Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Casablanca Marathon: A Journal

            The four-lane stretches northward toward Hassan II Mosque. I glance at the white surf crashing on the black rocks of the road's curving flank. At that moment electricity flashes through my legs and they turn to spastic stone. As I pitch forward Albino grabs me in a bear hug. He stands like a gate post holding me upright. The length of a marathon is 42K; we are at 31K...

Wednesday, October 17, Rabé de las Calzadas

Windows at Rabé 
      
          Again, I find myself running on el Camino de Santiago, running through Rabé de las Calzadas and onto the chalky dirt single-track that starts at the edge of town, at the little church with the walled cemetery with stone crosses, climbs two miles up a beautifully severe valley of steep cropland and sheep pasture, grand vistas marred by not a single man-made structure - no fences! -  finally to an abrupt crest offering an expansive view north where a tiny town sits in all that vastness like a stamp on a giant post card.
          I stand looking, thinking no one is around. Then, turning, I see a woman sitting at a pile of rocks on the bank above me. Our eyes meet. I spread my arms over the scene before us, and say,
          "Hermosa, hermosa."
          "What?"
          Oh. English.
          "Beautiful," I say.
          "Yes, it is."
          I ask permission to join her and climb the bank. I stand talking while she finishes a slice of pizza she'd saved. She wears straight blond hair and a gray jump suit, and she is from Holland, she says. As we talk, I notice a design on the ground a few feet in front of us and step over to see. The young woman from Holland follows. It is the outline of a heart made from field stones, maybe six feet across. The heart encloses a cross of stones. The cross frames the single letter "J"  on one side and on the other the letter "K." We stand looking down. 
          "Two sweethearts, I guess. Left a monument to their love," I say. And that may be right, two pilgrims inspired by the view.
          As we talk, I suddenly remember something, and it must surprise the Dutch woman to hear it from an American. It is a story about her own queen, Queen Beatrix. I read the story in Outside Magazine a decade or more ago. Queen Beatrix was scheduled to give a speech to the nation at the end of the year. It was routine political theater, nothing expected to be important.
          But Queen Beatrix didn't give a routine speech. She delivered a polemic, an environmental speech that changed Holland's direction and set the tone for a new era in that country. She said something like, "We are going to learn to live in a way that poses the least risk to all other livings things." Over the next few years, Holland did that, and became a world leader in green technology such as wind turbines. By stepping out front, the country captured an emerging new technology. They are yet a leader, due in large part to the wisdom and courage of Queen Beatrix.
          "She became my hero in that moment," I say to the woman. I don't tell her I even copied the article and saved it. We talk a few more minutes, and light rain starts. I wish her good luck and shove off.
          Altogether, I spend an hour on that road without seeing any kind of vehicle, only pilgrims on foot. A top-ten run of all time, a yard-stick to hold up to all others. And I put seven miles in the bag.

Thursday, October 18, Rabé de las Calzadas
       
El Camino stretches west of Rabé

          It is a windy day at Rabé de las Calzadas. From Albino's kitchen patio door I watch an eagle hovering in the updraft of the hill above the house, tapered neck, fanned tail.
          El Camino west of Rabé de las Calzadas is my newest favorite run. I met an old gent taking a walk there. We exchanged greetings. Caught up with him again on the way back, at the little church with the walled cemetery next to the sheep barn at Rabé. Stopped to chat. Told him in halting Spanish I was from USA. He listened kindly and intently, figuring correctly that one who spoke it so poorly could barely hear it at all. I spoke well of his puppy, a German shepherd mix. At his amazement, I told him I run for practice, that my friend Albino lives near Rabé and that Albino and I will run Marathon Casablanca in Morocco this Sunday. By way of sympathetic amazement, he made a gesture of exhausted runner breathing hard. I wished him a good day and shoved off.
          Albino has a DVD of The Way laying here on the coffee table. Why can't I find time to watch it?
          The alberque in Rabé has been hosting pilgrims for 800 years, according to a celebration banner I photographed there. Let's see, the USA has been around for 236 years...umm, something to thing about. Meanwhile, put me down for four easy miles.

