Wilkes-Barre native Kovalski to run for charity, recovery

Wilkes-Barre native Kovalski to run for charity, recovery

REPOSTED FROM CITIZENS VOICE.  By staff writer Stephanie Panny.

Ask Danny Kovalski why he runs and he will tell you it is cathartic. It’s a time to reflect on all aspects of his life. To think about what he’s been through. To think about how thankful he is to be here.

“It’s an opportunity to think about everything that has happened, the reason why I’m running, and it’ll push me to the end,” Kovalski said.

Running didn’t always serve that purpose for him. It does now. This weekend he will participate in the second David Goggins 4x4x48 Challenge, where he will run (or walk) 4 miles every 4 hours for a total of 48 hours as part of a fundraiser to benefit the Allied Services Foundation.

“I’m definitely nervous, and definitely going to experience pain,” Kovalski said. “But pain is good. I’m running for not only me, but everybody that is unable to do these types of activities.”

Kovalski knows he’s one of the lucky ones. There’s a calm in the 33-year-old Wilkes-Barre native’s voice as he conveys the story about the day more than five years ago that changed his life.

It was Nov. 28, 2015. He and his pregnant wife Maggie and her mother had just just started out a run on Old River Road in Wilkes-Barre when a truck slammed into them from behind. His mother-in-law was injured and Maggie escaped unharmed.

It was far worse for Kovalski. He suffered a traumatic brain injury that required immediate surgery, numerous internal injuries, a damaged vertebrae, severe road rash over most of his body and a torn ACL.

He spent 10 days in the intensive care unit and a month at the John Heinz Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine in Wilkes-Barre, where he learned to walk, talk, read and write again. The road back was long and arduous.

Admittedly, he still struggles with some aspects of daily life most people might take for granted. Aches and pains. Finding the right words to explain feelings. Bouts of severe vertigo brought on by foods or simply playing with his children.

Kovalski, who now resides in Collegeville with his wife and four young daughters, eventually built himself back up to running. Initially, he used a walker to go very small distances and slowly worked himself back up to running between one to three miles, though on an infrequent basis.

Over the course of the past year, he said he’s become “more consistent” with his running and exercise, and has worked himself back up to running two to five miles in the morning. This weekend, the Crestwood graduate will continue on his path to recovery as he plans to run each four-mile leg on the same route he was running at the time of his accident.

“(It’s) extremely impactful,” Kovalski said. “Every time I go by the scene I’m reminded of the accident and how fortunate I am.”

He already has his route, measured at about 4.25 miles and paced at about 45 minutes, mapped out. Kovalski plans to start in South Wilkes-Barre, running first on Pierce Street, crossing the levee onto Market Street, going over the Market Street Bridge and ending where he started.

The challenge can be completed from anywhere, and all runners have to do to participate is start when Goggins starts Friday at 5 p.m. and submit their story to him on his website after the last leg is completed. For the last four years Kovalski has followed Goggins, a former U.S. Navy SEAL who is an endurance athlete and motivational speaker.

Although he lives outside of the area now, Kovalski feels it is important to complete the challenge in his native Wilkes-Barre.

“I chose to do the event because I believe you can always push yourself further than you think,” said Kovalski, a mortgage loan officer for CrossCountry Mortgage. “I have never trained for long-distance running or pushed myself to these limits before, so I felt this would be a perfect opportunity to do that.”

With his run, Kovalski is also raising money for Ryan’s Run Foundation, which directly funds Allied Services Integrated Health System in NEPA — one of the area’s largest nonprofits that provides rehabilitation help to people with disabilities and chronic conditions. As of early Friday, Kovalski has raised more than $5,100. His goal was $2,000.

“I go every day thinking about what happened,” Kovalski said. “Though I have a memory loss for a period of time, it’s been shared with me by many people and reading about it continuously, and looking at photos, I always find myself to think about it whether I am running in Collegeville, Philadelphia, or New Jersey, I think about the impact it has had on family and friends and how grateful I am for everything they have gone through and helped me get through.

“I will always feel forever in debt to want to give back. I don’t know if I can repay for everything that has been done to help me.”

Kovalski planned his entire sleeping and stretching schedule, and has friends and family who will run with him at certain stretches of the event. While he has been eating clean for the event, having chicken and broccoli for both lunch and dinner the entire preceding week, Kovalski said he plans to sneak in a “good” piece of pizza at the first opportunity.

He just doesn’t know if the slice will be from Jerry’s or Angelo’s. Just before Kovalski begins his first leg of the event, he knows he will be filled with adrenaline.

“It’s going to be a huge moment of victory for me,” Kovalski said, “being able to run and raise awareness of a great organization that has not only helped me personally, (but also) so many others that go through many battles.

“When I come to Sunday evening, finishing the 48 hours (and) 48 miles, it’s going to be an amazing accomplishment.”