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‘Bring it on’: A Wichita father runs marathon to honor his son

  • Eagle correspondent
  • Published Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, at 11:19 p.m.
  • Updated Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013, at 12:41 a.m.

Prairie Fire Marathon

Sunday’s races

6:30 a.m. — Marathon start (more than 12-minute pace)

7:30 — Marathon and half-marathon start

7:45 — 5-kilometer start

8:45 — 5-kilometer awards

10 — Half-marathon awards

10:15 — Youth run start

10:45 — Fun run/walk start

Noon — Marathon awards

Every morning in September, at 5 a.m. sharp, Michael Langston’s routine began.

He was dedicated to crawling out of bed, pulling on his running gear and following his training program in preparation for what will be his sixth full marathon this Sunday in the Prairie Fire Marathon.

But on the morning of Sept. 22, just as Langston was slipping on his running shorts for the final 20-mile run of his training, his routine was interrupted by a phone call. His ex-wife and mother of his 18-year-old son, Andrew, frantically spoke from the other end of the line, telling him Andrew had been involved in an altercation that had left his life in danger in an emergency room at Wesley Medical Center.

“I collapsed,” Langston said. “It was every father’s worst nightmare.”

Langston arrived in his running shoes and shirt still on, only to have doctors tell him his son was about to enter a lengthy surgery in an attempt to save his life.

And with his son’s life in peril, he did the only thing that made sense to him at the time.

“I ran,” Michael said.

• • • 

In the face of a potential downsizing at his job, Langston made the decision two years ago to step down from his managerial position to become a full-time father at home with his two younger sons, 4-year-old Tate and 2-year-old Parker.

Chances are, if you have met Langston, then you know about his kids.

“He’s all heart, 100 percent of the time,” said Lacy Hansen, a friend from Langston’s running group. “He’s super-excited and enthusiastic about everything he’s doing and that’s why we love him. He’s a very involved dad to those little boys and they just adore him.”

Langston said the decision to become a full-time father was a spiritual one that he reached with his wife of seven years, Amanda, who has continued to teach music out of her own studio.

“Who is going to treat your children better than their own parent?” Langston said, explaining his logic.

Langston declined credit for changing diapers, making baby food and putting the kids to sleep every night, but what he did say was he has a new found appreciation for mothers everywhere.

“It’s the hardest job you will ever have because you are taking care of human life and what’s more noble than that?” Langston said. “It’s not like you can clock out of this job and go to lunch. It’s a 24-hour job.”

Another benefit of Langston staying home was having more control over his children. He cancelled the family’s cable television subscription. Everyone was in bed by 9 p.m. It was a normal life.

For a parent that craved that control over his children, Langston’s worst fear was realized that Sunday morning when he found out his son had been viciously stabbed in the neck and the cranium by a 36-year-old man.

Even worse, a witness said the attack was unprovoked.

• • • 

Police said that in the early hours of Sept. 22, a 36-year-old suspected to be under the influence of drugs attacked Andrew Langston outside a residence in the 3300 block of East Victor.

Langston was stabbed multiple times. One blow broke his neck and the final stab was with such force that the handle broke, leaving the four-inch blade jammed in his skull.

A friend who was with Langston had to beat the suspect with a baseball bat to stop the attack, police said, and police eventually subdued the man after using a taser several times.

Matthew Wimberly was charged with attempted first-degree murder and battery. He is in Sedgwick County Jail.

When Michael Langston heard what happened, his immediate reaction was rage. Why did this happen to his son? Why of all the places and all the times, was his son stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time?

“Your life comes to a complete halt and it’s like you’re in a time warp,” Langston said. “Things aren’t normal anymore. That’s why I had to get out and run.”

So Langston went out to his car, changing into his running shoes. He was across the street from Health Strategies, with its own marathon training route in east Wichita. Without thinking, Langston sprinted out down the familiar path.

The route goes by the scene of the crime, and Langston had a rush of new emotions when he ran by the area cordoned off in yellow caution tape with police milling outside.

“I probably was dropping 5:40 miles, I was so upset,” Langston said. “I cried and cried and cried and I ran and ran and ran, until my legs couldn’t take it anymore.”

As Langston continued to run, he gained clarity in his mind. He realized how upset he was and the rage began to subside.

“That’s no way to live your life,” Langston thought to himself. “You can’t be happy that way, having all those negative feelings in your heart.”

He had believed in the power of positivity his entire life, but this was asking something else entirely. When his faith was tested, Langston stayed true to his beliefs.

When he finished his run back at Wesley, he had already forgiven the man who attacked his son.

“We can show people that even in the face of something so terrible, humans can still love each other,” Langston said. “We all reach the same fate at the end of the day, so while we’re here, let’s love each other.”

• • • 

After undergoing a host of surgeries at Wesley, Andrew Langston regained consciousness and is expected to make a full recovery.

He suffered brain damage in his right hemisphere, which has left his left limbs rather weak. But he is quickly regaining his memory and has already stood on two feet with the help of a walker.

Andrew has been transferred to Wesley’s rehabilitation hospital at 13th and Tyler and doctors have said he could return home in as few as three weeks.

“It’s a true miracle,” Michael said. “Even the neurosurgeons, and they were pretty stern, they were even smiling like, ‘Wow, this is fantastic.’”

It has been an life-altering event for the Langstons.

In that period of not knowing whether his son would live or die, Michael re-examined everything. His outlook on life. His appreciation for the tiniest moments. If there is a silver lining, he says, it is that thankfulness.

“I’ve got my son back,” Michael said. “My life changed when I thought I was going to lose my first-born son at age 18 to something so violent where I wasn’t there to protect him. Now I will always be thankful for every single second that I have looking into my son’s beautiful brown eyes here on this Earth.”

When word spread about the incident, people from the group Langston runs with every Saturday morning came to his aid. They wrote cards and stopped by to provide emotional support, and Langston says the biggest help was bringing his family food for every meal for the last two weeks.

“Something like that could turn you into something horrible, something very bitter that could permeate your personality,” said Bob Layton, another close friend from the running group. “Mike is a great example for all of us and that’s why we all like Mike so much. There’s not a person in that group who he wouldn’t do the same for.”

Michael had hopes of qualifying for the Boston Marathon with a time of 3 hours, 15 minutes or better on Sunday, which would be a personal-best time.

This has only intensified that desire, only now the source has changed.

“All 26.2 miles I’m going to be running to honor my son,” Michael said. “I’m going to throw down on Sunday.”

When asked to explain how he could have such a positive outlook on a tragic situation, Langston gave it some thought before reflecting on the two most important things in his life — his family and running.

He finally spoke and pointed out how he viewed the marathon he was about to run as a parallel for what he was about to face going forward in his personal life.

Running and family are forever intertwined.

“When you think about it, that’s really what a marathon is,” Langston said. “It’s a metaphor for life. This right here, this is the biggest mountain I could ever climb. And I’m going to run this marathon for my son and we’re going to move a mountain and he’s going to fully recover. This marathon isn’t going to be anything for me. I say, ‘Bring it on.’”

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