The power of the dark side

Lombardo family celebrates big day at Neyland

Myers Lombardo, a.k.a. Darth Vader, holds up a sign of support as his father, Andy, crosses the finish line Sunday.

Photo by Leslie Karnowski

Myers Lombardo, a.k.a. Darth Vader, holds up a sign of support as his father, Andy, crosses the finish line Sunday.

You’re more than halfway home in your first ever marathon.

You never played sports in high school, but, after a little over a year’s training, you’ve gotten yourself in pretty good shape.

When you reach the 16-mile marker, there’s your wife, daughter and angelic 4-year-old son, Myers, who’s sporting a Darth Vader helmet and holding aloft a sign to tell you what he thinks of your progress: “He’s all yours, Bounty Hunter.”

Oh, but the force proved strong with Maryville Middle seventh-grade English teacher Andy Lombardo.

Wife, Jodie, and daughter, Bailey, 9, held out hope, and Andy lifted his pace. Ten miles later he strode into Neyland Stadium and the finish line of the Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon triumphant Sunday morning, where Bailey was waiting with another sign.

“Reach your destination, you have,” it read.

Lombardo’s journey to Neyland the last 14 months has been nothing short of remarkable.

“When I was in high school, I always wanted to run cross country,” he said, “but I always thought I was too big or too slow. A little over two years ago, the scales started pushing me further and further toward the need to do something.”

Last February, Jodie saw a Facebook announcement for a running class for beginners sponsored by Blount County Parks & Rec and taught by accredited distance runners Jennifer Brigati and husband Dave Flynn. The goal of the class, Jodie said, was for runners of all abilities to be able to complete a 5K at the end of the six-week course. When Andy hit that point, he just kept right on going.

His plan was never to attempt a marathon.

“That’s something I swore I’d never do,” he said.

After he “survived” his first 10K, Lombardo said he began training for the half marathon distance of 13.2 miles. When he tore through that distance on an especially brisk training run, he said he decided to go for broke.

“I said, ‘If I’m at 13 miles, I might as well up the ante a little bit and go for the whole thing,” Lombardo said.

Jodie and the kids were quickly onboard as Team Lombardo, a key element, Andy said, as his training runs became longer and longer in duration.

“It took a lot from everybody,” he said. “It was a family commitment. I was gone every Saturday from noon on trying to get the long runs in.”

She was more than happy to do her part, Jodie said.

“He’d go run 20 miles, come home and have to slip right into daddy mode,” she said. “I told Andy when he needed time to run, I’d make it happen.”

The pounds flew off as Andy got faster. He would shed 45 pounds between the start of the class and last weekend’s tour of downtown Knoxville all told. His time at the finish was a genuinely impressive 4 hours, 26 minutes, 12 seconds.

It was nowhere near the “insane” time of 2:24.32 of winner and Kenyan native David Kellum of Kennesaw, Ga., Lombardo said, but it was every bit as satisfying. While still tight with the dark side, apparently, even Lombardo’s small but powerful young Sith lord acknowledged his father as a worthy Jedi as he entered the stadium.

“The force is strong with this one,”

Myers’ new sign read. “Great job, daddy! We’re proud of you!”

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