Despite emergency surgery, race leader keeps pace
CHAMPAIGN — As a long-distance runner for 40 years, Jan Seeley thought she knew all there was to know about pace. Turns out there was a bit more for her to learn.
Just eight days before the running of the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon, the 54-year-old race co-director had emergency surgery to have a pacemaker implanted in her heart.
On the afternoon of Thursday, April 17, she was working in her office at the Church Street Square building in downtown Champaign went she "felt unwell."
About 4:30 p.m., she passed out briefly. She called race co-director Mike Lindemann, who was in a meeting at Reynolds Towing with fellow race VIP Susan Jepsen, and within 10 minutes, they were getting her home.
Other friends came, too, and after passing out two more times in the next two hours, Seeley was in the emergency room of Carle Foundation Hospital.
By 1 a.m. Friday, April 18, she had a temporary pacemaker. By 1 p.m. Friday, a permanent one had been implanted.
To oversimplify, she didn't have a heart attack. She was merely having electrical problems.
"I wasn't about to die. This is standard stuff. I wasn't nervous or scared," she said.
With a good weight and low cholesterol, Seeley's never had heart problems that she knew of.
"It's probably a genetic thing."
Her father, 83, has had a pacemaker about 20 years.
She likened the device, which is programmed to kick in should her heart rate dip below 50 beats per minute, to a recently planted tulip bulb. It needs to be left alone for a while to make sure it is properly rooted. She is not supposed to lift her left arm above her shoulder or lift anything heavier than 10 pounds for at least two weeks.
Easier said than done for the woman with unparalleled energy.
But for her left arm being in a sling Saturday, an observer would not have had a clue that Seeley had a major heart procedure done days earlier.
"Wearing the sling is a way to protect myself against my natural inclination to throw my whole body into doing something," she said.
It didn't slow her a whit as she barked orders and solved problems with seeming ease all day long.
Prior to the start of the race at 7 a.m., she said she felt great. Perhaps it was because she did something this year that she hadn't done the previous five.
"I slept about three hours from about 12:30 to 3:30 a.m. When my alarm went off, I went 'Where am I?'" she said.
"That's more than I can say for myself," said Lindemann, clearly dragging as the race got off to a picture-perfect start.
Earlier in the week, he expressed his concern for his race partner's well-being in a number of ways, not the least of which was being present when the heart specialist discharged her last Sunday.
"I was sitting there when the doctor came in to explain to make sure I was listening because she would tell me something different," he said. "With her personality, it's hard to get her to do what I want her to do, which is to take care of herself."
Taking care of the needs of others appears reflexive to Seeley.
After all the runners were safely launched, she pleasantly pressed several people, even race "guest legend" and former Boston Marathon winner Jacqueline Hansen, into carrying 20 cups of coffee to the volunteers in the medical tent.
"Jan is such a detail person. I recognize the craziness," said Hansen, of Los Angeles, who's been in town since Thursday. "With her, it's like following a hummingbird around. She flits from here to there."
"She thinks of everything to make everyone happy. I have gift basket from Great Harvest (bread)," said Hansen, worrying that she might put on pounds while visiting Champaign.
Hours later, Seeley was watching the race from a post near the end of the course.
"I went to the corner of Peabody and the last turn because I was worried about it and to make sure the volunteers were positioned correctly," she said.
While there, she "kindly asked many of the runners who had not entered to be done" so that they wouldn't enter the stadium with the rightfully registered runners.
And as she was doing that, she tended to a medical emergency.
"We had a full-on medical situation that was managed by our team. He was stumbling and then went down," she said, adding the runner was later stabilized and taken to the hospital.
While waiting for the medical professionals to arrive, Seeley enlisted the aid of a spectator who is an emergency medical technician to help the fallen runner so she could turn her attention to something else.
Within minutes, she was delivering pizzas to the medical workers who were too busy to eat them because of the many dehydrated runners needing attention.
And along the way to the medical tent, she was congratulating sweaty runners and making sure anyone lying down didn't need medical help.
She planned to be there to the bitter end Saturday.
And she wasn't worried about her heart, which took its biggest blow 18 months ago when her husband of 26 years, Joe Seeley, died of leukemia.
"I've weathered the ups and downs of life. You know what? You survive them. I was prepared for whatever it meant."