For the Love of Luci

“MAGIC Man” George Chmiel Runs Ultras to Raise Funds and Awareness of Children’s Growth Disorders

Published in baystateparent magazine

First-place winner: Human Interest, NENPA 2010 Awards

Luci Horvath

Luci Horvath

It was a hurting wrist that got 29-year-old Boston resident George Chmiel running three years ago, trying to find a way to overcome the setback of a torn ligament from playing pickup football.

But it was a hurting little girl, suffering from a rare, life-threatening growth disorder that got him ultramarathoning for a cause.

Luci Horvath, (age 3) of Houston, Texas was born withpanhypopituitarism, a rare pituitary disorder that requires hormonal injections every day and threatens her immune system, rendering the common cold or a stressful situation potentially life-threatening. George, who works with mentor and friend Mike Horvath at Merrill Lynch, visited Mike, his wife Jolie and Luci a few summers ago. It was a visit that impacted him deeply.

“I saw firsthand how painful it was when Luci had to get HGH (Human Growth Hormone) injections every night, how she would cry and run away from her Daddy. It was awful,” George recalls. “Seeing her and seeing how Mike and Jolie raised her, and all the trips to the emergency room… it opened my eyes.”

Ultra Compassion

After his wrist injury, George discovered a love of distance running, completing ten marathons in just three years. In 2009, George set his sights on his first ultramarathon, RacingThePlanet: Sahara Race in Egypt.

Going from a 26.2-mile marathon to a 155-mile rough country ultramarathon like The Sahara Race is a monumental leap of testing one’s endurance. Participants complete the course in six stages over seven days. They are required to carry all their supplies in a backpack including food, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, two headlamps, insect repellent, sun block, blister kit, clothes, pocketknife, compass, whistle, nutritional supplements, pain killers and two water bottles strapped to the front— while running in temps soaring above 100 degrees.

George dedicated the Sahara Race to Luci and others like her by running for the MAGIC Foundation. MAGIC was founded in 1989 by a few women whose children had been diagnosed with Growth Hormone Deficiency, a rare disorder. Today, this group of dedicated women works tirelessly with the medical community to inform, educate and support families of children with growthrelated disorders.

“When I decided to do the Sahara run, I thought, ‘I gotta support this organization that’s supporting Luci.’” he says.

Although brand new to ultra endurance competitions, George placed 5th overall in the Sahara Race, was the #1 American finisher and first in his age group. But his proudest achievement was the $66,000 in donations that MAGIC received from over 550 families who came alongside his valiant effort. As the seven-day event unfolded, news of George spread around the globe. He received countless emails from families, thanking him for his bravery and inspiration.

“Everything just snowballed,” recalls George. “I had such a support system behind me that when I went out there, there was nothing that was going to stop me.”

George returned home to a surprise party hosted by MAGIC families. Children, inspired by his feat, gave him letters and asked for his autograph. For George it was overwhelming.

“I look at these letters from these kids from around the country, thanking me for making a difference in their lives, and it’s just an unbelievable experience,” he says.

Aussie Angel

After the Sahara Race, George kicked the sand from his shoes and began training for his next 155-mile Ultra: RacingThePlanet: Australia, held in the wild Australian Outback in April 2010. His new goal was to raise $100,000 total for MAGIC through these two events.

“He’s our angel,” says Mary Andrews, chief executive officer and co-founder of MAGIC. “Before George came along, these kids didn’t really have a role model. George came in as an outsider and realized what these children go through. He really took an interest. He is a hero in their eyes.”

The race, held in The Kimberley – one of the world’s last true wilderness areas – proved to be a much bigger challenge for George than Sahara. High heat and high humidity, combined with canyons, crocodiles, sharp spinifex grass, slippery rocks and poisonous snakes were just a few of the hurdles George overcame – ironically with a cast on his right wrist for a recent torn ligament from playing dodge ball at a Merrill Lynch charity event.

Day One was a “bloodbath” of 26 treacherous miles of unforgiving terrain, with temps over 100 degrees and humidity over 90%. George took a bad fall, lost his electrolytes in the bush, was nearly unconscious and vomiting even water. He feared he’d have to pull out, yet he persevered, and finished in 164th place.

“The entire course was rock. Even the bush had rocks underneath. So you had to watch every single step. You’re grabbing these or holding onto that. It was unbelievably brutal,” he says. “This course made Sahara seem like child’s play.”

On Day Two George “dug deep, pulled a complete 180 and finished 13th for the second leg,” swimming rivers, scaling rock and taking on the terrain with a renewed vengeance. His new goal was to complete the race in the Top 25.

He finished the 6-day race in 22nd place overall, and was the #2 American.

“This course humbled us,” George wrote on his blog. “It showed us how little control we have over certain things. But it also taught us to dig deeper than many of us ever thought possible. It taught us that certain limitations in life are self-imposed and made to be broken. And most importantly…it forced us to rely on each other. I wouldn’t have made it without the help of so many. Plain and simple.”

Little Kids, Big Dreams

George’s determination to beat the odds is überinspiring, especially to families of kids with growth disorders.

“George, it seems like you are more rare than our children’s diagnoses,” wrote one mom on George’s Aussie blog. “I didn’t think that was possible. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. You’ve brought so much attention and momentum to MAGIC.”

George’s message is simple: Limits are self-imposed. All kids – especially kids with growth disorders – need to dream big.

“When you’re a parent of these children, it’s a constant battle. It’s something that’s never going to end,” he says. “You can’t quit on this, and that’s the same way that I can’t quit on this race. Ultimately, if I can show these kids I love doing this, I’m trying to make a difference, I’m trying to accomplish things beyond my talent level, then they will see they can go beyond their limitations and reach a higher level as well.”

Magic Moments

In July 2010, kids like Luci from across the country will meet George in person at MAGIC’s Annual Children’s Educational Convention in Chicago. George is being honored for his tremendous impact on MAGIC and its families.

“We have 30 medical speakers who come in to help educate families,” says Mary Andrews. “Many families can’t afford to come. So a lot of the funds George raised will go toward helping these families attend,” she says. “This is just one of the things that George has made happen.”

Mike and Jolie Horvath, along with Luci and her new little sister, Holly will be attending the conference.

After learning of George’s amazing 22nd-place finish in Australia, Mike commented on George’s blog, “Wow. Wow. Wow. I’m at a loss for words. Reading your blogs as well as the comments from the folks following your every step has me in tears. I just keep thinking of Luci and all of the MAGIC kids. You have shown them that anything is possible! Your heart and desire is unmatched. We are blessed to have Luci. And the MAGIC Foundation truly has an angel in George Chmiel!”

For more information on the MAGIC Foundation, or to donate, go to: magicfoundation. org. To learn more about George and Luci and to read George’s blow-by-blow blog posts from the Outback, go to luciandgeorge.com.

Trish Reske is an award-winning writer, mom, and 12-time marathoner from Westborough. George is relentlessly trying to talk her into running an ultramarathon. You can read more of Trish’s writing at trishreske.com

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