dailymiler of the week: Linda A.

Today, our Dailymiler of the Week, Linda A. , shares with us how she perseveres in times of grief and emotional pain. She is an inspiring, dedicated and incredibly strong woman, athlete, teacher and mom who recently lost her husband Phil in Afghanistan. Through her loss and heartache, Linda continues to find ways to honor Phil in her daily life while running upwards of 70+ miles a week at times. The honesty in her Dailymile posts are heartfelt and admirable. Here, Linda shares with us even more about her life; her early days as an overweight teen, taking on a dare to join the boy’s high school cross-country team, and how she uses running as a medium to move through the heartbreaking loss of her husband, an American hero to us all.

Linda at Goofy’s Challenge (the weekend Phil deployed)

Vera L.: In your April 2011 Runner’s World interview, you talked about how important running has been throughout your life in terms of dealing with challenges and tragedies, and it’s role as your companion. Can you elaborate a little more on what “Running as a Companion” means to you? Does that mean something more/different since your husband’s passing?
Linda A.: I am such a private person. I have a hard time letting people into the good or bad of my life. I am working on that, but running is the one place that I am totally myself. I work through the issues good or bad in my life. I can be proud of myself or rail against the injustices of my life. Since Phil died, I can cry, process my loss, and rage against the unfairness. I would never open that window in any other forum. Running is the friend, the companion, that gives me a medium to express myself in totality.

Linda with her children (except Emily who was in Afghanistan when this photo was taken)

VL: How do you manage/handle such high mileage in both running and swimming while teaching/coaching students?
LA: I am extremely organized, but all of my children are grown up. I have 5 children, four of whom are in the military. My husband would walk in just before I did in the evenings. I get up early. Teaching lends itself to me running with students and being off early enough to run.

VL: What is your proudest teaching moment/most memorable moment on the track with your students?
LA: My proudest moment came this year when a middle schooler who had been overweight came back to tell me that he had run the mile in 6:13 and to thank me for teaching him how to run. I was once that overweight teenager. I get the power of running to change lives!

VL: How did you get from being an overweight teen to a runner?
LA: I got tired of being overlooked and being bullied. I went to a small Catholic school and I was always the brunt of many terrible jokes. I lost the weight and then, in an era of women just emerging in the running field, I had a girl dare me to go out for our high school’s boy cross country team. Five of us girls crashed the team. Three days after I joined the team, we had our first meet in Ontario, OR. Oregon was the running capitol of the world then (Prefontaine days). All of the premier West Coast runners were there. My school only had five runners, so we all ran Varsity. My coach told me not to take last. He told me to pace with the last place Varsity girl and to try to out-sprint her in the end. The girl who dared me to go out for the team looked at me just after the race started and told me to breathe out of my nose the best I could. I placed 10th and was awarded a very, very rare medal in a field of elite high school runners. Less than two months latter, I was a High School All American. The rest is history….

VL: How do you set your goals?
LA: My goals have changed through the years. I was once a fairly decent runner, but I developed severe medical issues (Addison’s Disease) at the age of 37. These medical issues robbed all of the talent I once had. I now set flexible goals and I don’t worry about my times. I press on because of my participation as a medical research subject. It has opened the door for many other adrenal insufficient people to push their bodies.

VL: Are you working with any other runners/athletes with adrenal issues? What advice do you have for other athletes with chronic conditions?
LA: I do mentor other Addison’s patients or people who think they could never run or exercise because of health conditions. One step at a time, one mile at a time. Addison’s Disease means that my adrenal system no longer works. Adrenal glands produce hormones that control the heart, brain, blood pressure, immune system, electrolyte balance, sugars, etc. I take heavy doses of really icky steroids to regulate my body. When I run marathons, I have to take a pill every four miles.

Linda with some of her Marathon Maniac friends

VL: I see you have a “55 marathons by 55 years of age” goal. Where are you with that as of today?
LA: I will be 50 on July 13th. I have started and completed 54 marathons. Marathon 55 will be in San Fransisco just after my birthday. I am doing 18 marathons this year.

VL: How exciting to be hitting your “55 marathons by age 55 goal” at the age of 50!! What are the top 3 marathons you are (or were, if you’ve already finished them) looking forward to this year and why? The SF one is probably obvious.
LA: I think that Venice will be a really hard marathon. My husband and I were married for 23 years. We had never been away anywhere without children. Phil married me when I had three young children by a previous marriage. They were 3,4, and 5 at the time). We had planned to meet in Venice, take a Mediterranean cruise, and I would run the marathon. He made me promise to go with our daughter should something happen to him. Emily will be joining me in Venice to honor her dad.

The Marine Corp called after Phil’s passing. We asked for donations to the Wounded Warrior Program as opposed to flowers at the funeral. The Marathon committee invited my son, Josh (Army) and I to run in Phil’s memory. We will be there. I have run it once before, but it will mean more this year.

Nine people who served with Phil in Afghanistan are running either the full or half marathon this July in San Francisco to support the 9 men and women who were killed that day in April. My daughter, who is in the Air Force, and I are joining them.

Other than those three, I loved Goofy’s Challenge at Disney World. Those races started my year without Phil (that was the weekend of his deployment). It is magical and I met some wonderful people who are still my friends.

Linda with children Emily (Air Force) and Josh (Army) at the VA Beach Marathon

VL: You recently ran the Minneapolis Marathon after a local paper ran a story about you. Can you talk about the outpouring of community support you received on the course? Is there something specific that sticks out when you think back to being out there and having complete strangers yelling out to you for support?
LA: In MN, the newspaper wrote an article on my loss. The reporter noticed that I had worn a pink polka dotted skirt from my Facebook post about the VT Marathon the week before. He asked me to wear that skirt so he could find me while I was running (that skirt had fallen down in the VT marathon at mile 21, so I had four safety pins). I also had FB friends that had friends that I did not know who lived in MN. Every where I turned, people were yelling for the lady in the pink polka dotted skirt whose husband died a hero. It was an extremely hot day. Every time I thought about walking, I would see another sign or here another voice, “There’s the lady in the pink polka dots!” I didn’t walk and I ran twenty minutes faster than I had the week before.

Recently, Linda posted an open letter to Phil on Father’s Day. “Dear Phils, you are always on my heart missed by me. Happy Father’s Day to the best father. Our children were blessed. Your abilities as a dad are the reason I fell in love with you way back when. I loved you then. I love you now. I will love you forever. L”

Linda & Phil when they were married in 1988

Phil in Afghanistan

“When I run, I run on the whispered prayers of my broken heart and my plodding feet. I run on because if I can run, there is hope that one day things will be better. Sometimes, running is all I have, but still I run on to the one golden strand of light bursting through the dark clouds.” ~ Linda A; DM post on 6/20/11.

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