Friday, October 19, Madrid
          As we drive into Madrid, radio RNE 3-FM, 95.8, is playing  a cut from John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman. Amazing! How did they know? It's only one of the best jazz recordings ever made.
          Terminal 4 of Barajas, Madrid throws you into confusion. Its architecture is so futuristic you feel like you've fallen into a science-fiction movie like The Matrix. Albino breezes through with practiced abandon. I can only draft his wake.
          In Casablanca, we've gained two hours - after I'd barely acclimated to losing seven hours flying to Madrid a week ago. Have to reset again. Sleepy and tired. But here's the answer:  Go to bed. The marathon is not until Sunday.

Saturday, October 20, Casablanca
          All chaos, all chaos, a stirring throng of people! Beggars sit on broken sidewalks that drop off abruptly, turn to dirt and abruptly start again, waiting to trip the unwary, sidewalks made of tile laid directly on dirt rather than a concrete base. Here and there metal studs stick up two inches high where a street lamp ought to be. Instead studs with tops polished shiny by thousands of footsteps stand as monuments to good intentions and failed plans. Waiting to kill you.
          We walked two hours in a maelstrom of traffic without finding either the starting line or the packet pickup - in the rain. I'd stupidly left my hat at hotel Barceló, and worn only a tee shirt against the weather. But it was a Flying Monkey Marathon tee, which fact did prompt me to sent a Tweet to Trent Rosenbloom, @hhflyingmonkey, the director of that race, the following: "BREAKING: flying monkey tee spotted on the street. Police arrest usual suspects. #casablancamarathon"
          Unless you are comfortable with Third-World chaos, better pass on this race.

Camel meat is for sale in Casablanca's Medina       

          Back at the hotel, we searched our smart phones for two hours looking for race location, and then gave up. Because we had an ace in the hole - Albino's friend Iñigo lives in this town. Albino called him up, and he eventually came to the hotel and guided us around the rest of the day, including the open-air markets of the Medina.

Marathoners tour Medina, Albino and me

          I was more comfortable afoot in the Arctic wilderness six years ago, where I knew a grizzly could easily kill and eat an unarmed hiker like me, than I was in Casablanca this day, a world more foreign to me than wilderness. Police seemed in hiding, afraid for their lives; most intersections had no official control that I could see. I saw just one cop all day long, standing in an intersection, traffic swirling around him, as irrelevant as a broom in a monsoon.

Life, raw and urgent, is a-swirl in the Medina 

          Oh, Mother! The places I go. Just making these pictures was risky. After following Iñigo all day - we could not have done without his help! - we are tired. We have been on our feet all day, tense all day, done without water all day. Can't drink water if you can't find a restroom. "It's complicated," Iñigo says when I ask. And we are supposed to run a marathon tomorrow? Worse, we both need to run a competent time to have a chance to catch our flight out of here. It is that close. That's how Albino rolls, courting exotic disaster. 
   
Sunday, October 21, Casablanca
          After my run collapsed and left me walking, Albino proceeded on, to get to hotel Barceló and bring a taxi back to the finish line for me - if I made it that far, and he didn't know if I would. Once we connected we were forty-five minutes behind schedule for our Madrid flight, where Isabel would be waiting to drive us the some 150 miles to Burgos, where Albino had two meetings scheduled the next morning. It was all coming undone. There was no time for me to take a shower. I pulled trousers on over my running shorts in the taxi, having already donned the finisher's tee, and prepared to ride the plane just so - if we actually managed to catch it. It was a tense ride to the Casablanca airport.

     Hassan II Mosque is massive, intricate, majestic

          Intense leg cramps had undone me at 31K, making even just standing impossible. Abino held me in a bear hug to keep me upright. I finally recovered enough to walk gingerly, Albino walking with me, grabbing me when he needed to avert my falling. Seven bottles of water failed to solve problem. I was severely dehydrated and I'd eaten all my salt and GU. After walking a 9K distance, I recovered enough to run the last 3K, and finished in 4:26 (unofficial), my worse finish ever.
          Now I need to sort out my thoughts. Until then it's not a story, only banal information: Old man runs disappointing marathon in strange town, nothing else.

