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Family motivates runner who inspires generations

It was the middle of February and George Chernowski was recovering from a difficult winter. A slip on black ice during a run in December broke his tibia and fibula and shattered his left ankle. Shortly after that, he had surgery for prostate cancer.

Being away from running was a challenge for Chernowski, who completed his first marathon in 1979. He has completed 31 during his running career, but a call from his granddaughter one day in February gave him an extra burst of motivation.

Naomi Chernowski was turning 17 years old on the day of the Disney World Half Marathon. She wanted it to be her first half marathon. She asked if her grandfather would join her.

Oh, you bet he would.

With the motivation of running with his granddaughter and his son, Joe Chernowski, George was able to get back on his feet and train. On Jan. 12, three generations of Chernowskis crossed the finish line at Disney and George couldn’t hold back the tears.

“It was just so fulfilling to me that my granddaughter could do that and be there, that my son could do that, and that I could make it through,” George Chernowski said. “I got into the last mile and thought, ‘Yes! I’m going to do this!’ I was running the last mile with tears. It really was emotionally overcoming for me, but it was wonderful.”

It wasn’t the first time multiple generations of Chernowskis ran together. For the past few years, George's children and grandchildren have returned to Buffalo to run the annual Turkey Trot. That included Naomi, who ran in elementary school at St. Greg’s before her family moved to Georgia.

“He’s run the Turkey Trot stride for stride with his grandkids,” Joe said. “He’s been a runner my whole life. I’ve wavered with running, but he’s pulled me back in. This time to do a half marathon with his oldest granddaughter was really special. Disney has always been a special place for my parents. It’s their favorite place to vacation. This is their playground. For my dad do his favorite activity in a place he loves together with his son and granddaughter, it definitely was clear it meant a lot to him.”

Getting to that race, however, required work and patience. Chernowski has three bolts in his ankle and a plate on the front of his leg. Between healing from that and recovery from prostate cancer surgery, he went four months without running. That feels like a lifetime for someone for whom running is a way of life.

But knowing that he had a half marathon in January helped keep him focused and gave him something to work toward.

“That gave me a goal and, let’s face it, we all need goals,” Chernowski said. “It was Dec. 16 that I broke tibia and fibula and shattered my left ankle. In April I started walking on the treadmill. My first time outside, I started walking faster. Then I went to the track at Orchard Park High School and ran three miles on the track. I said ‘Yeah, I can do this.’ It was a big motivation for me.”

It was a key motivator on days when the desire to train was low and the frustration of not running faster and longer started to creep in.

“This was his comeback celebration,” Joe said of his father. “He pointed toward this and worked toward this. We pointed at this day when he had excuses to not go out and do the training. I’d tell him he’s done this a million times in his life, that he’s run 10 and 11 miles in training and could do this race. He knew that. But sometimes he needed that slight reminder.”

And in turn, George Chernowski knew he was setting an example for younger generations in his family.

“I wanted my grandkids to see that you have to challenge yourself no matter where you are,” Chernowski said. “You have to challenge yourself every day emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, and physically to be better than you were the day before.”

Race calendar

Monday, Jan. 28

  • Jackrabbit Snowshoe Series No. 3, 2 mile and 1 mile cross country, 6:30 pm. Kissing Bridge

Saturday, Feb. 2

  • Chautauqua Striders Winter 5K Series No. 5, 10 a.m., Lakewood Rod & Gun Club, 433 E. Terrace Ave., Lakewood

Sunday, Feb. 3

  • Mr. Ed's Superbowl Warm-Up 5K, 11:30 a.m., Middleport Fire Hall, 28 Main St., Middleport

Monday, Feb. 4

  • Jackrabbit Snowshoe Series No. 4, 2 mile and 1 mile cross country, 6:30 pm. Kissing Bridge

Saturday, Feb. 9

  • Lockport 10, 10 miles, 5 miles, relay, 10 a.m., The Historic Lockport Palace Theatre, 2 East Ave.
  • Braving The Elements 5K, 11 a.m., Arcade Elementary School, 315 W. Main St., Arcade

Sunday Feb. 10

  • Checkers A.C. Come In From The Cold Indoor Track meet, 3 p.m., Buffalo State College Sports Arena

Monday, Feb. 11

  • Jackrabbit Snowshoe Series No. 4, 2 mile and 1 mile cross country, 6:30 pm. Kissing Bridge

Saturday, Feb. 16

  • Beast of Burden, 100 miles, 50 miles, 25 miles, 10 a.m., Widewaters Marina, 718 Market St., Lockport

Sunday, Feb. 24

  • Polar Bear 5K, 10 a.m., Olcott Fire Company, 1691 Lockport-Olcott Rd., Olcott.

Saturday, March 2

  • Shamrock Run, 5K, Noon, Old First Ward Community Center, 62 Republic St.

Saturday, March 16

  • St. Patrick's Dash, 3 miles, 9:15 a.m., Northwest Arena, 319 West Third St., Jamestown

Sunday, March 17

  • St. Patrick's Day Rock'n 5K, noon, Youngstown Volunteer Fire Co., 625 Third St., Youngstown

Saturday, March 23

  • The Mustache March, 5K, 10 a.m., Mang Park, Mang Ave., Kenmore

Sunday, March 24

  • Canisius Chilly Challenge, 5K, 10 a.m., Canisius High School, 1180 Delaware Ave.













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