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One-on-One with Tom Garrity

There is surely worse news to get during a doctor’s visit, but Tom Garrity’s prognosis during that routine checkup about four years ago hardly was reassuring.

He had hypertension. He was inching toward diabetes. And when his doctor inquired about his level of physical activity, the Albuquerque public-relations professional only could crack a joke about his rigorous typing regimen.

The doc was not amused.

Maybe, Garrity determined, it was time to lose some weight, so he joined a running group. His first goal was to complete a marathon – all 26.2 miles – because, you know, why not?

“Some people said, ‘You should’ve done a half-marathon,'” says Garrity, who had played a little football and some soccer during his Houston high-school days and was a thrower – but not a runner – on the track team. “I was like ‘Ehhhh. If I do a half-marathon, I’ll realize how hard it is and I’ll never do a full marathon.”

Garrity vividly recalls his first training session: a two-miler near the Rio Grande on Jan. 31, 2010.

“I thought I was going to die,” he remembers. “I was huffing and puffing. I was clearly out of my league.”

But just over four months later, he was completing his first marathon in San Diego.

And he just keeps running. Garrity – now 35 pounds lighter and in far better overall health – has competed in five half-marathons, two more regular marathons and two ultramarathons.

His goals, however, have evolved well beyond losing weight. He dedicated that first marathon to a high-school friend going through chemotherapy, sending the pal his finisher’s medal. The friend, now in remission, said the gesture provided encouragement during a trying time.

“I said, ‘Cool, I’ll do it again,'” Garrity recalls.

He has since launched the One Medal program, urging other endurance athletes to train and compete for friends and loved ones facing adversity. This summer, for example, Garrity plans to run the Copenhagen Marathon in Denmark to honor a friend in Miami battling transverse myelitis.

Garrity says it’s not about money, though he has raised some funds in the past.

“Encouragement,” he says, “doesn’t cost anything.”

And it goes both ways.

“If it was just running for me, I probably wouldn’t run,” he says with a laugh.

Endurance running may be relatively new to Garrity, but he has in fact spent most of his life in pursuit – mostly of a great story.

Born in California to a banker father and stay-at-home mom, Garrity spent most of his youth in the Houston area.

In high school, he was on the newspaper and yearbook staff and says he fell in love with telling other people’s stories. He continued to gravitate toward journalism, something he attributes in part to “All the Presidents Men.”

“I remember watching that and going, ‘How cool,'” Garrity says of the 1976 film about the reporters who broke the Watergate scandal. “And Geraldo (Rivera) before he went off the deep end (was an inspiration). … At the time, he’d have these hard-hitting investigative pieces.”

Garrity went on to Texas Christian University, where he worked as a DJ for the campus radio station, talking about current events and spinning lots of Chaka Khan records.

“These were the mid-’80s,” explains Garrity, whose personal tastes lean more toward classic rock.

After college, Garrity’s career veered into TV, starting in Dallas and then moving to an on-air job as the noon anchor in Billings, Mont.

His coverage of the devastating 1988 fire season at Yellowstone National Park helped raise his national profile and, after three years in Big Sky Country, he landed a job in Miami for a syndicated tabloid news show that competed against the likes of “Hard Copy.”

Garrity spent a year-and-a-half covering crazy and scandalous stories around the country – from the UFO encounter in Roswell to TV evangelist Jim Bakker’s fraud trial in North Carolina – and having what he called “a blast.”

Even so, “I kind of thought, ‘Well, I’ve ruined myself for any legitimate news job from here on out.'”

Not quite. Once his show was canceled, Garrity returned to the traditional journalism ranks with a job at KOAT-TV in Albuquerque – one that started behind the scenes but eventually put him on camera as a weather forecaster and reporter.

Garrity has been in the Duke City ever since, though he left TV in 1994 to enter the marketing/public relations world.

He established his own firm a few years later and now represents a client list that includes the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.

Q: Describe yourself as a teenager.

A: (Laughs) I had a big afro. I did. It was out to here (holds hands several inches away from his head). Of course, being in Houston, hair just gets big anyway. But I was vice president of student council, and I was mainly interested in being vice president of the student council (at the school) because the vice president got to do the morning announcements. Basically, we had our own little radio show. They gave us five minutes. We always took eight or 10.

Q: What was your first job?

A: First job was selling shoes. That was for a company called Open Country, which was in Willowbrook Mall in Houston. I decided that I didn’t really like selling or selling shoes, so I started my very brief tenure of manual labor. One summer I worked at a deconstruction of a car dealership at I-10 and 610 in Houston. … That taught me that I could understand what the blue-collar (worker) was going through, but it really wasn’t something that suited me too well.

Q: Why did you decide to move on from journalism?

A: I had worked a seven-day shift over at KOAT. My wife Jackie was pregnant with our first, Emily, and I was toast. I was on my way out and the desk asked if I could cover a helicopter crash where some Forest Service firefighters had been killed, a tragic event. They asked if I could go down (to Silver City) and cover it and I said, “I just worked seven days straight.” They said “Well, we’ll pull you out tomorrow; we just need live shots for tonight.” … So, four days later, I was pulled out, and I told myself, “OK, time for a career change.”

Q: Did you have any misgivings about making that change from reporting to PR?

A: Oh, yeah. I think whenever you get that storytelling bug in you, I think anyone who’s ever been in that position will go, “I like what I do.” And I still like what I do, but it had a different kind of purpose – instead of being for public consumption, it’s now for the client.

Q: What goes through your mind when running an ultramarathon?

A: Not much. For example, I would be looking at the terrain. I’d think, “OK, I just have to get up this hill,” but what’s over that next hill? When I’d get to the top, like one of the breaks, I’d look ahead and try to find other runners to see where I’d be going. Sometimes you think about work stuff, friends. You can’t really think about too much, and I don’t like to run with music, but sometimes music is a great distraction when you start to get tired.

Q: What’s the hardest lesson you’ve learned?

A: Know what you’re reaching for. When I was 3 years old, I reached up onto a stove and I pulled down a bunch of boiling spaghetti sauce. That was probably the toughest lesson I’ve learned. There was three years of skin grafts and some rehab and stuff. That’s probably (it): Know where you’re reaching. (laughs)

Q: What are your pet peeves?

A : The first pet peeve that came to mind is people eating with their mouth open – not eating with a closed mouth or talking with food in their mouth. Drives. Me. Up. The. Wall. It’s, like, life’s short, don’t choke on it.

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