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Posted: Wednesday, August 8, 2007 11:00 pm

Life is short, and on the morning of April 14 two men learned the hard way that each day could be their last. Just before sunrise, Eric Waterman, 35, Kenneth Jaravata, 36, Ann Durkin, 39, and Luan Huynh, 32, met at the Ahwatukee Foothills Family YMCA for an 11-mile run. Their plan to return to the YMCA in time to watch the annual 5K fun run quickly took an alternate route when 25-year-old Yoon Keop Kim's 2005 Honda Accord veered off course, just short of the intersection at Pecos Road and 17th Street. While running in the safety lane along Pecos, the car struck Waterman first. After smashing onto the windshield, Waterman's body was sent soaring 8 to 10 feet into the air. Jaravata was struck second, and the two other runners were unharmed. According to police, Kim was over the legal alcohol limit. He was booked on one count of aggravated assault and two counts of reckless endangerment. "It was literally like the movies," said Waterman, a finance manager at Intel and father of two. "I was lying in bed and I saw the clouds open up and I was in the hospital." Waterman broke his right tibial plateau, top right humerus and tore the posterior cruciate ligament in his left leg. He remained in the County Hospital for five days, unable to see his children. "I lucked out and didn't have to have surgery," Waterman said. "I do 12 hours of physical therapy a week at Foothills Sports Medicine. It's almost like I've become a part-time employee there." Jaravata suffered from a heavily bruised right quadricep and lacerations down his entire right leg. After spending nearly three months in physical therapy, he has successfully competed in two triathlons. "We're both just happy to be here today," said Jaravata, a pharmacist and father of three. A long road to recovery At 5:30 a.m. last Saturday morning, a group of 20 runners huddled outside the Ahwatukee Foothills Family YMCA. Among them, both Waterman and Jaravata stretched together for the first time since April. Three-and-a-half months after the accident, Waterman ran 7 miles, the longest distance he has attempted since his release from the hospital. It was his first time running with a group again. "The day of the accident I was starting to prepare for Ironman Arizona 2008," Waterman said. "It was the day before the 2007 race, and I was going to kick-off a year of training." A two-time Boston Marathon qualifier, Waterman still has big plans this year. He will compete in the Soma Half Ironman Triathlon in October and the P.F. Chang's Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Marathon in January. Jaravata took time off from running after the accident with a vacation to California last month. "I started running a few miles here and there, but I'm not as fast as I was before." Jaravata plans on competing in the Timex Triathlon in September and Soma Quarter Ironman in October. Lessons from life "Those who drink and drive do not realize they are impacting more than just themselves," Waterman said at Starbucks Saturday morning after the run. "In this case, nine small children could have been left with one parent." Waterman and Jaravata said they've learned not to take life for granted, to live each day like it's their last. Both said the strong community and family support they received impacted their recovery. "I want people to know that when running and training, it's important to do it in groups," Jaravata said. "If it was just one of us out there that morning and we got hit, we could have just been left dead." After the accident, Durkin, one of the runners that escaped injury, started petitioning the City Council. Jaravata also wrote a letter to the council, explaining what had happened. Their goal - to create a safe place for athletes to exercise - was met when the event "Silent Sundays" was created. Scheduled one Sunday a month, the roads of South Mountain Park are now closed to vehicles. "We have to be able to create a safe environment to exercise," Waterman said. "The Valley is one of the largest exercising communities and there are a lot of accidents." Corinne Frayer can be reached at (480) 898-7917 or cfrayer@aztrib.com.

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