Category Archives: Interview

GET TO KNOW THE DISTANCE CHALLENGE: MELISSA & SONJA

Melissa is part of Kayleigh’s Club and Sonja is her running partner. They are both registered for the 2017-2018 Distance Challenge and we will be getting updates from them after every race!

How did y’all come to know each other? 

Melissa: Through Kayleigh’s running club and Sandy and Kayleigh.

Sonja: I met Melissa when I at Austin High helping with Kayleigh’s Running Club. She was one of many that I ran with that first time. When she mentioned wanting to try to accomplish the distance challenge, I told her about the Ship of Fools and it turns out she lives right by the track.

What is your running background? 

Melissa: I have run in the Race for the Cure once. I ran with my sister some before she moved to Vermont. I trained on my own. I would go run around the neighborhood about two times a week.   didn’t like training by myself.  

Sonja: I started running track in 5th grade up North in Illinois. I didn’t do well my first year but lucky for me, I was held back and that is when I exploded! I became a sprinter and would run with the older students so I could have a challenge. They almost always beat me but it made me faster and I loved it. I did track for nine years as a sprinter; 100, 200, and 400 were my individual races and the relays, which I anchored. Over time the 400 became my race but I hated practicing it. My high school coach made me run cross country for three years, which I despised, but there was no way I could say no to my coach. So I would jack rabbit at the start and then walk until the very end of the race and run in… usually last. I was just out there to make a complete team not to actually do anything. If she could see me running long distance now she would flip.

Why did you start running? 

Melissa: I had done volleyball, swimming, basketball, bowling, and softball with Special Olympics. I started running more so I stay active when I am not doing those sports. I heard about Kayleigh’s club through Kayleigh and Ms. Sandy, her mom, and I like to train with my friends. I liked the fact that it isn’t Special Olympics. We were training for the Zilker Relays and I got to race with my friends and it didn’t involve Special Olympics. I liked being with just everybody.

Sonja: I actually started with the Ship of Fools because I had a friend visiting from out of state and she wanted to do a 5K, so we did the Camp Ben McCullough 5K and stayed for the awards. Everyone who was winning was from some running club in San Marcos and that made me curious if Austin had one, and I found the Austin Runner’s Club. The workout times agreed with my teaching schedule and I love the track workouts. It is more than just “go run 3 miles today,” it’s actually an evolving workout that changes weekly.

How did you hear about the Distance Challenge? 

Melissa: Sandy had asked me if I wanted to do the Distance Challenge. I said, “yes.” I want to try running races other then Komen Race for the Cure. I find training for the Distance Challenge has made my running more interesting. I am going to run three half marathons because not everyone with special needs is able to run. I am running for the people with special needs who can’t run. I want people to see that no matter what your disability is, you can achieve things that others have said you can’t do. I have been told by others, “You can’t read. You are not smart enough to be in school. I was told I wasn’t fast enough or strong to do sports.” Kayleigh’s Club and the Distance Challenge has helped me to overcome what others have said I couldn’t do.

Sonja: I heard runners talk about the Distance Challenge during workouts and I thought it sounded neat but way above anything I could actually do. I was just getting to where I could run two miles without falling over. I went to a packet pick up and they were also having those who had signed up for the Distance Challenge picking up their shirts and I signed up as a spur of the moment whim. 

Now I’m training for my third Distance Challenge and it surprises me still that I have been able to run the distances I have. I heard about Kayleigh through the running newsletters and I meet her and her mom, Sandy, at the Distance Challenge celebration last year. I friended her mom on Facebook and our friendship has grown from there. When I found out that Kayleigh wanted more of her friends to run with her, I signed up to help with her club.

How are you training for the first race in the Distance Challenge?

Melissa: I have been swimming every Saturday for my Special Olympics meet and that has helped me with my breathing as I run. I run with the Ship of Fools on Tuesday and Thursdays at O’Henry. I like the track workouts on Tuesday because it is different every Tuesday and it is challenging. Thursday workouts are not as fun because of hills. Hills are hard but Sonja taught me to say, “What the Hill!” as I run up each one. That has helped me because when I do the longer races I can get up the hill. I will win the hill by getting up it!

