There are some things Kevin Rhinehart still misses.
Playing his electric bass guitar. Buttoning a shirt by himself. Eating without spilling.
But for all the things he’s no longer able to do, Rhinehart is all the more grateful for what he can do.
Others in his position haven’t been so lucky, he says.
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Rhinehart, who suffered a stroke in 2012 one week after his 53rd birthday, will compete in the 122nd annual Boston Marathon on Monday as a mobility-impaired runner. The Meridian resident is among 78 Idahoans entered in this year’s race.
He qualified for the prestigious 26.2-mile race with his marathon time of 6 hours, 7 minutes and 52 seconds at the 2016 Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.
“Never in a million years before the stroke had I ever pictured myself as a triathlete or as a runner, period. Much less the Boston Marathon,” Rhinehart said. “... Stroke survivors are a resilient bunch of people. To learn to tie one’s shoes, to learn to speak a word, let alone a sentence. To dress oneself, to take walks, to ride a bike ... whatever condition your stroke has left you in, I say stroke survivors can, and (you) fill in the blank. ... I’m lucky, because there are stroke survivors who are wheelchair bound, who can’t speak. For those stroke survivors who can’t run or swim or bike, I do it for them.”
Throughout his professional life, Rhinehart was in the business of helping people. As a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist, Rhinehart founded the Center for Hope and Healing in Meridian in 1988.
But after a stroke on Jan. 24, 2012, Rhinehart was the one who needed healing.
“When he had the stroke, he couldn’t do anything,” said Rhinehart’s wife, Laurie. “He couldn’t eat. He couldn’t walk, couldn’t talk. ... You don’t even know whether he’s going to survive. The first year is the worst. Him going from that to seeing him do (triathlons and marathons) is incredible.”
Rhinehart needed speech, occupational and physical therapy to help regain function on the right side of his body. The stroke made it difficult for him to do what he once considered simple tasks, like speaking, standing or smiling.
About 18 months into his recovery, Rhinehart began to test his physical limits by biking and swimming. Over time, he pushed himself to bike and swim longer distances.
“He would huff and puff and couldn’t even run a mile,” Laurie said. “If you know Kevin, he’s pretty tenacious. ... It took a few months or so, but he got the hang of it and he never stopped, he never looked back.”
In June of 2015, Rhinehart and his wife moved to Hawaii, where he had always dreamed of retiring. He had to give up his therapy practice after the stroke, and that left him searching for a way to fill the void.
That search led Rhinehart to volunteer at the 2015 Ironman World Championship, which consists of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2-mile run.
“I was just existing. I didn’t find any joy in life. But I wanted to find something,” Rhinehart said. “... Be careful what you volunteer for, because at the end of it — and I don’t know if it was God, craziness, I don’t know — but at the end of it, I said ‘I could do this.’ ”
Less than two weeks after watching some of the best athletes in the world compete in the Ironman, Rhinehart entered the Peaman Thrash and Dash Biathlon on Oct. 25, 2015, where he completed a 1/3-mile swim and 2-mile run. Then the (Tri)ptophan Turkey Day Triathlon followed on Nov. 26, 2015, with a 1/3-mile swim, 16-mile bike and 2-mile run.
“I was tired by the end,” Rhinehart said of the Turkey Day Triathlon. “I was dead tired, but I was hooked.”
Rhinehart since has competed in more than two dozen events needing only the assistance of an orthotic brace on his lower right leg. His most recent outing was the Honolulu Marathon on Dec. 10, 2017.
Each time, he competes with one purpose in mind.
“I want to be an inspiration to other stroke survivors,” Rhinehart said. “That’s why I do it, to inspire other stroke survivors, and along the way I found out that other people are inspired, too.”
Rhinehart’s athletic success despite his physical challenges has provided a platform to support and encourage others. He is in the process of establishing a nonprofit called “Stroke Survivors Can.”
“I couldn’t be more proud,” Laurie said.
He was invited to speak to a group of stroke survivors Wednesday in Boston before Monday’s big race.
“I want to give them hope, because I thought my life was over (after the stroke),” Rhinehart said. “I was just existing, hoping for more, but now I found it.”