More than 900 marathon runners started the race along the wall, but only 570 crossed the finish line.
Charlottes Jason Boschan was among those who can say they conquered 5,000-plus stairs, miles of dirt roads, rocky terrain and heat while staying ahead of dehydration, physical and mental exhaustion.
Boschan, 33, ran the Great Wall Marathon May19 as the culmination of a year-long fundraising and awareness initiative he created called Run4Papa.
In the 315 days leading up to the race, Boschan was on a journey to bring international attention to Primary Progressive Aphasia (PPA), the rare form of dementia his grandfather, Dr. Louis Papa Heyman, was diagnosed with in 2009.
He partnered with the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimers Disease Center of Northwestern Universitys Feinberg School of Medicine (CNADC), to raise nearly $54,000 for research in less than a year.
Boschan said he approached the Chicago center about raising money for its research and they agreed to waive administrative fees if Run4Papa raised $20,000. Boschan hit that benchmark in 100 days and raised his goal to $50,000. He said all money raised went straight to the center and does not cover his expenses.
Boschan, a financial analyst with LPL Financial, said hes not a runner by nature. His only other marathons were in New York 2010 and the 2000 London Marathon, both of which he came into by chance. In London, he responded to a newspaper ad offering race spots to people who could raise the U.S. equivalent of $1,200 for children with disabilities. Theres usually a two- to three-year waiting list for the race, he said.
With New York, a friend whod qualified ended up injured and offered Boschan the opportunity with only 72 hours until the starting gun.
Still, Boschan has always played sports and said he was ready on both occasions.
But with Run4Papa, Boschan trained in several states to prepare for the Great Wall. He spent long weekends in Denver to experience high-altitude running, ran the Warrior Dash in Huntersville to experience terrain and went to Chicago and New York to run tower races.
Boschan blogged about every event on Run4Papa.com and found support coming from the international running community.
He also found that members of the medical and Alzheimers communities wanted to show their support as well. PPA is a form of Alzheimers.
Through various fundraisers leading up to the Great Wall like the 10-day $5K for 5K event around Charlotte and an uber-competitive Turkey Bowl football game over Thanksgiving in Michigan Run4Papa exceeded its $50,000 goal.
His grandfather and Boschans parents live together in suburban Detroit, where Papa practiced pediatric medicine for more than 50 years.
Internally, his mind is still very sharp. The disease is debilitating him, not old age, Boschan said, noting that his grandfather carefully read and approved the biography posted on the website.
While Boschan has a few ideas in the works on what goals to set next, he hasnt finished with PPA. This fall, the CNADC Advisory Board could vote to install him as a junior board member to continue fundraising and building awareness.
This could be a life-changing opportunity, itd open so many doors, he said.
What makes him happiest is that his grandfather got to see it all. It was a fear of mine a year ago that he wouldnt be around or he wouldnt understand Im relieved hes still here to see what happened.