Sonja: I am trying to get back into a 3-day week of running, but with teaching it is a struggle. It seems every other week there is some after school activity that I’m required to be there for that interferes with practice – back to school night, math night, science night, but when I have been able to make practice I have been running with Melissa and if time allows I do the same workout later that evening or the next day at my tempo. Otherwise, I am primarily focused on helping Melissa to accomplish her goals this year. There is so much joy to be had in watching someone do something they didn’t think was possible.

Tell us a little more about yourselves!

Melissa: I’ve worked as a bagger at Randall’s for the last 14 years and walks many miles every day there. I have lived on my own since I was 22 and I live near the O’Henry Track so I can get there quickly. My disability is intellectual disabled which means I need some assistance. I struggle with some areas such as reading and finances so my family helps me in these areas. I graduated from Westlake High school in 2002, where I took combined regular classes and special education classes.  

Sonja: I teach ESL First Grade at Rodriguez Elementary in Dove Springs. I have been there for 12 years and enjoy the students and the challenge though at times it can be overwhelming. I have been with my husband, Michael, since I was a junior at Crockett High, graduated in 1989. We married in 1991 and have two children. Aaron is a senior at A&M in College Station and will marry next year. Samantha is a sophomore at Southern Nazarene University in Bethany, Oklahoma.

Thank you for sharing your story with us! We are thrilled to have you #DareTheDistance with us this year and can’t wait to see you at the 80’s 8K!!

GET TO KNOW THE DISTANCE CHALLENGE: JENN OTTO

In this blog series, we’ll get to know some of our new and veteran Distance Challenge (DC) participants. If you have a story you’d like to share, let us know! Interviews by DC Coordinator, Hannah Kanne dc@austinrunners.org.

I started running a few years ago. I was in the middle of a weight loss journey (55lbs!) and needed to add more exercise. Running seemed to make sense. I did cross country and track in high school, but that was more of a social endeavor. Running helped with the weight loss and provided me with a much needed release. As a stay at home mom to four kids, some quiet time is a must! I usually run in the wee hours of the morning and don’t often run with anyone. I usually don’t even listen to music! I do have a few phrases I repeat to myself. My favorite when it’s really hot is “the slower you run, the hotter the sun!” or on those challenging days, “fast or slow, just go!” Mostly, it is just me and the road.

When I reached my weight loss goal, I completed my first 5K with my sister in Maine. The plan was to run together. However, the moment the gun went off and those heads started bobbing, the wildebeest instinct took over and off I went! I was hooked. My sister eventually forgave me and I quickly looked for another 5K to sign up for. Fate brought me to the Brain Power 5K. I am an 18-year brain tumor survivor and still struggle with an uncoordinated right side and balance issues. For some reason, the forward momentum from running keeps me somewhat stable.

Since that first Brain Power 5K, I have participated in many races from 5K to marathon. My first half marathon was Moe’s Better Half in San Marcos (pictured). Since then, I have learned how important elevations maps are! In the next few years, I completed two marathons and was ready for a break when I heard about the Distance Challenge. I signed up the following year and was on schedule to complete it, until I was injured. Being a stubborn runner, I was determined to walk the Rogue Distance Festival (30K). After a mile of walking, I thought I would try running. It felt okay at the time, but at the finish, I could barely walk. I planned to walk the 3M, but still couldn’t even walk to my car. Thanks to Dr. Tuggle (The Tri Doc) I recovered. I did walk the Austin Half Marathon, but I did not complete the Distance Challenge. Incomplete goals don’t fly with me…

Unfortunately, it was just the start of injuries. I was back to running in March and registered for the Bay of Fundy International Marathon in June; a marathon that starts in Maine, runs into Canada and ends in Maine. The trip of a lifetime! I racked up the miles too quick and suffered a stress fracture a week before the marathon. Again, I managed to walk the half marathon. I signed up for the next Distance Challenge on the first day I could. I was going to get better and I was going to run again. I signed up for the Austin Marathon too. But injuries would plague me again. After the first race of the Challenge, my back was sore. A week later, I could barely function. It took a very long time with a lot of stretching, rolling and chiropractic care (thanks Dr. Tuggle!), but I didn’t miss any races! I was even able to complete the Austin Marathon!