Monday, October 22, Tardajos
          So now I walk around Tardajos and wonder and do what I mentioned - try to sort out my thoughts. I wander the ancient streets of the town and beyond, ostensibly to make two photographs, of Rio Arlanzón and the bridge across it. But mainly to think. What do I think?
          I said it was my worse finish ever. That excludes two marathons, the Rocket City Marathon, where I was pacing Amy Dodson in a training run for twenty-one miles, and the first Blister in the Sun Marathon, which I trotted through to help my buddy Josh Hite who'd organized the race. Didn't try to run it fast, having run an 8K state record in a night race just hours before that first Blister Marathon. So, making full disclosure.
          Albino and I ran together at Casablanca. We ran quite fast under the circumstances, a pace that would certainly have won second place in my age division at the Boston Marathon, maybe even first. That was crazy as hell. The day before we'd spent on our feet without drinking water. We stayed in the street so late, we didn't ever eat an official supper. I had an energy bar and drank a glass of powdered milk before going to bed. Some will claim no one should drink powdered milk ever, even for a marathon.
          And then there was this girl -  a young woman actually, a black woman. I saw her before the marathon started, standing in a pink top and spandex pants. She seemed alone, and a bit lost. I wanted to speak to her, but I was too shy. I went to the only toilet I knew about - although it was clogged and would not flush. A knock came on the door. When I finally opened the door to leave, it was this very woman, waiting her turn after me.
          I saw her during the race too. Albino and I passed her. After I blew up and was walking and Albino had left me, she passed me. In this strange city she seemed the only familiar thing in the whole world. She ran off, on out of sight. But I recovered enough to run again. With about 2K remaining, I passed her. After I'd finished and was wandering the fence wondering how I was going to find Albino, I came upon her again. We talked this time. It turned out she was from the USA, as not many here were, from Maryland. She was brave. We talked only a little, but I loved her very much. I remember.

Tuesday, October 23, Rabé de las Calzadas
          Beauty yet reigns. It does. From the hill above Albino's house I can see several towns. Rabé de las Calzadas is the closest. Further out lie Tardajos, Villabilla, Burgos... Also ample countryside stretches out before me, room to walk, run, and ride. Count the busted marathoner in for all that. Failure fails to negate future.


Rabé de las Calzada and countryside stretch out below me         

          This day I hiked to Tardajos with my backpack for groceries. Everyone thought I was a pilgrim on el Camino de Santiago, the trail that flows across northern Spain like a pipeline leaking money. Pilgrim spending boosts the local economy. Which must mean locals both love and hate it, love and contempt being two sides of the same coin.
          Found the vitals I needed. I want to fix Senorita Luz bonita a good lunch when she comes for her housekeeping chores tomorrow.
          Rio Urbel, which I crossed, is becoming my new favorite river. I could see four trout at the same time taking flies in the pool below the bridge. My fly rod is oh so far away.

After a long day's work, Albino stands smiling

          Mi amigo Albino esta un patron big shot, global risk controller for a top-fifty automotive manufacturer. But he held me in a bear hug like a soldier until I could stand alone after Sunday's blowup at Marathon Casablanca. And that falls in a separate category, oh my captain.

