It's typical of Dominic Alexander's indomitable spirit that he was a tad disappointed he didn't run a lifetime best in the recent World Disney World Full Marathon.
He had a pretty good excuse. He ran with a ceramic plate installed on the left side of his brain after spending more than a year recovering his cognitive and physical skills following a terrible accident at home.
Alexander, though, is not someone who like to make excuses.
"My next marathon, I definitely want to run my best time," said the 33-year-old former football and baseball standout at Lynden High School. "But the marathon in Orlando was certainly a major milestone for me.
"My running goal for 2013 is to participate in a long run each month," he said. "I also (eventually) want to return to my full-time job at BP Cherry Point (where he worked for seven years before his accident)."
Alexander said he is "about 90 percent back" from the day in May 2011 when he sustained a severe head injury in a fall from a ladder at home.
When he was injured, his wife, Teresa, was eight months pregnant with daughter Tavia, now 11/2 years old. Their older child, son Trey, is now 3.
"We were so very blessed to receive amazing support from hundreds of people in the community," said Teresa.
Not the least of that, the Alexanders said, has been never-to-be-forgotten help from co-workers at BP Cherry Point and friends at Bellingham's Christ the King Church.
"For us, it's all about God, family and friends," Dominic said.
And, he added, it's also about the long-term care benefits he has received from Cigna, in connection with his work at BP Cherry Point. It's also about Achilles International, a New York City-based nonprofit that sponsors the participation of people with disabilities in mainstream athletic events.
In Alexander's case, that was the World Disney World Full Marathon Jan. 13 in Orlando, Fla. Accompanied by John Armstrong, a Cigna employee who is also an accomplished runner, Alexander finished in 5 hours, 13 minutes, 35 seconds as one of 30 runners sponsored by Achilles in the race. Alexander, who ran the Chuckanut 50K in 2006 and 2007, has a marathon best of four hours.
Alexander said he'll never forget the experience. He expressed gratitude to Cigna and to Achilles International, which he had never heard of before his accident.
Betty Sims, Alexander's Dallas-based vocational rehabilitation counselor, is employed by Cigna. She said she sensed how much Alexander could benefit by participating in the Achilles International program.
"Dominic likes challenges," Sims said in a phone interview from Dallas. "I knew about the Achilles program and I recommended the event to him. Our roles (as counselors) are to assist people in returning to work ... and to help people get the most out of life."
Was Sims at all surprised Alexander finished the marathon?
"I knew he would," said Sims, who continues to consult regularly with Alexander.
Teresa said her husband owes much to Sims.
"She's very personable," Teresa said.
Megan Lombardo, director of development for Achilles International, said Alexander became one of the hundreds of people with disabilities (both congenital and caused by accidents and illnesses) aided by the 30-year-old nonprofit organization. He was sent to Achilles by Cigna's Customer Referral Program.
"We help people with all kinds of disabilities," she said in a phone interview from New York City while talking about the organization's history and what has emerged as "an innovative program" in partnership with Cigna.
"We're dedicated to enabling people with disabilities to participate in mainstream athletics," she said.
The focus, she said, is on running and triathlons. Achilles has numerous virtual training programs and coaches, such as Barbara Evans, the woman who worked with Alexander to achieve his initial running goal of finishing the marathon at Orlando.
Lombardo often tells the story of how Achilles International started.
"My boss, Richard Traum, lost a leg in a car accident about 40 years ago," she said. "He became the first amputee to run the New York Marathon. Later, he founded Achilles International."
Alexander said his experience was enhanced by the fact that, through support from Achilles, he was able to finish the marathon in front of his family.
"John Armstrong was a great guy to run with," he said. "We're both runners and we're both Christians, so we have a lot in common. I really appreciate what he did for me."
Alexander, a 1998 Lynden graduate, has fond memories of playing football for coach Curt Kramme as a linebacker and tight end, and baseball for coach Cory White as a centerfielder and pitcher.
"I played four seasons of each," he said, recalling how much his parents, Hattie and the late Pastor Denny Alexander (who died Jan. 18, 2011), enjoyed watching him play with his twin brother, Dante, now a Bellingham police officer. "One of my favorite memories is being selected to play in the Washington all-state baseball games and in the Washington-Oregon games."
"The paper called us the 'double trouble twins,'" Dominic said with a laugh.
Alexander's rehabilitation remains an on-going process.
"The ceramic plate replaced about 25 percent of my skull," said Alexander, who has undergone speech therapy along with physical therapy. "I've learned so much through rehabilitation. I sent a letter of encouragement to Gabby Giffords," he said of the former U.S. House of Representatives member who continues her fight to recover after being shot in the head during a mass shooting in Arizona.
"At first, I was kind of depressed," Alexander said, recalling his early recovery and rehabilitation. "I really didn't realize what had happened. But I finally accepted what happened while I was re-learning my cognitive skills."
While working toward returning to his job, the ever-energetic Alexander says he has "really enjoyed doing volunteer work with Nooksack Salmon Enhancement and with Whatcom County Parks and Rec."
Alexander says that no matter how much help he continues to receive from family, friends, employer and insurance company, he'll always remember one primary benefit.
"God is definitely walking with me," he said.