Now, here we are at the start of another racing season. I completed Vern’s No Frills 5K in August with my 13-year-old daughter, and my kids will all be running in the Brain Power 5K. We have made running a family event! They wake up most Sunday mornings to find that Mommy is already on a run or sometimes even back already. Now, they want to be a part of it too. Two years ago, I left at 3:30 am to get 20 miles in before the Brain Power 5K. I met my family at the race and ran the 5K with them. I earned an ice cream that day! They have enjoyed visiting Dallas, Taylor, Texas, and the Bay of Fundy, Maine for Mommy’s races. In November, they get to go to Tulsa, Oklahoma to watch my next marathon, the Route 66 Marathon. I’ve done several races in Colorado, where I have family as well. I always try to schedule a race when I go on “vacation.” I run for my health and racing on vacation keeps it fresh on my mind.

My goal with the Distance Challenge is to stay healthy. I want to show my kids that there are healthy choices in what we eat and what we do with our time. I am selfish in that I honestly enjoy the alone time. I love the feeling of completing a goal that only I can achieve for myself. I hope to show my kids that hard work pays off.

My family will be on the 80s 8K course cheering everyone on. Eventually, they will be running the Distance Challenge with me, too.

Thank you for sharing your story with us, Jenn! We can’t wait to see your family cheering you on as you #darethedistance injury-free this year!

Get to know the Distance Challenge: Greg Leitich

In this blog series, we’ll get to know some of our new and veteran Distance Challenge (DC) participants. If you have a story you’d like to share, let us know! Interviews by DC Coordinator, Hannah Kanne dc@austinrunners.org.

I was born and raised in Chicago (North Side, so I’m a Cubs fan), came to Austin for graduate school in electrical engineering and fell in love with the city. After law school, more time in Chicago, and the second worst blizzard in Chicago’s history, I decided that Austin was looking better and better, so I came back.  

In high school, I was fairly sedentary — I spent most of my time reading and going to movies with friends. I also have terrible hand-eye coordination, so anything involving throwing or hitting or catching with accuracy was out! During my senior year, I decided I was tired of sweating and breathing heavy from going up a flight of stairs, so I started running and lifting weights and tried to get in shape. Through college and grad school, I added biking and swimming, and by my mid-twenties I was doing marathons and Olympic-distance triathlons.

In my late-thirties, I found managing the day job and all that real life stuff hard to juggle with seriously working out, so I didn’t do anything serious again from my mid-thirties to mid-forties. My last marathon had been the 2000 Austin Marathon. Periodically, I thought about doing one again and, in fact, signed up for one or two, but never found time to do the training. I had gained weight and running the longer distances was hard on my knees.

About five years ago, I discovered I was tired of sweating and having to breathe hard merely from walking up the hill to my house. Also around that time, I needed to buy some new jeans and was aggrieved to discover that I was going to have to go up to a size I’d never worn before.  

I decided this time I would actually run the Austin Marathon again and began training in earnest. I ran the 2013 marathon and finished with a personal worst. But, I’d lost 35 pounds along the way and no longer qualified for the Clydesdale division so I didn’t care. Much.

I sort of fell off the wagon the following year but decided that I should take advantage of the stuff that had attracted me to Austin in the first place: the active outdoors community and, yes, the weirdness. I decided that just one race a year was not the right approach. I’d done the 3M Half Marathon and the Decker Challenge back in the 90’s so I looked them up and discovered they were now part of this thing called the Austin Distance Challenge, which culminated in the Austin Marathon. So, I signed up…

What are your running goals? At the moment, my goal is to run a PB in a marathon. My best of the century (2015) is just under 4 hours but I’d like to bring that down. My PB of all time is around 3:45 but that was all downhill (and twenty years ago!). I would love to qualify for Boston but haven’t yet decided if it would be more efficient to try to improve my running times or simply live long and gracefully enough to let qualifying times catch up with me…

What do you do outside of running? Well, along with the running, I’ve taken up triathlons again and recently completed the Capital of Texas Tri and Jack’s Generic Tri. I’m more comfortable on the swim than I used to be but the running leg is more painful than I remember it. I have signed up for the Austin Ironman 70.3 and I’ve never done that distance before. The training is taking up a lot of time!