Earned: one Casablanca tee and medal

          Notwithstanding all the things I may someday find to say about the Casablanca Marathon, the finisher's shirt and medal do nonetheless reside with me. I own them. I earned them. Out on the course I'd had full-blown medical reasons for leaving them unclaimed in that far-away town. And that fact leaves precious little room for pride. Maybe we can allow a tiny bit of satisfaction: Notch Africa. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Ironma'am



Susan Ford at Ironman Florida, November 4, 2006


A recent training ride along Blackburn Fork in Jackson County, Tennessee

            Susan Ford is a monster. Stay out of her way and you won't get hurt. That's a hyperbolic way to paint the tender-hearted veterinarian from Cookeville, Tennessee, but, too, a way of saying she is the hardest charging training and racing fanatic I've seen.
            At this moment she is in Kona, Haiwaii awaiting Saturday's World Championship Ironman. As is Amy Dodson, another friend, with whom Susan is sharing a hotel room. Yesterday's post was about Amy. This one is about Susan.
            I knew Susan when running a 10K put her at risk of overuse injuries. No more. Fourteen Ironman races have changed that, transformed her to a hard body that could cut glass. Her Twitter handle is @Ironmaam. That's a good title for the story too. 

            Ironma’am: she displays the word on her license plate holder, a variation on “Ironman” she adopted as her nom de plume. It fits. Ironman is her life. She will talk your leg off about it, evincing a spirit of enthusiasm and intensity and a twinkle in her eye, talking fast as if her speech has to rush to catch up with her thoughts. Because she is also smart.
            Indefatigable, indomitable, that’s Susan Ford. When the last ding-dong of doom finally claps and fades, the sound Faulkner’s ghost will hear won’t be man’s puny voice still talking. It will be Susan Ford’s.
            But she is also my generous and kind friend. She would give you her heart, but if you’re between her and the finish line she might stomp yours. You must forgive her: a race represents a temporary transformation of ordinary life into a new realm. After the finish line, life returns to normal.
            So, yes, Ironma’am is the name that fits. She earned the right, the first woman to do so from among every last hill, holler, ridge, knob, cliff, creek bottom and plateau of the entire Upper Cumberland region of this here state—the whole raw spreading put-together. I was her witness.
            She trained for months for Ironman Florida, her first Ironman attempt. Time approached for that 2006 race; she didn’t know I was playing a trick on her. I’d made plans to be a spectator there—she knew that much. What she did not know was that I was hoping to write a story about her experiences―if there was a story. So to avoid raising any expectations and putting even more pressure on her, I didn’t tell her my plans. She knew I had other friends in the race that I wanted to see, and so my little secret was easy to keep. I traveled to Panama City Beach separate from her and staked out a fan’s position on the sandy beach that morning.
            As I stood waiting with my camera, a brisk north wind was sweeping across the beach, plunging the chill factor into the thirties. Even wearing a coat I was cold. There stood Susan at the Gulf’s edge with some 2,200 others waiting for the 7:00 a.m. start. She stood and shivered among the throng. But I knew the hope was in her. If she could succeed in traveling the combined 140.6-mile distance she’d become the first woman Ironman from our whole region of Tennessee.
            In the end, after all the shivering and fury and misery, she was able to do just that, realizing her dream, posting a finishing time of 15:09:55. The first woman Ironman—from our corner of the world, anyway—was forty-one years old. 
            In normal life, Susan practices veterinary medicine, and loves dogs. She loves her husband Ivan, too, a medical physicist. He was along on the Florida trip to provide moral support for his athletic wife, to help out with the logistics and to baby-sit their ten-week old whippet pup, Archimedes.
            The race started with the 2.4-mile swim. Overnight passage of a cold front had churned the sea and breakers were forming 100 yards offshore. Their sight made me shudder. The rough water was likely to hinder visibility and control, favoring a swim more chaotic than normal. I dreaded it for her.
            I watched the anxious faces of swimmers as gun time approached and marveled at their courage, and I had the brief stupid thought, completely in sympathy, “Will they actually go in there?” But, of course, they would. I’ve done it myself, and I know there’s no turning back, even if you suspect catastrophe waits.
