Tri-City Wellness Center coach Paul Carey and Lucky 13 team member Tanya Watanabe, a breast cancer survivor, look forward to the Tri-City Medical Center Carlsbad Half-Marathon on Jan. 14. Photo by Christina Macone-Greene
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Lucky 13 evolves, readies for Tri-City Medical Center Half-Marathon

CARLSBAD — A group of 13 people, coined as the Lucky 13, form a dedicated team that has trained with fitness gurus at the Tri-City Wellness Center in Carlsbad with the mission to race in the Tri-City Medical Center Carlsbad Half-Marathon on Jan. 14. Each person has overcome a health obstacle making the half-marathon feat even more impressive.

Every July, a new Lucky 13 Team is handpicked. It’s open to anybody in the community, and anyone can apply.

“Lucky 13 is a community outreach program sponsored by Tri-City Medical Center, and it was designed when they opened up the Wellness Center over in Carlsbad in 2009,” Paul Carey, Lucky 13 coordinator and coach, said.

In 2009, Carey, now 39, was a participant in the program. He had battled mental illness for years and found running to alleviate a number of his symptoms.

“The Lucky 13 program and everything it taught me literally saved my life,” Carey said.

He described the 2009 launch as a pilot program.

“I just instantly fell in love with fitness, working out, running, and so I’ve been involved with the program since 2010,” Carey said. “I started working at the Wellness Center and then after a few years became a coach, and then I’ve been running the Lucy 13 program for about three years now.”

The Lucky 13 team ranges from cancer survivors and heart transplant recipients to amputees, and more. When a candidate gets their medical clearance, The Tri-City Wellness Center works with their doctor.

Above all, those seeking to participate at the Wellness Center could be treated anywhere, not just Tri-City Medical Center.

“We’re a community outreach program that goes by 13 incredible stories every year,” he said, adding that those who complete the program are part of the alumni community. “Once you’ve been through the program, you’re empowered. You understand nutrition because you work with a registered dietician. You understand how to work out. You understand how to recover, and how to take care your body.”

Every Lucky 13 team that graduates become mentors for the new team that comes in each year.

For Carey, every candidate’s health is priority one in ensuring they get safely through the program.

Tanya Watanabe, 49, a two-time breast cancer survivor, is one of the Lucky 13 for the Jan. 14 Tri-City Medical Center Carlsbad Half-Marathon. Watanabe was first diagnosed with cancer in 2009 and had a recurrence three years later. She’s doing well now.

Watanabe heard about the Lucky 13 program from her best friend who had participated the same year as Carey.

Watanabe decided to apply in June 2017 for Lucky 13 and secured a spot. She knew she’d get healthier, but didn’t imagine such camaraderie would happen — but it did.

“We have this commonality of challenges which kind of bonded us automatically,” Watanabe said. “It’s been fantastic because you’re going through everything the same as far as the all the training, all the walking, all the running and discipline.”

Watanabe said that with Carey’s coaching and knowledge, along with the Motion Fit Running Club, she is ready for the Jan. 14 half-marathon.

Every Saturday, Lucky 13 meets with Motion Fit for a group run. They are assigned homework runs during the week.

“On Saturdays, we all go out as a big fun team, and we all go at our own pace,” said Carey, noting that they start at one mile and slowly work up from there over the course of six months.

Watanabe said what she’s liked most about the training is how methodical it has been. However, she did share a personal setback — her father passed away.

“Mentally, this program has been so great because it’s not only the exercise but the people, the support, and the love,” she said, holding back the tears. “I’m very blessed. I feel very lucky.”

Since starting the program, Watanabe has seen a significant change in her health. Her stamina is up and her nutritional choices have never been better.

Watanabe adds that this lifestyle change will continue even after the half-marathon.

In addition to the Saturday runs, the Lucky 13 team gets together Monday through Thursday at 6 pm for an hourlong workout. Casey requires a minimum of two workouts per week.

On marathon day, Casey wants Lucky 13 to be in the moment.

“I want them just to enjoy it,” he said. “I always tell them that the best runner is the one having the most fun. I always tell them is it’s not about crossing the finish line, it’s about the journey.”

For Watanabe, what will move her most is spending the day with her team and all the people who helped them make it to that point.

“I am dedicating my run to my dad,” Watanabe said. “This day is going to mean a whole lot.”