Runner tries for record as 'Rocky'

  • Runner-tries-for-record-as-Rocky

    Ryan Desgrange heads to the finish line to win the Glass City Marathon in 2006. He's now 29.

    The Blade/Andy Morrison
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  • Ryan Desgrange heads to the finish line to win the Glass City Marathon in 2006. He's now 29.
    Ryan Desgrange heads to the finish line to win the Glass City Marathon in 2006. He's now 29.

    It will be a Rocky start for Ryan Desgrange when the Glass City Marathon gets under way.

    Mr. Desgrange, who has punched his way to the front of the pack in past races, will be trying to set the Guinness world record for fastest marathon in a film character costume.

    Wearing red boxing gloves, patriotic-hued boxing shorts, and a black-haired wig, the 1998 Liberty Center High School grad will portray Rocky Balboa, the scrappy, chisel-chinned fighter.

    Elvis has been done, as has Maximus, the Gladiator movie character.

    Sylvester Stallone made famous the character Rocky Balboa, a boxer who doesn't give up.
    Sylvester Stallone made famous the character Rocky Balboa, a boxer who doesn't give up.

    Known as Rocky or the Rock at Eastern Michigan University when he ran 120 miles in a week and many miles in the middle of the night, Mr. Desgrange decided to put his nickname to the test.

    Guinness just gave the green light for his world-record attempt, an effort being coordinated by his father, Doug, of Liberty Center. Doug used to run circles around Ryan. That lasted only until Ryan dug in his heels, picked up the pace, and left his Dad in the dust.

    Ryan dreamed of competing in the Olympics. He won the Glass City Marathon with a record time of 2 hours and 27 minutes in 2006, but fell short of qualifying for the 2008 USA Olympic Trials.

    Mr. Desgrange will be the first costumed "film star" to compete in the Glass City Marathon, race director Clinton McCormick said.

    "Ryan is kind of a local guy. He decided he wants to do the record here in a hometown race," Mr. McCormick said yesterday.

    Ryan as Rocky will build excitement for the event, Mr. McCormick said, and the host club, Toledo Roadrunners, has been looking at ways to pump up interest in the marathon.

    More than 1,500 runners preregistered for the April 26 race by yesterday's deadline, double the usual number. Runners still can register, and Mr. McCormick predicts nearly 2,000 participants this year.

    With wellness and fitness at the forefront, the marathon weekend will feature an expo April 25 at the SeaGate Convention Centre with activities tying into Lucas County's pound-shedding program that the Toledo Roadrunners is promoting, Mr. McCormick of Perrysburg said.

    In its 33rd year, the Glass City Marathon has legs. It's been held longer than the Chicago Marathon, he said. People from just about any age group and fitness level, he said, can take part in one of the five Glass City events, including a half-marathon starting in Perrysburg,

    Participants don't have to run. They can walk.

    "We want them to get out and do something," said Mr. McCormick, noting the marathon course, shifted this year to showcase more of what Toledo has to offer, will wind along the Warehouse District, the Old West End, the Erie Street Market, Fifth Third Field, and the new arena downtown.

    An increased interest in the marathon this year could be linked to Honor Flight of Northwest Ohio. A portion of the marathon's proceeds will go toward Honor Flight, which has a lengthy waiting list of veterans who want to visit the National World War II Memorial in Washington.

    The Guinness world-record attempt will take place on Toledo streets in part because of Mr. Desgrange's running history here and in part because the marathon is honoring veterans, a flag-waving salute that Rocky would wrap himself in.

    Mr. Desgrange, 29, who finished physician assistant school a year ago, works 10 to 12 hours a day at two hospitals in Michigan, leaving little time for serious running. One day while thinking about what to do with the rest of his life, he came across the Guinness Web site and found details on the current record holder for fastest marathon dressed as a film star.

    In the true spirit of the Rocky movies, it's not a sure thing. He hasn't run a marathon in two years. He's put on 25 pounds since college.

    "Rocky was kind of the underdog, and it is the same deal with me," Mr. Desgrange said.

    His biggest challenge has "Rocky" scrawled across it: the boxing gloves. He can't take them off during the marathon.

    "I have no idea how to pick up water" along the race course, he said. If he can rig an interior gripping system, he'll practice with help from his wife, Heather, near their home in Howell, Mich.

    They haven t lived there long, he said, and neighbors might think it rather strange: a wig-wearing, star-struck runner with boxing gloves, grabbing cups of water from a woman standing along the rocky road.

    Luckily, Mr. Desgrange can wear running shoes in the marathon instead of the kicky boxing boots like Rocky wore in the ring. To complete the costume, "Extra long tube socks will represent the boot-type of deal," he said.

    Sounds like a knockout.

    Contact Janet Romaker at: or