Todd Shoemaker ’91 celebrated running his 500th mile of the year Friday with a Rocky Balboa-style sprint up the steps of Family Church Downtown.
It was a major milestone for a man who has battled — and overcome — numerous life-threatening health issues over 18 years, all with an unwavering faith that the Lord grew in him as a Palm Beach Atlantic University student.
“When I first started, I was a Christian, but I can’t say I was the strongest Christian on campus,” Shoemaker said.
His parents moved away, and he moved into Weyenberg Hall, where his three roommates were strong men of faith.
“They were very patient with me and walked with me through uncertain times and a lot of questions,” Shoemaker said. “I know that experience fueled my faith, and I came to know the Lord in a real way.”
After graduating, Shoemaker worked in juvenile justice for more than 20 years and volunteered with the middle school ministry at his church.
His physical afflictions began shortly after a church-led mission trip to New York City to work with youth who lost one or both parents in the 9/11 tragedy. Shoemaker sensed the Lord calling him to fast for that week — a call that he wrestled with until 1 a.m. before agreeing.
In the following years, he was diagnosed with multiple forms of arthritis, early-onset Parkinson’s and cancer. He said the day after he had his tumor biopsied, he woke up at 1 a.m. with a reminder from the Lord of his fast in New York City.
Shoemaker said the Lord told him the fast was to prepare him for that moment and that he’d use Shoemaker to bring people to Christ.
During the operation to remove his tumor, he had a vision to start running marathons — despite never having run more than 5 miles at a time. His wife and sister chalked it up to the morphine.
Before long, Shoemaker completed his first half-marathon and just kept running. He encouraged people he met along the way.
“God kept opening opportunities for me to share my story and be a witness,” Shoemaker said.
In 2009, he went to the emergency room with a head cold that was making it hard to breathe. Instead, the doctors gave him 24 hours to live because his body was shutting down. He woke up the next morning in the Intensive Care Unit and started walking around, startling the nurses. After a battery of tests, he was diagnosed with a muscle-weakening condition.
Shoemaker averaged 150 days or more in the hospital each year from 2009 to 2019. During that time, he had the opportunity to share the gospel with more than 1,000 people.
“God gave me a purpose during this to be a missionary at the hospitals and doctor appointments,” Shoemaker said.
At the start of last year, Shoemaker ate through a feeding tube and spoke through a machine around his neck. He was wasting away at 112 pounds.
Shoemaker said again, in November, the Lord woke him up at 1 a.m. and told him he was moving into a season of miracles, healing and revival. He attended a healing service where he was anointed with oil and had a pastor pray for him. He was hungry for the first time in years. Before the year was out, he started running again.
He and wife Laura West Shoemaker, also a PBA alumna, chronicled their journey in a book called “The Blessed Overcomer: The Crazy Beautiful Journey of Todd and Laura Shoemaker.”
Friend and filmmaker Tim Popadic is telling the Shoemakers’ story through a documentary that will be released this fall. A film crew was on hand to capture Shoemaker’s 500th mile as his friends and family, including his mother, cheered him on.
Steve Scalici, a PBA trustee and 1995 graduate, concluded the celebration with a prayer on the steps of the same church where they thought they’d be planning Shoemaker’s funeral a year ago.
“When I go through things, when I walk through things with other people, I’m often reminded of Todd and his journey, how powerful his faith has been,” said Scalici, pastor of Family Church Jupiter. “It’s really been an incredible influence on me, and even to our congregation.”
Photo 1: Todd Shoemaker runs down South Olive Avenue in front of the DeSantis Family Chapel as he completes his 500th mile of the year.
Photo 2: Family and friends cheer on Todd Shoemaker '91 as he finishes running his 500th mile of the year with a sprint up the steps of Family Church Downtown on Friday, Aug. 21, 2020.
Photo 3: Todd Shoemaker poses for a photo after finishing his run with a Rocky Balboa-style sprint up the steps of Family Church Downtown.