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If spirit alone could cure heart failure, a large dose could have been gathered and bottled from Lodi, California on May 2nd.

But medical researchers must still solve heart failure, which affects 6 million people in the U.S. and kills 300,000 every year. Heart failure claimed the life of Marc Boriack, a longtime Lodi resident and Army Veteran in 2010. He was only 52.

One day a year in the Central Valley city, people of all ages honor his memory by walking, running, racing and raising dollars for heart failure research. The annual 5K and 10K walk/run -- called Challenge Failure -- is the brainchild of Robin Boriack, who vowed after her husband’s death to educate people about heart failure and to help researchers develop treatments for the condition.

Proceeds from Challenge Failure go to NCIRE – The Veterans Health Research Institute – which allocates the funds for research and education at the San Francisco VA Medical Center’s Heart Failure Program. That program is directed by Dr. John Teerlink, a world leader in the study and treatment of heart failure. Teerlink was Marc’s doctor, and Robin credits him and his team for the remarkable care that extended the years and quality of Marc’s life. See previous story “A Lot of Heart”.

Challenge Failure is a grassroots effort, led by Robin, her five children, friends, volunteers and a supportive Lodi community. While high-profile races and marathons in large cities – with big banners, colored ribbons and corporate support – garner a lot of attention, Challenge Failure is “The Little Engine That Could” of research fundraisers.

At the Fifth Annual Challenge Failure event on May 2nd, more than 330 participated. They included Veterans, Boriack neighbors and co-workers, people who have raced in all five events, moms and dads pushing their babies in strollers, and the kids of the Heritage Elementary School running club.  They not only raced. In the true spirit of the event, they saluted good health by eating a nutritious lunch, committing to fitness and learning about the risks of heart disease.

“The part that touches my heart the most is all the terrific people who step up to help, volunteer and give,” said Robin Boriack. “Also, it’s wonderful for me to have all my children home for this event. All of that brought tears to my eyes.”

Indeed, the vibe at the Fifth Annual Challenge Failure event was part race and part family and community reunion. Enthusiasts raised more than $29,000 and the event has netted $157,000 in five years in support of the SFVAMC Heart Failure Program.

The money – 100 percent of it going directly to research – is making an impact. Teerlink, who participates in Challenge Failure every year, briefed the crowd on recent research progress, including a promising clinical trial of a potential blockbuster alternative drug aimed at lowering blood pressure, improving blood flow and easing strain on the heart. Several other treatments are being tested at SFVAMC, with Veterans suffering a higher rate of heart failure than the general population. But potentially groundbreaking research – aimed at helping heart failure patients lead normal and active lives – will benefit the general population, too.

Hopefully, research can stem a disease that causes more hospitalizations than all cancers combined, costs the U.S. $70 billion a year and kills half of its victims within five years of diagnosis.

At the May 2 Challenge Failure event, Robin Boriack was impressed by how many people wanted to know how research was progressing with “our money.” It’s a sign that more people understand heart failure and are committed to the fight against the disease, she said.

At Challenge Failure, people encouraged and cheered fellow runners and walkers as they reached the end of the race. The event happens one day a year, but, year-round, you can bet that a spirited group from Lodi is rooting for researchers in San Francisco to get to their finish line.

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March 16, 2017