I’m sitting on a plane on the long journey back home from Athens by way of Frankfurt, Germany. I’m fulfilled, happy, sore, exhausted and a bit overwhelmed at the thought of having achieved a dream. Catching a dream, like catching butterflies as a kid. Catching a dream, like the dream catcher that hangs over my brother’s bed.
Everyone wants to know how it feels, “To make a dream come true.” For five years I have dreamt of becoming the youngest person to run a marathon on all seven continents. Today it is no longer a dream but reality! Yes, I’m happy and even thrilled, but I really don’t think I can put my feelings into words at this point. I really can’t comprehend what setting a world record feels like or means. Maybe I can better answer that question in a few years. One thing is certain though, the journey has been full of many life lessons. Hopefully these lessons will make chasing my next dream equally successful. Some of the lessons were hard and very emotional. Lessons like learning to walk away gracefully from your critics, those who saw age as a barrier or let gender cloud their judgment. Everyone has their opinions, but it is sad when their opinions deter and discourage others from chasing their dreams. How many people have taken the easier path and just walked away, watching their dreams wither? Hopefully, sharing my life lessons will inspire others to set goals and chase dreams.
Lesson number one: Surround yourself with those who believe in you. Never has that been so true than with my run coach, Coach Mark Hadley. I would have never been as successful in each of these marathons without his deep belief in my mission and myself. He donated his time, energy and knowledge to see my dream through to the finish. What you might not realize, though, is that Coach Hadley and I have never met in person. Our distance, separated by 2800 miles, was never an issue or a barrier. We used texts, phone calls, emails and Skype to coordinate my training plan. After my prior run coach, of two years stepped down, he graciously stepped in to coach me just eight weeks before my first marathon in Eugene, OR. My prior run coach had difficulty believing that I could balance being a competitive skier and triathlete, while still being able to adequately prepare as a runner for marathons. I respected my former coach’s decision and I truly believe, as Marilyn Monroe said, “Everything happens for a reason.” Coach Hadley and I were now a team on a mission. My world record would be for my dad and the 1 in 6 men and their families who are affected by prostate cancer, which included Coach Hadley’s dad, a prostate cancer victim.
Lesson number two: Doing something that is for a greater cause than yourself can be very powerful. If you fail, you aren’t letting just yourself down, but others. This goes through my mind on a daily basis. Perhaps it is part of the reason behind my athletic success and why I don’t give up. Giving up and letting my dad’s cancer win is not an option. Having the support of family, friends, followers and sponsors is very motivating. However, I’m motivated even deeper by the critics, motivated by cancer and motivated by age and gender barriers. I have a deep internal drive, a strong desire to show my dad what I’m capable of. Find a cause, make a small difference in someone’s life and see how much better you become as a person and as an athlete.
Arriving in Athens, Greece for my final marathon, on my final continent, was a great lesson in history. Women were not allowed to compete in ancient Olympics, let alone even watch them. The penalty for a woman caught watching the Olympic Games was death! Yet, here I am in 2013, a 14-year-old female athlete crossing the finish line in the historic Panathenaic Stadium. This stadium was the home of the first modern Olympics in 1896. I think of women before me, like Katherine Switzer, running the all-male 1967 Boston Marathon and her work following that with the IOC (International Olympic Committee) to get the women’s marathon into the 1984 Olympic Games. Only because of Katherine’s effort and determination was I able to capture my dream today. I hope my journey to a world record will help open up the future for other young endurance athletes to chase their dreams as well. Currently, the majority of marathons around the world require runners to be an arbitrary age of 18; thus, explaining my five-year battle to get into seven marathons. When seeking entry into a South American marathon, I got this memorable response from a race director, “You can run our 5K but not our marathon.” This is just one of the many responses that have fueled me to success along my journey. Women before me have thankfully removed the gender barrier in running and I am now determined to help break down the age barrier. Ironically, one of the America’s current top female marathoners is 16-year-old Alana Hadley. She happens to be my run coach’s daughter and has qualified for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. Lesson three: Age and gender are not barriers!
As I ran along the route of Pheidippides, from Marathon to Athens, my legs began to burn during the long 10k ascent before descending the final 10k. I wanted to walk but in my mind, walking wasn’t an option. Every marathon I had done has been a challenge. Each marathon had their own set of obstacles. My sixth marathon, Oceania, was just 27 days ago. My legs, thanks to having youth on my side, had recovered from climbing the Great Barrier Island’s mountainous back-country. This, after all, would be my seventh marathon in just 18 months. In Greece, runners are highly respected as demonstrated by the crowds of supporters that stood alongside the historic marathon course. Many were yelling, “Bravo!” as if we were one of the Olympians running for victory. Music lined the course helping me keep up my pace despite the heaviness in my legs. Entering the stadium for the final hundred yards is a vision I will never forget, knowing my dad would be there to be the first to acknowledge my victory. Not only one but two world records were set that day. I would wait at the finish to meet my mom, Dawn Estelle. Together, we would become the first mother/daughter to run a marathon on every continent. She not only supported me at each marathon, but she also went one step further and ran them all.
Everyone is asking, “What is next? What world record are going after now? Will you start doing Ultras? An ultra marathon on every continent?” I know an ultra marathon is definitely in my near future. Picking the right ultra marathon for the right reason is the tougher decision. One thing is certain, though. I will continue to cross train as a runner, triathlete, obstacle course racer and focus more and more on my aerial skiing. My next BIG DREAM is making the 2018 Winter Olympics. I have set many small goals to reach my dream, including making the Junior World Freestyle Ski Team again this year. Last year I made the team but was unable to compete in Italy due to a conflict with my Antarctic Marathon. I will also be striving to make the U.S. National Aerial Ski Team.
Remember, a dream with no plans and no goals will remain just a dream. As I turn 15 on December 18th, it is hard to comprehend the direction my life has taken me. My birthday wish is to continue to inspire others, chase down prostate cancer, continue to chase my dreams and help others along the way!
Never give in!