This story has been archived from the Thursday, August 28, 2008, Dallas News — Texas

Runner determined to make it to the top

By Debbie Fetterman

Thomas “T.O.” Okazaki encountered more adversity than anticipated at the Pikes Peak Ascent in Colorado.

A major winter cold front forced organizers to halt the 13.32-mile run on Aug. 16. Okazaki was among those who had already passed the final aid station when the race was called.

Okazaki said about 80 rain-drenched, under-dressed runners were stranded in driving winds, freezing temperatures, hail, snow, thunder and lightning. Many were treated for hypothermia.

In Okazaki’s case, his blood sugar dropped, his muscles cramped and he was so cold he said he struggled to breathe. He credits the El Paso County Search and Rescue Team, a volunteer group, for saving his life. They provided dry, warm clothing and hot packs until reinforcements arrived to carry him to safety.

“If I have to die, at least I was doing something I love on top of Pikes Peak,” Okazaki recalled thinking.

The next day, Okazaki attempted to reach the summit by running the Pikes Peak Marathon. He reached the 10-mile mark, where one of the rescuers told him he admired Okazaki’s courage but advised him to turn back.

Last year, Okazaki reached the 10-mile mark. Altitude sickness forced him to stop.

“I was going to take care of unfinished business,” he said of this year’s race, where he reached Mile 11. He said he trained more intensely, improved his diet and lost 20 pounds. Altitude sickness and fitness weren’t issues.

Race organizers warn that such winter storms are possible in August. This year’s was said to be one of the worst anyone could remember, Okazaki said.

He plans to return to the Pikes Peak Ascent next summer, in hopes of reaching the summit.

“I still think I can make it up to the top,” he said.

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