Standing in front of fire engine 33 in downtown Ashland on Main Street on Monday, John Lotts is all smiles remembering the day he died. Twice.

Lotts was running the Lithia Loop Marathon on Nov. 17. “It’s a hard run, 10 miles straight up. But I’ve never quit a race.” He recalls the day as a near perfect race day. “Fairly warm. A good day for a run.”

Yet, he also remembers not feeling well. He had heartburn and stomach pain that wouldn’t get better. He says he sat down on the curb. A race coordinator took him to an ambulance where Jim Thomason and Daniel Caples were standing by on firefighter/paramedic duty. “I didn’t want to get in the ambulance. I figured it was expensive and I didn’t need it.”

That’s when, Lotts says, the men saved his life for the first time. “If it hadn’t been for him telling me if I didn’t get in the ambulance it’d be dark, I might not be here today.” Then, suffering from a heart attack at the age of 53, an elite runner in peak condition, Lotts heart stopped. Thomason attached the defibrillator and re-started it. It stopped one more time in the hospital.

“I literally owe them my life.”

Lotts came to the fire station Monday to award his firefighter heroes a medal.

He recently completed the Hagg Lake mud race in Gaston, Oregon. It’s a 31-mile race through mud. It was Lott’s first race since his heart attack. He asked for two additional medals to bring back to the firefighters, saying, “They were running that race with me.”

The firefighters wore the medals for a photo opportunity at the fire station, smiling for pictures and saying they are grateful to know Lotts is OK and that he came back to let them know. “This is what keeps us going through hard calls,” says Caples.

“I think it’s very positive. It’s such a good outcome. It’s very motivating to see someone back to where he is,” says Thomason. “He went out of his way to come thank us. We don’t always know the outcome.”

Lotts says of his near-death experience that he felt the presence of others and one friend in particular came to mind as he died. He describes it as a dream-like feeling with a clear conclusion: “ Appreciate what you have and what you can do. Don’t take anything for granted.”

Thomason also has advice based on that November day. “Listen to your body. It knows the answers.” In the five years Thomason has been working as a firefighter and paramedic, Lotts stands out. “This is the first time we’ve had someone do so well and be back to running races.”

As for Lotts, he is already thinking about the races he has coming up. “I’m going to make it, a 100 miler.” When asked if he has one in mind, Lotts says he’s not sure when but says he is hoping to do it and suspects he will.

“I’ve been running for 10 years. I won’t stop until I have to,” says Lotts, who sells cash registers during the week for Southern Oregon Business Equipment.

With that, the men took leave to get on with the rest of their day and their lives. But the intersection between life and death in November sticks with them.

“I’ll never forget John Lotts,” says Caples, looking on as Lotts speaks with a television reporter. Lott is is smiling for the camera, saying “They saved my life.”

— Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at julieanneakins@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.