I enjoy cooking, largely because I enjoy eating — everything from sushi to pizza to steak to stir fry to chili to goulash. I also still spend plenty of time reading. I’m a recovering lawyer and a full-time children’s book author these days. I write mostly comedic and/or science fiction novels for middle grade readers, although my agent is shopping a couple picture books and nonfiction works as well. 

I also teach workshops and do school visits, encouraging literacy and reading. You can find out about my books at my web site http://www.gregleitichsmith.com

Have you participated in a Distance Challenge before? This will be my third consecutive Distance Challenge. I like the DC as a build-up to the Austin Marathon, and the other races are fun as well. The 80’s 8K isn’t the most picturesque but the music at start and finish is a riot. The Run for the Water has a great downtown route and the Decker Challenge and 3M Half Marathons are just iconic Austin races. 

This year, my goal is to beat all of my last year’s times…except maybe the 3M because the 2017 version featured a near-hurricane-level tailwind (it’s entirely possible I went airborne running past Darrell K. Royall-Memorial Stadium!).

Favorite type of food? Periodically I spend a couple weeks and do a Pizza-a-fay diet where I have a pizza from a different place each day. My favorite is the Chicago-style pizza with the cracker-thin crust and a tavern cut. Unfortunately, you can’t get it in Austin so I have to make my own. On event days, the banana is the perfect food. 

Do you like to listen to music while you run? I do not. I sweat more than most human beings and don’t like the sensation of ear buds floating in my ears. Also, I tend to zone out a bit when I run as it is, so I don’t want to risk missing car horns, the screech of tires, sirens, and the like. I also find that long runs are good for working out plot points in my novels-in-progress.

Thanks for sharing your story, Greg! We can’t wait to follow along as you #darethedistance and get that personal best this season.

 

 

ARC Interview with William Greer

William Greer is a runner. Like many of us, he runs sometimes on roads and sometimes on trails. He has a regular Saturday morning running group. He has run half marathons, marathons and ultras working through everyday challenges like overuse injuries and trying to qualify for Boston. Unlike many of us, William has trouble seeing. He was born in Chicago then grew up in Texas. He was out riding a bike at 17 without a helmet and crashed. The open skull wound led to his lasting visual impairment, and he has been legally blind ever since.

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ARC Interview with Sandy Cumming

20160430_111758For this Austin Runners Club Interview, we have a local celebrity. Sandy Cumming has been a member of the ARC for 20 years, has served on the ARC Board, volunteered countless times (but we definitely count on her) and is part of the amazing Al and Sandy Cumming team, a couple that has done so much for Austin running and the ARC. They lead the Ship of Fools intermediate training group, with 3 of our ARC training runs and the Austin Runners Club Marathon Training groups.

Sandy used to live in Burnet, TX, just up 183 and over on 29 from Austin. She met Al Cumming when she was the Race Director for the Bluebonnet 5K in Burnet. They married and lived there for a while. It used to be a tradition to attend two local races and end up at Al and Sandy’s house in Burnet, for local barbecue and donuts “as big as your face”, or “breakfast, immediately followed by lunch”. Continue reading »

ARC Interview with Amber Wadey

Amber

Image courtesy Amber Wadey

Amber is brand new to ARC. She ran a little bit in her mid-20’s but was struggling to get through 2 miles when she signed up for the Marathon Relay with a bunch of friends in 2014. They were raising money for LIVESTRONG and one of the fundraising incentives that year was an entry into the Austin Half Marathon. Running a half marathon was NOT on her bucket list, but she figured she’d give it a try. She read every running book she could get her hands on and created a training plan. When she crossed that finish line in 2015, she figured if she could do it once, she could do it again (and again). So far, as of this writing, she has completed the 3M Half, the Alamo 13.1 and the Austin Half Marathon (twice).

Soon after finishing this year’s Austin Half, Amber saw the wrap-up infographic for the ARC Distance Challenge on Facebook. She typically would not have considered joining a group or registering for a series of races, but looking at the average age and pace, she realized immediate that the Distance Challenge was for her. She was the first person to sign up the day registration opened for the 2016/2017 Austin Runners Club Distance Challenge.

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