            Susan later told me how it was.
            “…scary and exciting all at the same time. I also got a lump in my throat, but I had to choke that back because I can’t swim with a lump in my throat. The sand was cold…. Our feet were numb; we were huddling to keep warm.”
            The gun fired, and I watched the stirring mass march into the froth like a doomed migration. Swimmers jostled for position; collisions became ordinary.
            Susan: “I was hit in the nose—an elbow!—twice in the lip, kicked in the face. I had people go over the top of me.”
            She saw stingrays and jellyfish—one stung her on the foot. She saw lights in the water, bioluminescence, she said it’s called.
            Her swim took on an element of survival. “I remember thinking, all the months I spent working on my swim form have nothing to do with the way I’m swimming now.” (Divers recovered an unconscious swimmer. He had a pulse but died three days later. I never learned if an autopsy determined the cause of death.)
            Susan finished the swim in a time of 1:18:52, a respectable performance despite conditions. But then the second crunch hit. She raced in wet clothes up the beach to her bike, running into the teeth of a north wind forecast at ten to twenty miles per hour.
            I was waiting to get a picture of her exit from the water, but all the swimmers in their wet suits looked so much alike, I missed her.
             She describes it. “…it was sooo cold. When I pulled off the wetsuit—everybody was cold! —when it came off, it was just unbelievably cold. I was in shock.” Shock or not, she had to jump on the bike.
            The north wind was unlucky. The first part of the 112-mile bike course went generally north into the wind, which further chilled her and killed her speed. And it crushed her spirit. Susan expected to average 16.5 mph, but as the grueling headwind wore on her, she realized she was only achieving 14.5 mph. Finally the course turned away from the wind, giving relief for a while—until she reached a turnaround.
            Then the wind again: “They headed us back into the wind and I thought, Oh no, the damned wind again. And there were cracks in the pavement that went thunk, thunk, thunk, and each time it did that my neck…oh my God, my neck hurt!”
            I know that feeling. For aerodynamic efficiency,  a triathlete leans sharply over the handle bars, a position that puts severe strain on neck muscles as you lift your head to see forward.
            Waiting in the crowd back in town, Ivan and I could only guess and wonder. We wandered around and stayed in touch with each other by cell phone. I was trying to find a good spot for a photograph. After missing the swim picture, I hoped to catch her on the bike as she returned to town. In the end, I failed that mission too, she blew by so quickly.
            Waiting for her, Ivan and I couldn’t know it, but Susan’s right calf was cramping as she pedaled. “The anterior tibialis,” the veterinarian later called it. She believed she would not be able to run if the muscle cramped hard. So she favored the right leg, adding more pedal load to the left. Of course, that produced the unhappy results of a cramp in the left leg.
            So when she finished the bike ride and started the 26.2-mile run, she had no control over her left foot.
             “Basically it just flopped, and I ran six miles like that—step, flop, step, flop.” Then it got better.
            But the worst was yet to come.
            Late the morning after the race I called her up and then went up to her hotel. Her room was a shambles, triathlon gear scatter on every horizontal surface. Ivan and Archimedes shuffled around in the narrow clearings. Susan and I decided to leave Ivan in charge of the dog and retire to an outside table at the pool. There she told me about her run.
Night had fallen while she ran. With night the mercury plunged. Darkness drew in around her. She was cold. The long distance stretched ahead. Each mile yielded grudgingly, bit by bit, to her aching struggle.
She’d trained years for just this moment, the last eighteen months working under Nashville coach Robert Eslick. She followed his biweekly instructions for biking and running. Swimming, perhaps her best sport, she worked on separately, grinding out the laps and miles at the Cookeville YMCA.
The problem Robert had was preventing her from training too much, from inducing an overuse injury. Susan will tell you she obsesses about Ironman. Ultra endurance requires ultra obsession. Her tendency is to over do it. “I’m always training,” she says.
She’s not kidding. I recall a conversation with Robert. I told him I thought Susan was the most intense, dedicated, enthusiastic… He cut me off.
