Portrait of Dorene Schneider, right, along with her running coach,...

Portrait of Dorene Schneider, right, along with her running coach, Jules Winkler , left, in the driveway of her Fort Salonga home. (Oct. 18, 2011) Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

What could possibly stop 56-year-old Dorene Schneider in her attempt to complete Sunday's Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C.?

Well, how about two artificial hips?

How about asthma?

How about the fact that this is her first marathon, and she never ran a step in a competitive race until she started training two years ago?

Even she has to admit the whole thing seems a bit far-fetched. "If God himself came down seven years ago and told me I'd be doing what I'm doing, I wouldn't have believed him," she said with a laugh. "I couldn't even bend down to tie my shoe."

In 2003, Schneider had her first hip replacement. A year later, she had the other hip done. The Fort Salonga resident had hip dysplasia, a condition in which the ball-and-socket joint of the hip is not properly formed. Over time, that can lead to various musculoskeletal problems, including arthritis. Her condition was exacerbated by giving birth to six kids (she now has five grandchildren, as well). And as she got older, the situation worsened. "It got to the point where I couldn't even walk without pain," Schneider recalled.

After her surgeries, Schneider was told she could walk on her new joints, but not run. No matter. "At that point, I wasn't even thinking about running," she said.

Her attitude changed one morning two years ago, when she was walking on the boardwalk at Sunken Meadow State Park and saw a female runner, who looked about the same age, glide by effortlessly. "I thought, 'Wow, I wonder if I could do that?' " She found an online beginner's program and got to the point where she was able to jog through a 5k (3.1-mile) race in November 2009.

At the time, though, her thoughts were clouded with worry over her son Josh, who joined the Marines in 2004 after graduating from Hofstra University. Josh was serving one of three tours of duty overseas -- two in Iraq, one in Afghanistan -- in reconnaissance units. The stress of having a son in harm's way was enormous.

So, as she basked in the glow of her first 5k, Schneider wondered how she could use running as a way to support him. She decided to run the Marine Corps Marathon, the country's fifth-largest 26.2-mile race. Last year, the event had 22,000 finishers. The course takes runners through a tour of the nation's capital and ends at the Marine Corps War Memorial (also known as the Iwo Jima Memorial), near Arlington National Cemetery.

Schneider chose this marathon "because Marine is in my heart." She also decided to use her run to raise money for Hope for the Warriors, one of the marathon's charity beneficiaries. It is a national, nonprofit organization that helps provide financial and other support to wounded U.S. service members and their families. So far, she's raised $1,400.

Her efforts garner praise from her son. "I take a lot of pride in what my mom is doing," said Josh Schneider, 31. "And I think it means a lot to the Marines that there are people like her out there, supporting us in any way they can, absolutely." A Marine captain, Josh is stationed at Camp Pendleton in Southern California and is involved in training "Recon" (reconnaissance) units.

Regardless of Schneider's good intentions, 26.2 miles is a giant leap from 3.1 miles for any runner, much less one with porcelain and titanium hips. She figured she needed help, and she found it in a 79-year-old coach.

A lifelong fitness devotee, Jules Winkler is one of the few local runners who has completed a marathon on all seven continents. He became a certified coach four years ago and now works with runners of various ages.

Schneider's friend recommended the Medford coach to her. When she called Winkler, they decided to meet at Sunken Meadow for a run in February last year. "The minute I saw him move, I knew he was my coach," Schneider recalled. "He was so correct, so light on his feet, moving that smoothly at that age, I knew this was the guy for me."

Winkler, who also teaches exercise to seniors at assisted-living residences, was unfazed by Schneider's artificial hip issues. "I'm not a doctor, but I felt like I knew what to do with Dorene," he said. "But I told her we'd have to take baby steps."

Marathon training regimens are typically three to six months in length. Winkler, who has run the Marine Corps Marathon twice, designed a buildup program for Schneider that was nearly two years long. It was based on a combination of walking and running, a method of training that has been used successfully by many first-time marathoners to gradually condition the body to the rigors of long-distance running.

Schneider started by alternating three minutes of brisk walking with one minute of running. She gradually lowered that ratio to one minute of running for every one minute of walking, while increasing the distance. In 2011, she has run-walked her way through four half-marathons (13.1 miles), as well as Northport's Great Cow Harbor 10k in September. Three weeks ago, she completed her longest distance training run: 19 miles.

To keep the muscles around her joints strong, Schneider also works with a personal trainer at a gym, lifting weights.

Had she proposed the idea of a marathon to a doctor 20 years ago, there would have been no question about the medical advice then. "When I was a resident, they didn't let patients with hip replacements do anything but daily activities of living, said Dr. Dorothy Scarpinato, an orthopedic surgeon in Melville. "That's changed. Now, I get asked, 'Can I still exercise?' And I say, 'Of course, it's the best thing for you, provided you do it correctly and within your means,' which it sounds like this woman [Schneider] is doing. It's helping her physically and, I'm sure, mentally as well."

There have been a few bumps along the way for Schneider, unrelated to her hips. For years, she noticed she was wheezing and coughing during allergy season. Last month, she finally decided to have it checked out and was diagnosed with environmentally related asthma. But Schneider took it in stride, and now carries an inhaler with her when she runs. She keeps it in a fanny pack, along with an assortment of healthy snacks she nibbles to keep her going.

Tomorrow, her support team will be with her -- if not on site, at least in spirit. Bruce Schneider, 56, her husband of 33 years, will be cheering for her at various points along the course. Here on Long Island, Winkler will be waiting for a call from the finish line -- a call he is confident will come. "She wants to do this so badly," her coach said, "and I think she will."

Josh Schneider will be tracking his mother's progress online from Camp Pendleton. "My mom's a tough lady," he said with assurance. "I know she can do it."

In her own modest way, she knows it, too.

The female winners in the Marine Corps Marathon run the course in about 2 hours, 40 minutes. By comparison, Schneider's goal is to complete the course in six hours.

"I may not be the fastest," she said, "but I always finish."


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