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Chicago Tribune- Friday December 12th, 2008


A 'Love Story' runs through Tinley Park

Prime-time documentary follows couple's journey after devastating 1987 crash

If the steady drumbeat of bad news—the economy, the weather, the governor—has taken its toll, gather the family around the TV Sunday night and watch "Marathon Love," the perfect antidote to relentless gloom.

The documentary, which airs at 7 p.m. Sunday in Chicago on the Discovery Health Channel, chronicles the journey of Jamie and Lynn Parks of Tinley Park, whose lives took a tragic turn in 1987, just months before their wedding.

That's when Lynn McGovern's life was shattered in a horrific car accident en route to a White Sox game, suffering a devastating brainstem injury that left her cognitively impaired and unable to walk.

It would be 17 days before the 24-year-old opened her eyes and another seven months before she uttered a word. Well-meaning friends told Parks he should bail out while he still had the chance.
 

"I said, 'You've got to give me a better reason,' " said Parks, a mailman, who documented his fiance's arduous recovery with thousands of hours of home video.

The couple ended up tying the knot in 1994—almost seven years and thousands of hours of physical therapy after their original date.

Watching the bride tentatively walking down the aisle—her father holding on to one arm, her brother on to the other—will have many viewers reaching for the Kleenex box.

That might have been a fine time to roll the credits, but the nuptials represent only the first of many finish lines they cross together.

An avid runner, Jamie started pushing his wife in her wheelchair rather than leave her alone during runs. (While he's at work, her mother and an aide are with Lynn, who still endures hours of therapy daily.)

Through sun and sleet, the Parkses became a fixture in their subdivision, waving to neighbors as they pass by.

He entered some 5K and 10K races, eventually working up to marathons. Only now, they are joined by their "miracle baby" Annalyn, 9, who acknowledges that her parents "are pretty cool."

Along the way, there were setbacks, but last April, Jamie Parks—now 47—achieved the pinnacle of his running career: the Boston Marathon. At mile 20, Lynn talked her husband up Heartbreak Hill In the documentary, the runner scoops up his daughter at the last quarter mile and the three finish the race together (time: 3:25:45)—a lump-in-the throat moment. Think "Rocky" meets "Love Story."

Ruth Rivin, executive producer for LMNO Productions, first heard about the Parkses in 1997. She featured them in a short segment for a show. When she heard that they qualified for the Boston Marathon, she remembered the home videos and embraced the chance to tell their story.

"It is extremely unusual to have such a treasure trove of documentation," she said.

What moved the producer to share their story was that the couple "reminds us what is really important," Rivin said. "Boy meets girl. They fall in love. They stick together through whatever life throws their way. Simple, and yet so profound."

For his part, Jamie Parks is still not sure why such doggedness is worthy of prime time. "My wife is the real inspiration. If it weren't for her, I'd just be a mailman who runs," he said.

brubin@tribune.com