Runner honors his friend, who hopes to return

Eric Dorn (second from left) and Dan O'Neill (right) grew up as next-door neighbors and best friends in Medford, Burlington County. Dan suffered a bad accident in 2006.
Eric Dorn (second from left) and Dan O'Neill (right) grew up as next-door neighbors and best friends in Medford, Burlington County. Dan suffered a bad accident in 2006.
Posted: April 18, 2012

The Inquirer is presenting one profile a day of participants in the May 6 Blue Cross Broad Street Run. See full coverage at www.philly.com/broadstreetrun .

Eric Dorn and Dan O'Neill grew up next-door neighbors and best friends in Medford, Burlington County. Dan was a track star at Shawnee High School and Kutztown University, and Eric was his biggest booster, always broadcasting Dan's exploits.

"Everyone knew he ran a 4:22 mile the day after his senior prom without any sleep the night before," Eric said.

Eric tells a favorite story about Dan and the Broad Street Run: "He was running late, the traffic was a mess, and his girlfriend drove him in from Manayunk. He arrived literally putting his shoes on as the gun went off, didn't warm up, and proceeded to get to the starting line and run 10 miles in 62 minutes. No big deal for him, just another run."

After college, Eric was the one who started running.

Dan was a supporter, pushing and encouraging him.

Dan and Eric are both 33 now. Eric is a pediatrician, living in South Jersey. But Dan's life changed forever Sept. 16, 2006, when he was at Eric's bachelor party in Atlantic City. They were having a good time. It was an accident, and nobody saw it coming. Dan fell four stories from a hotel window.

His body was mangled and his brain severely injured. He was in the ICU for months, in a coma. At one point, Dan said, doctors recommended removing his life support, but that day Dan coughed, and his parents wanted to wait.

Dan not only lived, but got better.

"Most people, including myself, a doctor, thought Dan would never walk, talk, or do much of anything ever again," Eric said. "But months and months and years went by, and now Dan is not only walking and talking, but has started to run again. I go for runs with him, and now I am the one pushing him.

"What he doesn't know is that every time I run, he still pushes me."

Dan has run a 400 meters in the Special Olympics, and a few 5Ks. His right arm has no feeling and little function, and he must run with it in a sling. He still requires surgeries that set him back, but he's getting better.

Eric has become a pretty good runner himself. He hasn't missed a Broad Street Run since Dan's accident, and his goal has been to run the race in 62 minutes, which was Dan's time that crazy day when he didn't even lace up his shoes.

Last year at Broad Street, Eric ran 65 minutes. And this year may be his last chance to equal Dan's time.

Because next year, Eric is hopeful he can run the race with his old friend.

"Next year, there is a chance Dan might be able to run with me, which will be incredible," Eric said. "This year, though, I am going out alone just trying to catch up to him."

Dan says he will be ready in 2013.

"I'd enjoy trying to whup his butt," Dan joked. "He's getting older, too."


Contact Michael Vitez at 215-854-5639 or mvitez@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @michaelvitez.

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