“She’s crazy!” That response was loaded with grudging admiration.
For Ironman Florida, specifically, Susan trained twenty-four weeks—twelve weeks of base training and twelve weeks of building speed and peak distance. During that training cycle, she incorporated several shorter triathlons as training exercises. During her peak training, on one weekend alone, she rode 105 miles, ran twenty, and swam two.
Now out on the marathon run, descending into night and deeper into misery, she needed all the toughness her training could bring. She was determined to stay positive, “…but the ongoing power of the wind, and cold, and fatigue…” She trails off, trying to tell me that. Her silence expresses the mental anguish she’d faced.
Because a problem loomed—a huge unknown for her: she’d never actually run a marathon before, let alone one preceded by a swim and bike ride. Overuse injuries had prevented it. Now her outraged body was forced to go beyond all the limits it had ever known.
I’d know Susan since just running a 10K was an adventure for her. In those early days running injuries nagged her and hindered her progress. She’d climbed a high mountain in training, but she couldn’t be sure it would be enough.  
Someone has described a marathon as twenty miles of hope and 6.2 miles of seeing God. Reaching that last six miles, Susan confronted a crisis. Overcome by fatigue and no longer able to run, her only chance was to walk. If she could. Walking violated her principles and drove her further into despair.
Most of all, she feared failure.
Help came in the form of a gentleman from Virginia who was making his third try at becoming an Ironman. They walked together, leaning on each other, urging each other on. “Just go with me to that next light pole,” he said.
She painfully needed to go to the restroom. Though portable toilets were stationed along the course, she dared not sit. She knew she’d be unable to get up. She couldn’t simply wet her pants as some do; it was too cold to be wet again. She strode on.
“If there were a thousand dollar bill on the ground I don’t think I could bend over to pick it up,” the man said.
“I know I wouldn’t pick it up. It might kill my chance to get the finisher’s medal, and that’s more important to me than a thousand dollars,” Susan answered.
I myself was standing out in the cold and dark during those moments, waiting for her about a mile from the finish line. When she and the man strode out of the dark, she was confident by then she would make it. Finally, I got a picture. Despite all, she was still wearing a smile, as my picture shows.
Finally, slightly past 10:00 p.m., the two approached the finish line. The crowd’s roar, the thumping music, the announcer’s voice filled their ears. Joy filled their hearts.
“Let’s run across the finish line. I’m at least going to cross the finish line running,” the gentleman said.
“Not me. I’m going to walk across, and proud of it!”
Barely able to walk or even stand, she knew now she’d finish. Despair and fear gave way to overwhelming joy. She used her last ounce of energy coming down the stretch, slapping hands with fans, and marched across the finish line in celebration.
Then she collapsed.
Race officials held her upright. Ivan rushed to her side. “You gotta get me to the bathroom,” she pleaded.
Next morning she was too sore and stiff to get out of bed. She called a masseur to her room. It took two hours of massaging before she could stand.
“I’ve always heard that it was going to hurt, but I was unprepared for how much it was going to hurt. There was not a spot on my body that didn’t hurt. It was excruciating.”
“Ironman is the supreme challenge. And it’s part of what I am from now on.”
            Sitting there at the patio table that day after the race, while she was still barely able to walk, I had one more question I wanted to ask her, although I knew the answer.
            “Was it worth it, all the training, all the pain?” Her answer was pure Susan, more convincing than anything else she could’ve said.
“I signed up this morning for next year’s race,” she said. She leaned forward, eyes flashing. “And you know what? If I don’t finish, I’ll still be an Ironman!”
            Yes, she will. I agree. Having once earned the medal, the title lasts forever. So do the memories. For Susan, the Iron Life lasts, too. Since that morning in Florida, she’s finished fourteen Ironman races, and cut three hours off the time of her first one.
            My subsequent story about Susan’s first Ironman was written for the local paper, but it eventually appeared in two papers and in two running magazines. Susan framed the paper’s story and hung it on her wall. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Amy Dodson: Tempo Allegro


