Most eyes will be fixed on the leading runners of the two marathons being run tonight, but one amazing story is about a man starting at the back of the pack. In fact, heart-transplant recipient Michael Kutcher, who celebrates the 25th anniversary of his surgery next month, is deliberately beginning his 13.1-mile half-marathon as the last runner to start the Geico Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon featuring 2016 U.S. Olympian Meb Keflezighi.
Michael wears many hats. The Iowa native is a father, assistant VP at Transamerica, motivational speaker and man living with cerebral palsy. Michael also is the twin brother of Ashton Kutcher, who may well be here with wife Mila Kunis, who is expecting their second child.
This story, however, is about Michael and what he is most of all: a survivor. Today after listening to the 3 p.m. Snoop Dogg concert at Las Vegas Village opposite The Luxor, Michael takes on yet another role: Transamerica Tomorrow Chaser.
He’s called a chaser because in starting from the back of the field, Transamerica will make a donation to the American Heart Association for every competitor Michael passes. Tomorrow Chaser is part of the organization’s partnership that promotes heart-healthy lifestyles as integral to achieving a sound financial outlook.
“I have faced a number of challenges throughout my life,” Michael said. “This is a new and different kind of challenge, but one that I’m fully embracing, and I’m excited to be able to support such an important cause.” Michael is putting it mildly when he talks about facing challenges. From the moment he was born, minutes after Ashton in February 1978, he has battled obstacles that have challenged but not defeated him.
Entering the world smaller than his twin at less than 5 pounds, Michael was barely responsive and struggled to take his first breath. Due to outstanding medical care and his determined spirit, Michael pulled through his first days and weeks, but not without lasting adverse effects.
Ask him where he gets his drive, Michael credits Ashton: “It goes back to what I learned at a very young age from words he told me. My brother said, ‘You’re going to go through obstacles, challenges. Your life’s going to have ups and downs, and sometimes it will be difficult. But you’re going to have people along your way to help you, guide you.
‘But at the end of the day, it’s your obstacle, your challenge to overcome.’ So every time I encounter something, I try to grow from it and learn a lesson. Hopefully, it makes me a better person on the other end.”
By age 3, Michael’s battles caused developmental delays caused by irreversible neurological pathologies. Then he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy before he began kindergarten. He didn’t know then that the uphill battle was just getting started. At 13, he was diagnosed with heart failure and after being given a life expectancy of 3 to 4 weeks, he again defeated the odds and received a life-saving heart transplant.
“It’s been 25 years since my transplant, a second chance at life,” Michael said. “My story may be powerful, but it’s important to realize that it’s also uncommon because for many patients there is no second chance. Today, there are more than 120,000 Americans waiting for transplants, and 22 of them die every day. And right there, that’s my motivation to conquer another challenge when I run in Las Vegas.”
Michael is living proof that perseverance and a positive approach can overcome life’s most difficult circumstances and seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Late this afternoon on the Las Vegas Strip, he intends to put those forces together to create a brighter future for others as a Transamerica Tomorrow Chaser.
Michael took time to chat about living with a brother who’s recognized around the globe. “To be honest with you, I view it no differently than having my sister Tausha, who is three years older than us. We are a close-knit family. Ashton has been in his career since he was 18, 19 years old. I’ve grown used to the exposure that comes with it. When I speak of him, I speak of him as my brother. I don’t recognize him in terms of the celebrity status that he has.”
Ashton has admitted that he contemplated committing suicide when he was 13 in hopes that his own heart could be used to save his brother. Their father dissuaded him from jumping from the Cedar Rapids hospital balcony shortly before the emergency heart transplant became available.
Ashton studied biochemical engineering at the University of Iowa motivated by the desire to find a cure for his brother’s heart problem. He portrayed Apple founder Steve Jobs in the 2013 biographical film and is widely known for this TV roles in “That ’70s Show” and “Three and a Half Men.” He also was an early investor in Skype and Airbnb.
“I think he’s a great actor. I think he’s very gifted and skilled in that arena, but it’s hard for me to watch him on TV because I don’t view him as the character he plays. I view him with the mannerisms I grew up with, the voice I grew up with — I view him as my twin brother.”
Besides being blessed with his own grit, Michael recognizes the power his name can pull. “Without some of the exposure my last name brings, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to inspire others,” he said. “I try to take his notoriety, spin it and use it for a good cause.”
We’ll be among the 45,000 runners from 50 states and 83 countries cheering on Michael this afternoon. Organizers at The Competitor Group predict that more than $2 million will be raised for charity. Good luck, Michael.