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75-year-old Bakersfield man trains for marathon after contracting COVID-19

Bakersfield man Al Vaughn found his passion in life later than most.

Vaughn's interest in running only blossomed in his early seventies. He joined a team from his church, Olive Knolls, and runs with World Vision in marathons.

The Christian organization gives individuals a platform to raise funds for children living in low resource countries. The good cause motivated him to join.

“You look forward to the cause — it helps people reach their full potential,” he added.

In 2015, he completed an approximately 14-week training and ran the LA half-marathon in March 2016. Then, Vaughn competed in the same marathon — a whopping 13.1 miles — in 2018 and 2020. Not only did he compete, but he excelled.

Vaughn came in first in his age group at the LA half-marathon in 2020.

However, the last race proved to be seminal — the now 75-year-old contracted COVID-19 in March 2020, two weeks after he completed the course. At this time, the world had not been forever changed by the disease and the illness remained unknown to millions.

“From that point, I got worse,” Vaughn said.

It seems Vaughn still had some unfinished business. He recovered from COVID-19, checked into Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital for physical therapy and went home in June 2020.

He is now training for another half-marathon and hopes to race again in March 2022, when he will be 76. Slowing down is not an option.

Vaughn’s COVID-19 experience was brutal. He was hospitalized for 54 days and was on a ventilator for 31 days. His wife, Joyce, recalls the doctors asked her to take him off life support three times. She always refused.

“She said (to the doctors), ‘The Lord’s not ready for him yet,’” Vaughn said of Joyce.

Coronavirus greatly impacted him. Joyce said he had pneumonia, his kidneys failed, his muscles atrophied and he suffered from other conditions. Vaughn was also in a coma, which paralyzed him.

“It certainly was lonely,” Vaughn said. “I was ready to meet the Lord.”

Against all odds, Vaughn woke up. He remembers the Lord told him to live and spread his story, which he now does.

The coronavirus robbed him of daily functions, however. He couldn’t lift his right hand. He is right-handed and could only use his left hand, Vaughn said. And, he couldn’t swallow, said his wife of 54 years, who also was diagnosed with COVID-19 and recovered.

Vaughn lost 35 to 40 pounds of muscle. Physical therapists helped him regain some semblance of normal life. The 75-year-old couldn’t walk when he arrived at the hospital. Within two weeks, he could walk again.

Vaughn said he now trains to build back the muscles in his legs. On Nov. 13, he ran 3.3 miles. Throughout this time period, he ran and walked half of the distance. You can find him going up and down the slopes at Lake Ming.

“Running (has) given me the mental and physical fortitude to survive,” Vaughn said.

Still, Vaughn has not fully recovered — he still takes medication to keep the airways open in his lungs.

“I just felt so humbled (by) everybody praying for me and lifted me up,” Vaughn said. “I’ve got to continue doing this for as long as I can.”

You can reach Ishani Desai at 661-395-7417. You can also follow her at @idesai98 on Twitter.