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St. Luke’s cardiac rehab patient sprints his way to National Senior Games

Jim Lucker describes himself as a self-taught sprinter. He learned his technique for getting out of the blocks after watching a few videos. He can sometimes be found at area high school tracks perfecting his technique.
By Chris Langrill, News and Community
June 10, 2019
Jim Lucker poses with his first-place ribbon after winning his age group at the Famous Idaho Potato 5k in 2018.

Jim Lucker has always been a pretty active person.

In 2013, he learned that even active people have heart attacks.  

“The heart event I had, there were no signs,” said Lucker, who was playing racquetball before being taken to St. Luke’s, where he underwent a stent procedure. “There are just some people like me who don’t really have any problems, and then – snap your fingers – they’ve got a problem.”

Lucker had previously competed in the Idaho and National Senior Games as a sprinter, and he was determined to get back on the track and active again.

St. Luke’s cardiac rehabilitation program stepped in to help.

“St. Luke’s set up a special program for me and they had me sprinting with a monitor on my heart,” said Lucker, who, as an added measure, made changes to his diet. “They would analyze how my heart was working before and after exercise. That’s the kind of care I got, and that gave me the confidence to go back out and do it again.”

And he is back at it. 

June 14-25, Lucker, 77, will compete in the 50-, 100- and 200-yard dashes and the discus throw at his third National Senior Games in Albuquerque, N.M.

“Working with people at St. Luke’s cardiac rehab has been very helpful,” Lucker said. “Sometimes I’m as fast, or even a little bit faster as I get older, depending on the race.

Neil Melvin, the interim director of St. Luke’s Heart Health and Rehabilitation Clinic, has worked with Lucker for years. Melvin said Lucker is a great example of how beneficial a cardiac rehab program can be for patients.

Research shows that cardiac rehab can reduce mortality rates and hospitalizations, enhance function and quality of life, and improve measurables such as cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure.

“He continues to want to progress,” Melvin said. “Every day when he comes in, he’s trying to push it.”

“When you go to nationals you compete against some people who have been doing this their whole lives and are still competing on a high level,” Lucker said. “My goal is to do the best I can and try to get as close as I can to some of the really fast runners.”

Lucker currently holds the Idaho Senior Games record in the 50-yard dash in the 70- to 74-year-old and 75- to 79-year-old age groups.

Seeing Lucker enjoy such meaningful benefits of cardiac rehab, like getting active again, is especially rewarding for Melvin.

“A lot of times patients are scared,” Melvin said. “They’ve just come off a very significant event and they don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s very rewarding to work with a patient and help them build up their confidence.”

In turn, Lucker returns the favor, helping other patients as a member of the Treasure Valley Patient Advisory Council.

“Jim has an overwhelming drive to be the best at whatever he chooses to do,” Melvin said.

There’s no doubt his drive will be on display at the National Senior Games in Albuquerque later this week.

About The Author

Chris Langrill is a writer and copy editor for the St. Luke’s Communications and Marketing department.