian as an “ordinary’’ player, he said, but his obsession with basketball drills and his gift for teaching others drew him to his work, which includes his not-for-profit “Dr. Dribble’s Helping Hands.’’

Weissman uses donations to buy basketballs for underprivileged children at clinics, schools and hospitals. Part of his fundraising involves running bare-chested at times to reveal temporary tattoos that promote businesses.

Miami Marathon Chief Running Officer Frankie Ruiz said he appreciates Weissman “bringing one of the major sports together with running.

“It’s just something you otherwise don’t see,’’ Ruiz said. “He’s such an outgoing, friendly person that spectators and runners alike are excited to see him. You stop and think, ‘God, this guy is managing to dribble two basketballs without losing them and I’m struggling just to finish.’ He motivates people.’’

And those people are constantly posting notes on Doctor Dribble’s Facebook page, Instagram account or tweeting to @doctordribble their gratitude.

“The running part is hard enough,’’ wrote Steve McDonald. “Dribbling two basketballs the whole way is insane!! You improved my time by probably 20 seconds. I heard you coming and my goal was to at least be visible in your finishing photo!’’

Nma121 wrote, “I heard you before I saw you … couldn’t figure out what the pounding sound was … then you passed me! Made me smile!! Awesome!!’’

And this, from run_bike_sink: “TWO basketballs for the whole 13.1??? Lol. I could barely figure out how to breathe after those hills lol! Way cool, you rock @doctordribble.’’

Weissman’s dad, Saul, called his son “unique.’’

“Yeah, he’s always been sort of outside the loop,’’ said Saul Weissman, a school guidance counselor. “He’s very dogmatic about certain things — the training, his healthy diet, zero tolerance for alcohol.

“I told him nobody can make a living being a personal basketball coach. I was wrong.’’

Weissman, 6-feet-tall and 165 pounds, insists he’s not a runner. And though he works out intensely, he runs only “about six miles a couple times a week.

“I dribble better than I run.’’

He said the hardest part of running marathons — his races include New York City twice, Miami three times (the first time in 2012 without dribbling), Chicago twice and Walt Disney World — is “maneuvering at water stations because the cups are all over the place.

“I keep dribbling while I take a knee and volunteers pour water in my mouth. People get a kick out of that.’’

He said he has never lost control of a ball, and is prudent about “not dribbling on somebody’s foot and going around people who suddenly stop.’’

When it’s cold, his fingertips “feel like stone.’’ When it’s windy, he tends to cramp in his shoulders and back and his wrists burn horribly because “to advance the ball through the wind I have to cock my wrist completely back.’’

As quirky runners go, Weissman has come across “Jerry the Juggler’’ in out-of-town races, “and I’ve always been blown away,’’ he said. “But he told me he drops balls all the time and runs sometimes without juggling.’’

He’s only seen one other runner, “a teacher in California,’’ dribbling one basketball. “Then he did it with two and got into Guinness. I broke his record.’’

Weissman adores his hometown marathon, and will be ready with his two Spalding basketballs for the 6:15 a.m. start outside, appropriately enough, AmericanAirlines Arena — home of the Miami Heat.

“It’s the only marathon I run where I actually know where I’m going,’’ he said. “Miami, Miami Beach, Coconut Grove, the bridges — the course is beautiful.’’

And if you happen to see him, do say hello.

“Feel free to take a selfie with me during the race,’’ he said. “If you’re on your last breath, I hope I can give you a second wind.’’

Miami Marathon and Half Marathon

Who: 25,000 runners and walkers.

When/where: 6:15 a.m. start (6:05 a.m. wheelchair) Sunday at AmericanAirlines Arena, 601 Biscayne Boulevard.

Late registration: $175 marathon, $150 half at the Health and Fitness Expo from noon to 7 p.m. on Friday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday at the Miami Beach Convention Center.

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