Surf City Marathon more than a race

For some, the 17th annual Surf City Marathon is just another stop on their race tour. But for others, like Lina Fichera, it's something they've been waiting to cross off their bucket list.

Fichera, 49, survived coma and a prognosis of never being able to walk again and now, on Feb. 3, she will attempt her second half-marathon, something she never thought possible.

Fichera moved back to Huntington Beach this month after living in Connecticut and, most recently, Jacksonville, Fla. for the past three years.

Fichera had always considered California her home, despite growing up in Connecticut. She said when she and a relative backpacked in California in 2002, she fell in love right away.

"I don't want to go back. I don't feel like [Connecticut] is my home," Fichera said to her relative during their last day of their trip.

But her path back to Huntington Beach wasn't a smooth one.

Fichera underwent surgery in 1997 in Connecticut. Doctors told her the procedure was simple and would take no longer than an hour, but things took a wrong turn.

"All I remember was waking up in the middle of the night and then blacking out," Fichera said.

Fichera said doctors accidentally punctured her organs during the surgery, causing toxins to enter her brain. This in turn caused her to swell up and eventually put her into a coma for more than two months.

After coming out of her coma, Fichera found herself paralyzed from the neck down and had to relearn how to talk, walk and perform other motor functions.

With the help of the Easter Seals and other community members in Connecticut, Fichera was able to function normally again after three years, even though doctors told her should wouldn't be able to.

"I didn't want to be paralyzed. I didn't want to stay in a wheelchair," she said. "If they asked me to take 10 steps, I would force myself to take 20."

Once she was ready, Fichera moved to Huntington Beach in 2003 and would stay there for seven years.

During that time, she would always observe people running around the city, but never thought too much about it.

"I was always intrigued with running, but nothing hardcore [like marathons]," Fichera said. "I've always had the desire to run a race. It was a bucket list thing, but I never knew how to approach it."

Fichera had to move back to Connecticut in 2010 for personal reasons, but as she was looking for ways to stay fit, she found a running group that was training for a 5k run.

It was with that group that Fichera found her way into the world of running.

Though she still has physical setbacks from her illness, Fichera completed her first 5k in 2010 in Old Wethersfield, Conn. and hasn't looked back since. It didn't matter that she finished that race in 45:34, Fichera said. Crossing the finish line was enough for her.

"Take that, doctors who told me I couldn't walk," she said.

After moving to Jacksonville in 2011, she met with Coy Orange and his running group "Absentee Runners" and began to participate in events with them.

Members of the running group include people coming out of rehabilitation, as well as those with varying medical conditions.

"When we run, we don't leave anyone behind," Fichera said.

Fichera has 11 5k runs under her belt and just added her first half-marathon in December. This will be her first Surf City half-marathon.

Up to 20,000 runners are expected to participate in either the 26.2-mile marathon or the 13-mile half-marathon.

Running not only helps Fichera stay healthy, but helps her cope with what she went through 16 years ago.

"It's a personal competition with myself and it keeps me going. I'm just addicted to it," she said. "If I don't run, I get severely depressed."

After hearing word of the upcoming Surf City Marathon, Fichera and the "Absentee Runners" group from Florida decided to participate.

But for Fichera, it was more than the excitement of traveling to another state to do a marathon.

"For me, I was going home."

Twitter: @acocarpio

If You Go

What: Surf City Marathon

Where: 21100 Pacific Coast Highway, Huntington Beach

When: Marathon begins 6:30 a.m.; half-marathon at 7:45 a.m. Feb. 3

Information: Registration is closed. Street parking will be available along Beach Boulevard and Huntington Street. No admission fee for spectators.


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