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As dementia descended, runner took long walks. She died on one of them.

Theresa McCourt was the first Run to Feed the Hungry women’s winner.
Theresa McCourt was the first Run to Feed the Hungry women’s winner. rpench@sacbee.com

Walking through the trees and parks of East Sacramento was the one activity that brought Theresa McCourt joy as late-stage dementia made other tasks impossible, her husband, Howard Price, said. The longtime runner was fatally struck by a vehicle Thursday night after wandering from her quiet neighborhood on foot.

McCourt, 58, was diagnosed in 2012 with logopenic primary progressive aphasia, a rare form of dementia characterized by a loss of language and reasoning skills. Even as the disease degraded her ability to read, drive and take care of herself, she remained physically fit and eager to explore, Price said.

On the morning of the accident, McCourt was angry with Price because he offered to help her with a zipper on a sweater, he said. Once a marathon runner and professional poet, she was growing increasingly frustrated by her dependence on others and often went for walks as a release, he said.

“The one thing she was was ambulatory,” Price said. “Because she spent her life outdoors either running or gardening, that was the way she could calm herself if she got agitated. … Sometimes it was a 30 minute walk, sometimes it would be four or five hours. I didn’t know exactly where she was, but she’d always come back.”

She left around 9 a.m. Thursday, after throwing the sweater at Price in a fit of anger. As the hours passed, he grew worried. Friends and neighbors knew about McCourt’s condition, and some posted on the mobile app Next Door about possible sightings. He went on a drive to look for her. Officers searched the neighborhood and other locations into the evening for McCourt.

At about 10:45 p.m. Thursday, McCourt was walking in the roadway westbound on 47th Avenue in an eastbound lane, according to the California Highway Patrol. She was hit by a vehicle driven by Andre Pointer, 41, of Sacramento.

Pointer saw McCourt in the path of his vehicle and slammed on his brakes but was unable to stop, the CHP said. McCourt was transported to the hospital.

Pointer remained at the scene of the crash, according to the CHP. After interviewing him, officers determined that Pointer was driving under the influence of alcohol. He was arrested and booked into Sacramento County jail.

Whether Pointer will face manslaughter charges depends on what extent alcohol contributed to the collision compared to other factors, according to CHP spokesman Officer Michael Bradley.

McCourt died in the hospital Sunday night after being taken off life support. Dozens of loved ones visited the hospital over the weekend, Price said.

Price and McCourt met at a running club in 1994, and had a son together in 2001. McCourt was an elite runner who clocked a 2-hour, 50-minute marathon and won the inaugural Run to Feed the Hungry 10K in 1994 with a time of 38:17. As a young mother, she helped organize a group of stroller-pushing parents who went under the informal name of “Moms on M Street” or “Mums on M Street,” as the British expatriate put it.

McCourt continued clocking runs even after her diagnosis, including a half marathon in Humboldt County and a final go in the California International Marathon. Many of her friends knew about her dementia and ran with her for support, Price said.

“She began to get distracted while she was running,” he said. “She would wave at people, or stop, or think she wanted to help someone in the race. She wasn’t able to keep the connection between the mental rigor of running and the training with how her body was doing.”

Neurologists told Price that running and walking might help slow the progress of the dementia, he said. But as her condition worsened and daily life became more difficult, her family began to consider putting her in a care facility.

“People who knew her understood her need to be free, to be outside,” he said. “I knew that there would come a time when I wasn’t going to be able to let her go, and I was hoping I could get her into a care unit before something happened.”

Cathy Locke contributed to this report. Bill Lindelof: 916-321-1079, @Lindelofnews

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