This Thanksgiving, Joe Lepkowski will likely have more to be thankful for than just an extra serving of turkey. The Forest Park dentist (who practices in Oak Park) achieved his dream of completing 50 marathons by age 50, earlier this month, when he crossed the finish line at the 2011 Harrisburg Marathon, in Harrisburg, Pa.
What makes this an incredible achievement is that the 50-year-old didn’t even run his first marathon until he was 30. It’s also noteworthy that the now remarkably fit Lepkowski was motivated enough to become a marathoner, because he was once overweight.
Joe was born to a Polish-Catholic family, and grew up with many Dutch Protestants in the small upstate New York town of Jamestown. He moved to Forest Park in 1984 to attend Loyola’s School of Dentistry, in Chicago. After finishing school, he thought about moving back east, but he’d already fallen in love with Chicago, so he stayed.
Prior to his first marathon (the 1998 Chicago Marathon), Joe was no stranger to exercise. He had competed in triathlons, but wasn’t crazy about the swimming part. Biking, however, was not a problem. Once, Joe pedaled 525 miles from Minneapolis to Chicago to raise money for AIDS treatment, as part of the Twin Cities Chicago AIDS Ride.
He also raised money for similar charities by biking seven days in the rain from Amsterdam to Paris and 600 snowy miles from Fairbanks to Anchorage.
Over the years, Joe has raised thousands for causes like breast cancer awareness, brain tumor research, and homelessness prevention. Thanks to support from a steady group of friends and family, he’s raised over $50,000 for leukemia research – the disease that claimed his grandfather’s life.
Aside from supporting worthy causes, Joe gets a direct benefit from biking and running. His regimen of running 20-40 miles a week helps to de-stress and detox his mind and body.
He admitted, though, that he wasn’t quite prepared for that first marathon. His longest practice run had been 15 miles and he was extremely sore afterwards. This didn’t stop him from flying off to marathons in many far-flung places, though.
He has run marathons in Dublin, Ireland, as well as in Florence, Italy. He’s covered 23 states so far, in his quest to run in all 50. These include marathons in Austin, Chattanooga and Disneyworld.
His fastest time in a race was 3 hours and 59 minutes. Now, on average, he said he finishes in about four and half hours. What’s more, the fleet-footed dentist said he ran 16 marathons in 2011, completing five in the month of May, alone.
Joe can be seen running with this dogs Sophie and Lucky through the streets of Forest Park. He also trains on the lakefront bike path, in Chicago, and near his vacation home in Wonder Lake.
After finishing at Loyola, Joe had moved downtown for a while but was eventually drawn back to Forest Park. He missed living near where he practices: a welcoming place where he continually comes across patients and friends.
Even following the Thanksgiving feast tomorrow, Joe is determined to remain in marathon shape. He plans to run 26-milers on the southern circuit in January – only 27 states left.
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.