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A wake-up call sends a Monroe man running, and he’s still going

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MONROE, CT — Brendan McKeon, 41, of Monroe was never athletic while growing up in Hamden, despite his late father’s best efforts to get him into sports. His brother, Kevin, was the athlete in the family. But McKeon’s recent weight loss journey led to a love of running, culminating in his completing the Dopey Challenge at Disney World last month.

McKeon, who broke his leg from a bad fall in 2016 and has a metal rod in his right leg, making it shorter than the left, ran a total of 48.6 miles that weekend.

“I was never a runner as a kid,” he told The Sun in a recent phone interview. “I even hated walking two blocks to go to school.”

McKeon wears shoes that make his legs the same length. “It adds an extra layer of challenge,” he said. “Some days you know you have hardware. Some days you forget you have hardware.”

McKeon was always a self-described couch potato, until he started exercising before the pandemic and ran in the Sprint for Monroe in 2021.

“The first time I ran the half-marathon in New Haven, my brother said something to the effect of, ‘I don’t think I walked 13 miles this year,'” McKeon said with a laugh.

His brother Kevin does not live in town, but he’s active on the Monroe Emergency Medical Service. McKeon is also active in town. He is a member of the Monroe Rotary Club and had served as president of the Monroe Chamber of Commerce from 2015 to 2016.

“My mother was very, very supportive in a motherly way,” McKeon said of his completing the Dopey Challenge. “But I think she was a little cautiously supportive,” he added, alluding to his leg.

McKeon also enjoys the strong support of his husband, Neil Riback.

A wake-up call

McKeon is a funeral director at Spear Miller Funeral Home in Fairfield. His weight had ballooned to 263 pounds by 2019, making his everyday tasks harder.

“It was a total wakeup call,” he said. “As a funeral director, you’re out at all hours of the night running around and I was getting winded by certain tasks, so I was the guy they were going to be wheeling out.”

McKeon said walking up a flight of stairs was tough and, psychologically, when he was 240 pounds he felt like he was “a little over 200” and at 263, he felt like he was close to 300.

“That is a problem,” he said. Of his husband’s support of his desire to lose weight, McKeon joked, “he doesn’t want to cash a life insurance check just yet.”

McKeon joined a gym and when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, rather than gaining weight like many had during stay at home orders, he kicked it into high gear, riding his Peloton stationary bike.

Right now, his weight is down to 200 pounds.

“It was a good time for me, besides the destruction around us, it was a good time to lose weight,” he said. “It’s been a journey.”

During the pandemic, the Rotary Club held meetings virtually.

“We would hop on and do Zoom,” McKeon said. “When I hopped on for the first time, people’s reaction to seeing me lose weight — that was a boost early in the journey.”

The significant weight loss also gave him more energy. “I was able to do things I never imagined I would do,” McKeon said.

‘One step ahead of Mayberry’

Brendan McKeon once volunteered as a parking lot monitor for the Sprint for Monroe.

For McKeon, getting into running was a gradual process.

“I was just doing jogs throughout the neighborhood and had liberated an old treadmill from my in-laws’ basement,” he said, adding he since upgraded to a Peloton Tread, which has classes for speed and elevation, as well as a screen to watch movies.

McKeon, who had volunteered as a parking monitor for the Sprint for Monroe in 2014 or 15, jokingly blamed Amy Primorac, one of the organizers, for his decision to participate in the local 5K.

“The Sprint was something so cool. I was doing jogs throughout the neighborhood. I said to my husband, ‘I think I’d like to do a 5K. It would be fun.’ It was a challenge,” McKeon said. “What better event to run in than your neighborhood 5K?”

“The first Sprint I had a pretty good pace,” he said of the 2021 event. “As I passed people on the route, friends and neighbors who weren’t 100 percent aware of what I had been doing … people were shouting out. It’s Monroe. We’re one step ahead of Mayberry. That’s what kept me going.”

McKeon said you train your mind, then your body for a long distance race. He credits the encouragement of his friends and neighbors for getting him up the steep hill on Purdy Hill Road.

“That was the kickoff. I lost count of how many 5Ks I’ve done in the past three years,” he said. “The first half marathon was last January in Disney World. I ran with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s team in training and raised over $4,000.”

Among the donors were people he knows who won their fight against leukemia and friends who wanted him to take on the challenge of a half marathon.

Taking the Dopey Challenge

The annual Dopey Challenge: Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend 2024 was held on Jan. 4, 5, 6 and 7. Thursday was a 5K, Friday a 10K, Saturday a half-marathon and Sunday was a full marathon.

The marathon attracted 12,694 participants and of those, 6,344 did the full four race challenge, including McKeon.

“In Central Florida there’s no cover. A good chunk of the course for the half and the full marathons is open highway,” McKeon said. “On the day of the half marathon, unfortunately we were going to get hit with a pretty good size storm, so they started us early and shortened the course to 7.1 miles.”

However, McKeon joined a group of runners who ran the first six miles in the Epcot parking lot before the start of the race.

“So I earned my 13.1 miles that day,” he said. “I didn’t want a medal in my house saying I did something I didn’t do.”

Those who completed the entire challenge earned six medals — for the Goofy and Dopey challenge and a medal for each race.

McKeon said it felt great to complete the challenge after preparing for it since April of 2023. He said families make a lot of sacrifices along the way. For instance, McKeon works as a funeral director every other weekend, leaving his weekends off for training runs.

“He was incredibly supportive,” McKeon said of his husband. “That’s what you need, somebody who understands setting a goal and going for it. You need somebody to believe in you.”

Of finishing the Dopey Challenge, McKeon said, “it was the stupid feeling of pride, because less-than-one-percent of the world’s population will complete a marathon. That’s my only chance of being in the top one percent of anything.”

He also felt a tremendous amount of fatigue. “I was sitting in a hot tub most of Sunday afternoon,” McKeon said.

On the Monday after the Dopey Challenge, runners posed in front of Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom for photos with their medals.

Brendan McKeon races towards the finish line in the 2021 Sprint for Monroe.

“The running community, as a whole, is supportive,” McKeon said. ‘Even a 5K in town, only one person is going to win, so everybody is supporting each other. The Disney running community is even more supportive. Anybody who wants to be there is invited in that bubble.”

McKeon said he spoke to people from all over the country and different parts of the world — all just wanting everybody to finish.

For McKeon, running provides a rush and a way to clear his head.

“I love being out with my thoughts and once you hit mile three or four, you have such a clarity of really everything,” he said. “The runner’s high is a real thing. Every run starts with a walk somewhere.”

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