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Fast Talk: Marathon Man

Medtronic's Stephen Oesterle gets patients to run 26 miles with him—to prove the power of optimism.

Fast Talk: Marathon Man

Stephen Oesterle

Senior Vice President for Medicine and Technology, Medtronic
Minneapolis, Minnesota

Cardiologist Oesterle, 55, (in red, center) has run 12 marathons around the world. Last October, he fused his passion to his work, recruiting athletes with health problems to run in the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon. The object: to promote medical-device maker Medtronic, of course—and also to show the world that chronically sick people can live full lives.

"It's rare that you find a way to combine your profession with your avocation. But Medtronic's mission and mine as a physician are the same: We strive to restore lives. I couldn't think of a better way to make that mission manifest than to invite people living with devices to come run the Twin Cities Marathon. It was one of the easiest things I ever sold at the company.

Thirteen chronically ill individuals came to this September's race from all over the globe—we called them Global Heroes. They came to us with a variety of problems, from heart disease to an overactive bladder, but they were all runners before they fell ill. We knew that they could endure the marathon—and send a message to people living with chronic disease.

Sure enough, one of my patients, Jason Burke, ran with an insulin pump for juvenile diabetes. I had been way ahead of him, but at the halfway point, he came burning by me, patted me on the back, and said, 'How ya doing?' He took off, and I didn't see him again until after the race.

But at the end of the day, it's not really about running a marathon. It's about an exclamation of full life. We want people in Strasbourg, France, or Muncie, Indiana, to see pictures of our Global Heroes and say, 'I can get up. I can do this. I can do anything.'"

A version of this article appeared in the February 2007 issue of Fast Company magazine.