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Member dentists continue legacy of marathons in southern California

August 29, 2019

By David Burger


Broken but not defeated: Dr. Calvin Lau crosses the finish line on crutches in the 1992 Long Beach Marathon. He broke his left fibula several weeks before the race.

Los Angeles — While training for a 1992 marathon, Dr. Calvin Lau broke his leg during a ski trip in Utah.

He was so determined to not miss the race that he “ran” the entire 26.2 miles.

On crutches.

That commitment helps to explain how he, along with fellow member dentist Dr. Kevin Sheu, is known as a Legacy Runner for the Los Angeles Marathon.

Being a Legacy Runner means that they have run every official marathon of the City of Angels since the L.A. Marathon’s inception in 1986.

There are 137 Legacy Runners who have completed all 34 Los Angeles Marathons so far, according to the 2019 media guide for the race. The guide also confirms the two’s accomplishment.

Dr. Sheu said he is proud of being a member of a select group.

“Being a Legacy Runner is being part of a group and accomplishing a single goal but doing it individually,” said Dr. Sheu, director of clinical services-quality of care for Delta Dental of California. “We get moral support from our fellow Legacy Runners as well as other course runners when they recognize our Legacy bibs. It is unique to have a group of all careers to be joined together by a distinctive type of accomplishment. The feeling is one of camaraderie and a group effort, rather than an individual achievement.”

“Being a Legacy brings me joy,” said Dr. Lau, a private-practice practitioner and part-time faculty member for over 40 years at the University of Southern California’s Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry. “It’s an opportunity to meet so many diverse people where the only thing we share in common is having done all Los Angeles Marathons.”

Both said they never thought about running until dental school.

“Running became my road to fitness after being a couch potato through all of my initial formal education,” Dr. Lau said. After beginning his fitness quest by hiking, he decided to run his first marathon when he was convinced to do one by a fellow hiker on the John Muir Trail in central California.

Dr. Sheu, too, started running to lose the weight he put on during a busy first year of dental school at the University of the Pacific.

“My first year in dental school I had gained a lot of weight, so I started to run to lose the pounds,” Dr. Sheu said.  “As I lost the weight, I ran 5Ks and 10Ks to challenge myself, and then I found myself running every weekend. A dental student colleague dared me to finish a marathon, and if I did, she would cook a meal for me. As a dental student and with a home-cooked meal on the line, I trained and finished my first marathon in 1978 in San Francisco. I got my first marathon T-shirt and a free meal.”

For Dr. Sheu, that first marathon was the catalyst for what would become his lifetime hobby.

“When I was in high school, the closest I came to being a part of any sport was that I was the sports editor of the high school newspaper,” Dr. Sheu said. “I was the geek/nerd who was more comfortable in math competitions than sports competitions. So now I had proven to myself I could run and finish a marathon, I found that inner athlete that showed to myself I could anything I set my mind to.”

Dr. Lau is so dedicated to marathons that he is also a Legacy Runner for the Long Beach Marathon, which began in 1982.

All of his collective experiences defined his philosophy of life.

“You are who you are,” Dr. Lau said. “Life experiences can be good, neutral or bad. Your response can be positive, neutral or negative. Your choice. Life is a journey and depending on your core values — if you have discovered them — you can do the proverbial lemonade or wallow in the mire.  I strive to do my best, focus on what is important, and do the right thing for the right reasons.”

Dr. Sheu said he never thought running all of those marathons as significant until he realized fewer than 140 had done it. About 24,000 people ran in the 2019 Los Angeles Marathon.

“It makes me a better person,” he said of races. “While striving to always do your best to push through adversity, there is also that element of knowing there are forces beyond our control that makes you realize there are limits as well. Running as a physical sport is also a mental exercise as well. If you set your mind to a task, that gives you strength to want to complete it, but doing something physical also imparts that inner voice to know when it is time to accept alternatives. Therefore, as a better person anything I do should culminate in the best effort possible, which includes being a human being, a dentist and a director.”

The 35th edition of the Los Angeles Marathon is in 2020, and both are signed up. They wouldn’t miss it. No matter what.

And don’t be afraid to tell them to break a leg. They’ll still find a way to complete the race.