WASHINGTON — “I’m the luckiest man you know,” said Peter Dernier, who lives in Vermont with his wife Nicole.
They’ve been together for more than 20 years, and those years have put them through a lot together: kids, work, even marathons. There was even a life-threatening surgery that Peter needed, which he only found out he needed by sheer luck.
The Marine Corps Marathon played a pivotal role in getting their journey started, and this year, they’ll pound the familiar pavement 22 years later.
When Peter first met Nicole, she was already in training to run the Marine Corps Marathon. Being a runner himself, Peter admits he holds those with the endurance and determination to run long races in extra regard. He asked her to be his training partner, and as they continued to date, they ran the race together in 1995.
“My evil master plan,” said Peter, “was I purchased an engagement ring and carried it in the pocket of my shorts for all 26 miles, pinned to the inside … At the finish line, I had to secretly sneak my finger into the ring hoping that I wouldn’t lose it in the mud and I asked her to marry me crossing the finish line.”
“We spent most of our dating time running together,” said Nicole, “but I don’t know that I was expecting that so it was really kind of a nice way to finish the race. We stopped literally before they put the medals on our neck and he dropped to his knee and asked me and I said ‘yes.’”
Back then, there were no smartphones or social media to capture the moment.
“The only two people that knew that that happened was Nicole and I,” said Peter. “My dad kind of scolded me because he said after 26 miles she would have said yes to anything,” — a charge Nicole was quick to dismiss.
So they got married, had kids and happily lived life together. And then about four years ago Peter stepped on a rotten board at the post office and his knee gave out. He had a torn meniscus and needed surgery.
That bum knee saved his life.
During a preoperation exam before his knee surgery, doctors detected a heart murmur and aneurysm. It was genetic — not due to his lifestyle — but it was only about a month away from killing him.
Peter quickly had to have his aorta replaced.
“It’s the type of surgery that, when successful, works really well,” said Peter. “When unsuccessful, you don’t wake up.”
Luckily for him, he’s been able to recover, albeit more slowly than he’d like. Finally being able to run the marathon again this year has turned out to be somewhat serendipitous.
This year’s Marine Corps Marathon on Oct. 22 will mark 22 years to the day that the couple first ran it together, 22 years to the day that Peter proposed to Nicole.
And Peter plans to do it again.
“I see us running step for step again,” said Nicole. “Basically it’s going to be Pete goes to his knee, take two.”
Nicole is in on it this time, fully aware of what’s going to happen.
“It’s going to be different,” Nicole admits. “After being married this many years and going through the things people go through, plus having something more drastic with the health scare, I think it means even more than if we hadn’t gone through that.”
The training has been part of the fun for this couple, and Nicole even admits that training like they did more than 20 years ago takes her back to when she was dating Peter.
And when the two cross the finish line in front of the Iwo Jima Memorial together, it’ll be Peter’s chance to reiterate his love for his wife. Nicole said, for her, it’s an opportunity to affirm the life they have shared and intend to share together.
“It’s been worth it. We still love each other,” Nicole said. “You can be as happy as you were when you first got together.”
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