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Huntington Beach man, 76, will attempt L.A. Marathon on crutches to avoid breaking his 33-year streak

Huntington Beach man, 76, will attempt L.A. Marathon on crutches to avoid breaking his 33-year streak
Paul Brestyanszky, 76, of Huntington Beach has run the Los Angeles Marathon each of its 33 years, making him a legacy runner. This year, Brestyanszky hurt his knee, so he's going to do the marathon on crutches to keep his streak alive. (Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Paul Brestyanszky is a Los Angeles Marathon legacy runner, which means he is one of 178 who have completed the race every year since it started in 1986.

So when the 76-year-old Huntington Beach resident fractured his knee in February, he worried he would have to break his 33-year streak.

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Over the decades, his fellow legacy runners — whose ages range from 40s to 80s — have become like family to him. Every year, a group meets a few weeks after the marathon for what it calls a DAB (damage assessment brunch) to see how many people made it.

After his injury, Brestyanszky sent out a mass email with the tongue-in-cheek title “Breaking News,” asking the legacy runners for advice. One told him he had to do the marathon several times in leg braces. Another did it several years ago on crutches, even though it took him 11 hours.

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Brestyanszky took away from the conversations that it was still possible.

So on Sunday, Brestyanszky, who didn’t run a marathon until he was 41, will try to complete his 34th L.A. Marathon on crutches, with a small group of fellow injured legacy runners by his side.

Brestyanszky’s doctor and his wife, Mila Cangelosi-Brestyanszky — who cheers him on annually with the sign she made in Year 19 — knew they couldn’t stop him. But they made him promise he will quit if his knee starts to throb.

“It is terrifying to me to think he’ll be on crutches for 26.2 miles,” Cangelosi-Brestyanszky said. “And everyone else also thinks he’s crazy.”

He once had a bad fall in the middle of a race.

But the only time he’s considered not finishing was in 2011, when there were torrential rains and thousands of people were evaluated for hypothermia. When his wife greeted him at the end of the race with a beer, as she always does, his lips were blue and he joked about needing “double tequila.”

Mila Cangelosi-Brestyanszky holds a sign she made for her husband, Paul Brestyanszky, who has run the Los Angeles Marathon all of its 33 years.
Mila Cangelosi-Brestyanszky holds a sign she made for her husband, Paul Brestyanszky, who has run the Los Angeles Marathon all of its 33 years. (Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

In the past month, Brestyanszky has tested multiple crutches for comfort. His wife found him hand guards with wrist wraps for extra protection.

As usual, he plans to pace himself, make sure he has a sip of water at each station and make a quick stop for Starbucks coffee around Mile 20 to help him avoid the “wall,” the point in a marathon where it goes from difficult to unbearable.

Other than that, he said, the challenge is mostly mental. So he’s confident.

“Every once in a while, I still pick up some American slang,” said Brestyanszky, a Hungarian immigrant by way of France and Canada. “And there’s a great phrase: ‘I’m going to wing it.’ ”

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