 Amy Dodson on the cover of Runner's World, July 2011


Amy talking with @smithbend on town square of Bell Buckle, June 2001

            It has been my good luck to stand in a place where I met some pretty amazing people. Two of them—Amy Dodson and Susan Ford—will be running The Ironman World Championship at Kona, Hawaii this coming Saturday. Both are my good friends, although they never met each other. And both began their endurance journey in Cookeville, Tennessee. Because of that commonality they planned to share a hotel room at Kona.
            This story is about Amy. It’s an old story, first published in Running Journal. Although already written, it was on my mind in April, 2000 as I was running the Boston Marathon for the first time, because that’s when the story appeared.
            The story is about how Amy started running. In one sense, it’s a disservice to her, because she has since accomplished so much. Just part of it makes a long list: Boston Marathon first woman leg amputee, marathon world record, 100-mile ultramarathon, two-time ITU World Paratriathlon Champion… It goes on. But this story is about how she began.

            Say you lose your left leg to cancer, and two years later your left lung, too…What do you do now?
            Well, if you’re Amy Dodson you run a marathon. That’s what the Cookeville, Tennessee runner has done, finishing the Disney World Marathon in a time of 5:28:04, ahead of some 3,500 other runners. It was her first marathon. She is planning others.
            The road to Disney World was a long one, beginning some seventeen years ago. The Tucson native was a junior at the University of Arizona when cancer claimed her left leg from below the knee. Two years later it claimed part of her left lung too.
            Running was not part of her plans then. Just learning to walk was a challenge. “It was hard,” she says.” “And it hurt! Walking is complicated. You wouldn’t think so, but it is.”
            Running would wait—wait until college and teaching in New York, wait until she found herself working as a librarian in Cookeville, Tennessee. It was there, walking around the track one day that she suddenly started to run. No plans, no preliminaries, she just started. “You know, I’ll just give it a try,” she remembers thinking.
            It was a struggle at first. Her prosthetic leg was adequate for walking but too stiff for running. “It beat me up pretty bad,” she recalls. She didn’t quit. She bought another leg, one designed especially for running.
            Barely two weeks after starting to run, she entered her first 5K. From that beginning she soon became a regular runner at local road races. Her appearances attract attention and interest, her finishes inspire and amaze. The RC Cola Moon Pie 10-miler at Bell Buckle last summer was especially memorable, considering the withering heat and a punishing hill on that course. A big crowd was on hand as Amy ran through that heat down Main Street and turned the corner to the finish line. The effort and spirit showed in her face. Even the loquacious announcer was stunned into silence as he turned to watch her pass. Finally, recovering, he managed: “The runner who just finished, finished in under two hours.”
            Indeed. And ahead of a passel of runners.
            Gaining experience, Amy attended the Disabled Sports/USA National Summer Games in August at Fairfax, Virginia. There she took the gold medal in the 5000 meters, finishing in 28:46. Speaking of her time, “It wasn’t very good,” she says, always striving to improve. Her current 5K PR is 26:52
            When asked, she doesn’t recall any single event that caused her to suddenly start running. “I’ve always admired runners. If I saw someone running—young or old—I just admired them. It seemed like something I’d like to do. I don’t know…”
            Her love of running connects unexpectedly with another love: music. A gifted musician, she was classically trained on the flute. As a member of the Tucson Symphony Orchestra in 1984, she gave the first public performance of the Kino Saga Symphony by Camille Van Hulse.
            Just as loss of a leg presents a running challenge, loss of lung power presents a flute playing challenge. “It’s a wind instrument; it takes wind. The longer passages are hard. You have to be more careful with your breathing,” she says.
            Led by her dual love of music and running, she organized the first Allegro 5K last October. The run benefits the Bryan Symphony Orchestra. Three brass ensembles entertained along the way.
            She has more marathons planned—one in June and then Tucson in December. She hopes to better the world record of 4:17:55 for her class. Based on her projections from her 5K and 10K times she has a realistic chance. Further down the road, she has contacted the Boston Athletic Association about qualifying in a special division for the Boston Marathon, and she wants to run New York. “Especially New York, since I lived there,” she says.
            Note: In April, 2002 Amy became the first woman leg amputee to run the Boston Marathon. And in October, 2002 she set the world record, a time of 3:52.