Dan Holverson may be 56 years old, but he is in better physical shape than most men half his age. The director of applications systems at Orlando Utilities Commission (OUC; Orlando, Florida, U.S.), Holverson runs 40 to 45 miles (64 to 72 km) per week and regularly competes in half marathons and marathons. So imagine his shock when he suffered a major heart attack in the early morning hours of February 2010. Instead of letting this health scare derail his dreams of running the Boston Marathon, Holverson used the experience to become healthier than ever while helping educate his company and community about heart disease.
Raised on a dairy farm near the northern Illinois/southern Wisconsin border, Holverson first began running in high school as a member of the track and cross-country teams.
“I enjoyed running when I was younger, and it was something I excelled at,” he recalled. “In high school, I was conference champion and qualified for state in the mile.”
But like many people, running fell to the wayside while Holverson was earning his bachelor's degree in business and accounting from the University of Wisconsin, and then working full time while finishing his MBA at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Illinois. Staying physically active fell further down on his list of priorities as his career flourished.
“I started out on an accounting path and transitioned over to management,” he said. “I managed accounting, human resources, purchasing and information technology (IT) departments. Eventually, I completely switched over to IT.”
At Cabot's Carbon Black Specialty Chemicals Division, Holverson acted as the liaison between IT and the business side of the company. Stints at a software firm, GE Medical Systems and Bairnco followed before he joined OUC as director of application systems, where he is responsible for the utility's enterprise applications, including enterprise resource planning, customer information systems, outage management, interactive voice response, IP telephony systems, ad-hoc reporting systems, mobile data and meter data management.
During these years, Holverson married and had a son, Ryan. Like his father, Ryan became involved in track and cross-country, prompting Holverson to revisit his old passion
“I started running again, doing 5K's and 10K's,” he noted. “But I was not all that serious about it. About five years ago, some health problems started to ensue. I needed to get in better shape and decided to tackle some longer distances.”
Running more than 30 miles (48 km) a week, Holverson's training paid off when he qualified to compete in the world-famous Boston Marathon in 2010. Two months prior to the race and just two days after running a half-marathon, however, he awoke with severe pain between his shoulder blades.”
“I have the usual aches and pain like most people my age do, but I knew this was something much more serious,” he said. “My wife and I immediately got in the car and drove to a nearby hospital. When I told the emergency room attendant I thought I was having a heart attack, they promptly started the necessary actions to stabilize me.”
After surgery to insert a stent into one of his heart arteries, which was 99% blocked, Holverson's doctor told him he was lucky to be alive and that being a runner helped save his life.
“It turns out I have a hereditary heart condition that I was unaware of, which puts me at greater risk for heart disease,” Holverson explained. “I encourage people to know their family's health history.”
Being physically fit also shortened the runner's recovery time considerably. Less than 15 months after his heart attack, Holverson competed in the Boston Marathon on April 18, 2011, finishing in 3 hours, 33 minutes and 14 seconds — beating his personal best time by 6 minutes.
“The Boston Marathon is the Holy Grail for runners, because you have to qualify for it,” he said. “I feel proud to have participated.”
In addition to exercise, Holverson watches his diet and takes the appropriate medications for his condition. He also participates in OUC's health program and is the OUC chairman for the American Heart Association's heart walk.
“I think it is important to not only get regular physicals, but also to ‘know your numbers,’” he said. “This means knowing your blood pressure, your weight and your cholesterol levels. I also advocate some type of exercise, whether it be running, walking or swimming at the local YMCA. I realize not everyone is going to want or be able to run marathons, but whatever it is you can do is better than doing nothing at all.
Although he has realized his dream of running the Boston Marathon, Holverson has no intention of stopping there.
“I plan to run the Chicago, New York, London and Berlin marathons,” he said.
Other future plans include continuing his career at OUC, traveling with his wife and perhaps teaching college courses.
“Probably my biggest goal is to stay out of my cardiologist's office,” he laughed.