The Williams Route 66 Marathon board of directors, along with the Tovander family, announced Tom Davis as the recipient of this year’s Kjell Tovander Award at the 2011 Williams Route 66 Marathon pasta dinner tonight.
The award recognizes an individual who impacts the world in an uplifting way and is named in honor of Kjell Tovander who died while trying to complete the Williams Route 66 Half Marathon on Nov. 16, 2008. Tovander, only 21 at the time of his death, spent three years studying at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and was preparing for a career in the Navy.
“Kjell was filled with joy and passion and always happy, a rare person indeed,” said Margaux Tovander, Kjell’s mother. “He was always inspiring or teaching and helping others and never complained about his adversities. Kjell never wanted recognition or asked for anything in return. As a mother I am proud to know that the Williams Route 66 Marathon will recognize and honor my son Kjell every year with this honorable award and that is a wonderful gift to me and my family.”
At age 7, Davis, (34), was diagnosed with Legg-Calvé-Perthes disease (LCPD), or Legg Perthes disease, a form of osteonecrosis of the hip that is found only in children.
“I remember laying in bed crying at night because of the pain,” said Davis.
The pain led to multiple hospital visits, but no relief, as doctors were unable to accurately diagnose the rare disease until Davis was referred to the Shriners Hospitals for Children.
“I can’t emphasize enough how much the Shriners changed my life,” said Davis. “I fully intend to send them a letter once I finish the marathon and let them know none of this would have been possible without their help.”
The Shriners selected Davis for their family assistance program, which entailed taking care of his entire medical costs; transportation for treatment, which took place in Shreveport, La.; and complete living assistance while being treated.
While a cure was available, the road to recovery was not easy. The degenerative disease left Davis nearly immobile for almost two years as he endured multiple surgeries that included recovery time in a full body cast. Before the age of 14 Davis had two hip surgeries, a knee surgery and two different stints in a full body cast.
It was years before Davis would fully recover, but once he did, he was unstoppable. He went on to play high school football and later joined the Marines after a little persistence.
“The Marines didn’t want to take me because of the disease, but I knew if they just let me take the physical exam I would pass,” said Davis.
Determined, Davis wrote a letter to his congressman asking to be given the chance to submit to a full physical exam.
“I wrote our state representative and said, ‘I’m not asking you to get me in, I’m asking you to get me an exam.’”
Davis served in the Marines for eight years before returning to Elk City, near his hometown of Sayre, Okla., and settling down with his wife, Kristina, and starting a family.
After years of inactivity and unhealthy eating, Davis saw an episode of The Biggest Loser featuring Broken Arrow native Danny Cahill in which the statistic was given that one-tenth of 1 percent of people complete a marathon. Viewing this as a challenge, Davis made the decision that day to stop making excuses and get healthy again.
“I realized I was making excuses to not do things with my kids because I was too lazy to get out of the recliner,” said Davis.
In January of this year Davis weighed 227 pounds. A lean 158-pound Davis will cross the finish line of his first marathon at the Williams Route 66 Marathon on Sunday, Nov. 20. His journey has inspired others including his wife; 10-year-old daughter, McKenzie; and friends and coworkers who have a combined weight loss of approximately 200 pounds.
On Friday, Nov. 25, Davis’s influence will spread to approximately 200 more people and hundreds of kids when Elk City holds its inaugural Christmas Wishes 5K organized by Davis and a co-worker, Shaun Maniatakes, and benefitting the local Toys for Tots. Overwhelming support from the community has allowed him to lead the way in raising nearly $6,000 for the charity, nearly double the budget shortfall of last year.
“Tom Davis was chosen to be this year’s recipient for the Kjell Tovander Award because I feel he deserves to be recognized for a life full of strife and for being so humble,” said Tovander. ‘Tom overcame disease and he also served in the Marines honorably and did the things he felt he needed to do even though it probably never entered his mind that he couldn’t do them. He did them anyway and he did them well. Tom is an all around good person without any thought of recognition and has helped his community and a lot of people, especially kids.”