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Children’s Hospital New Orleans CEO finds inspiration running with teen

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Lucio Fragoso helped a boy who uses a wheelchair complete his first 10K. The teen is now fired up for more races, but Fragoso says the young man has helped him, too.

Lucio Fragoso has run hundreds of races.

The president and CEO of Children’s Hospital New Orleans, Fragoso has run more than 30 marathons and recently completed a 45-mile trail run in the Grand Canyon. He’s completed a 100-K race and is training for his first 100-mile race later this year.

But he found fresh inspiration with a running partner in his teens.

Fragoso helped Brian Marelo complete his first 10K. Brian is a 14-year-old with spina bifida and uses a wheelchair. Brian has been a patient at Children's Hospital New Orleans, and his mother, Gwenn, is a nurse leader at the hospital.

Brian began running 5Ks, and Fragoso ran with him for his first 10K-race, the LCMC Health Crescent City Classic in New Orleans in March.

“The kid’s an inspiration,” Fragoso tells Chief Healthcare Executive®.

Fragoso has known Brian for five years. After Brian ran the 5K distance, Fragoso says he approached him about pushing the envelope and taking on the 10K. Brian didn’t hesitate. “He didn’t even blink an eye,” Fragoso says.

“It’s infectious,” he says. “I mean, here's a kid that has all the excuses in the world, on why he shouldn't do things. And just no excuses from him, whatever it is. You know, I just love that attitude. And I tell people all the time, if you're around our kids, their inspiration, their courage, their resilience is inspiring. And I think that's what we get out of these kids.”

And he welcomed the opportunity to run with Brian.

“If I could be helpful, in continuing his journey on this, I was all in,” Fragoso says. “And just, to me, it was just an absolute inspiration to be with him. It was so fun.”

The race has become a New Orleans tradition during Easter weekend. This year, nearly 15,000 runners took part in the event, and thousands more lined the streets to cheer on the participants.

Fragoso says as they ran together, Brian received plenty of cheers and encouragement during his first 5K.

“It's a whole community of people gathered together, supporting each other, having a good time,” Fragoso says. “And I got to share that with Brian, who, you know, ended up just being an absolute inspiration. And just to hear people celebrate and encourage him for these 6.2 miles through our city. I was like, wow, there it is. That is the coolest thing. It doesn't get any more New Orleans than that.”

When they were racing, Fragoso says he wanted to help him do his best but didn’t want to push him too hard.

“I wanted to challenge him, but I also wanted to set him up for success, so he wants to continue on this journey,” Fragoso says.

As Brian continued to fare well, Fragoso encouraged him to pick up the pace. Brian moved faster with each mile. At the halfway point, Fragoso told Brian if he was still feeling good, then it was time to push harder.

By the finish, his second half of the race was faster than the first. He completed his final mile of the race in under 9 minutes.

“He was just crushing it. He was feeling his oats, which was just so fun,” Fragoso says.

During the last 200 yards, Fragoso says, “He just just kicked it into the last gear and just finished strong. And you could see his face was just exhausted and just excited.”

Fragoso relished running with Brian, and now the goal is to train for a half-marathon. But Fragoso makes it clear that while he may have helped Brian with the race, Brian is helping him, too.

“I think about Brian, and everything that he could be facing,” Fragoso says. “And he chooses positivity and he chooses relentless forward progress. I mean, this is a teenager with spina bifida. And he's figuring out how to live his best life, despite whatever barriers and challenges have been put in front of him.”

Children’s Hospital New Orleans works with children with all varieties of health needs, and Fragoso says the kids are enriching the lives of the caregivers.

“They overcome, they push,” Fragoso says. “They're the ones that teach us, be stronger than your excuses, right? You can have excuses or you can have results, but you can't have both. And they choose results. Those are the kids that inspire us.

“And that's why I love doing what I do here at the hospital, because every day I see it. Every day, these kids are struggling with something. But they’ve got a smile on their face. They're pushing through it. And, you know, how do you not just be inspired by that?”

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