Monday, September 20, 2010

Two Women, Two Stories, One Goal

(A) Jill White runs down a Putnam County lane in preparation for next Sunday’s Komen 5K. (Photo by Dallas Smith). (B) Uber-runner Margie Stoll completes a track workout in July of 2008, running on the Harpeth Hall School track in Nashville where she does most of her training. (Photo by Hans Stoll).


Most of the work I do these days falls under the heading of either "home maintenance" or "public service." Neither one pays me any money. And I'm not counting running. It doesn't pay either. Pro bono, I believe, the lawyers call that kind of work. But I'm not whining. All that fits neatly into some kind of plan, I suppose.

One public service gig I got talked into was to write a promotion story for the local Komen Race for the Cure 5K. Fortunately for me, I knew a couple of interesting women to write about. If the story of their experiences helps bring in some runners, well, then I'm glad I put it in the paper. From the Herald-Citizen, September 19, 2010.


Two women of different generations, different backgrounds, will join in common cause next Sunday when the second annual Komen Race for the Cure 5K kicks off. Hundreds of runners will join them. The 5K starts at Tucker Stadium at 2:00 p.m., September 26. Race village opens at noon.

Local runner Jill White is half the age of Nashville’s Margie Stoll. Mrs. White was reared in rural Smith County and has always lived in Tennessee, while Mrs. Stoll lists the urban locations of St. Louis, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. as her past homes. Both women are seasoned athletes. Their paths converge next Sunday.

Mrs. White attended the Komen 5K last year. Her blond hair was just then growing back out, and she wore a baseball cap for cover. Despite her recent bout with breast cancer, she may have won that race. She thought she was the first cancer veteran across the finish line. Then she realized she’d failed to put the timing chip on her shoe. “No chip, no time,” is the warning all racers know. “I was so mad!” she says.

Don’t count on her making that mistake this year.

She learned competition early, when she was growing up on the family farm near Gordonsville. Her father put up a basketball goal. He showed her how to shoot a hook shot. The hook shot didn’t take, but other shots did.

Mrs. White, who stands 5 feet 8 inches and is now 33 years old, played forward four years for the Gordonsville Tigerettes. She was co-captain during her senior year.

She recalls many games. In one, against Trousdale County, she scored 28 points. “I was a three-point shooter,” she notes simply.

And so she was. She recounts another favorite moment.

“The real highlight was my senior year and playing Celina, a big rival, and we were down by two points.” Although not the intended shooter, as the last naked seconds ticked off the clock, she found the ball in her hands and could not help but do what instinct and her dad’s teaching and four years of basketball playing demanded: she put up the shot. It went in.

“I shot a three-pointer, and we won!” The gym erupted in celebration. “And it was crazy!”

Then life after high school settled in. A stint at Volunteer State, interrupted by work in a factory and in the office of a nursing home, eventually led her to Tennessee Tech. In 2003 she earned a B.S. in Business Administration.

She also won the Golden Eagle 10K that spring just before graduation. She’d taken up running in the late 90s and had finished several road races and even several sprint triathlons. She had transferred her competitive spirit from basketball to racing.

“I took up walking and then walking got boring. I started running.” She has been running ever since. Except for one rude intermission:

Just six months after marrying insurance agent John White, in March of 2008, she discovered breast cancer. And her course changed.

Margie Stoll’s story began some 36 years before Mrs. White’s. Mrs. Stoll, who is 69 years old, has re-defined running in the state of Tennessee, at least for the older set. Age group state records are maintained for each year of runner age. Mrs. Stoll has set, and holds, some fifty such records, ranging from the 1-mile distance through the half marathon. Running Times magazine ranked her as the third best runner in the U.S.A. in her age group. At the 2009 National Senior Games Mrs. Stoll won two gold medals and two sliver medals.

Born in 1941, Mrs. Stoll grew up in Lombard, Illinois. She describes it as, “a pretty small town in those days. There was a cornfield at the end of my street.” The house she grew up in had been in the family since 1936. “So I never had to change friends. I had the same friends from kindergarten through high school.”

The bucolic beginning was bound to end. She went off to Washington University in St. Louis, where she earned a degree in French in 1963. After working briefly for a brokerage firm, she resumed studies, at the University of Chicago, where she gained a teaching certificate.

But she gained much more; it was there that she met husband-to-be Hans, who was working on a Ph.D. in finance. They married in 1967. By then Dr. Stoll’s work had taken him to the University of Pennsylvania.

There then came a two-year stint when they lived in Washington, D.C. while Dr. Stoll worked a year for the Securities and Exchange Commission, and another year when he did research as a visiting professor for the Federal Reserve.

It was there, in 1969, that Mrs. Stoll took up running—and in a very unusual place. “We lived near Arlington National Cemetery, and I used to run through the Cemetery. They probably wouldn’t allow that now,” she says wryly. She ran for exercise and because she liked the feel of running.

Meanwhile, her husband was becoming a distinguished scholar of finance. The family returned to Philadelphia, and then eventually settled in Nashville in 1980, when Dr. Stoll accepted a position at Vanderbilt University. (Until his recent “semi-retirement” there, he held an endowed professorship and was the director of a research center.)

They had been settled in the new town for a year. Then cancer called. That brought a brand new challenge, one unlike running or finance, either.

It is that challenge that the Komen Race for the Cure seeks to help women meet (men, too, occasionally). It is a challenge that Mary Jo Smith knows all too well; she is this year’s race chair. Tennessee Tech First Lady Gloria Bell is the honorary race chair.

Says Mrs. Smith, “I had a really good friend who passed away from breast cancer. And I never want to see another sister or friend go through that.”

Mrs. Smith expects up to 1,800 runners in this year’s race, leading to a significant organizational challenge. It is one Mrs. Smith is well prepared to manage. Until recently, she was the special events coordinator for the state of Ohio. She retired and moved to Cookeville in 2007.

Since 2008 Komen Upper Cumberland has funded over $300,000 for education, screening and treatment for breast cancer throughout the 14-county region of the Upper Cumberland.

The signature event, says affiliate president Eileen Stuber, is the Komen Race for the Cure 5K. The race course has been certified by USATF. Chip timing will be used. More race information can be found at Runners can complete online registration there.

Cancer comes around at unhandy times. Mrs. Stoll would tell you that; her discovery came in 1982 when she was new in Nashville and without nearby friends. Mrs. White would tell you that, too; she was just beginning a marriage. Although the cancers of the two women fell 30 years apart, there seems a weary sameness to their treatments: a round or two of surgery followed by six months of chemotheraphy.

Those treatments are dreadful and make a patient feel awful. Mrs. White described the mood in the car when husband John would drive her to Nashville. “It was quiet. We didn’t talk very much. I had to mentally prepare myself.”

All her hair came out: “Eye brows, eye lashes, everything.” For her, losing her eyebrows was the worse. Their loss most made her appear enfeebled, she thought. “The good thing was I didn’t have to shave my legs,” she said laughing.

Mrs. Stoll went through a similar routine in 1982, but with a special cruel twist: she couldn’t talk about it. Breast cancer was somehow considered embarrassing and shameful back then, hushed up. Stricken women suffered in silence.

Mrs. Stoll can talk easily about her experiences now. But she notes, “I wouldn’t have said all this until about five years ago.” The Komen races in Nashville changed that, released her. Remembering the 2002 race, she says, “It seemed like a festival, a total different atmosphere than the hospital.”

Mrs. Stoll can look back on breast cancer with the accumulated wisdom of nearly 30 years. She prefers the word “veteran” over “survivor.” Her thoughts on why are compelling:

“I think of a survivor as someone who has gone through a lot of pain and hardship…I like to think of myself as a veteran. The ones who are the real heroes are the ones who went through the pain and had a harder time…and somehow it was stacked against them. Because they died, that’s why there is an organization like Komen.”

Margie Stoll and Jill White will toe the line in common cause next Sunday. They know how to suffer hard and they know how to run hard. Expect one of them to be the first cancer veteran across the finish line.

1 comment:

  1. What an inspiration! I hope the lady veterans have a great race!