Monday, December 17, 2018

2018 Inspiring People of the Year Priscilla and Rieko

Courage, Strength, Faith and Love

Yolanda, Thank You for the inspiration and motivation You give all of us. Rieko similarity has been My True Inspiration and Champion to Be My Authentic Self.

It is the Ultramarathon community of Friends have helped make Our Transition  as a Married Now Same Sex Couple and Priscilla’s Transformation so wonderful.
It has been through Running and Fitness together Rieko and I have grown deeply as a loving Couple and We always try to Run Races side by side whither its a 5K or 72 Hours. It’s infectious the inspiration and joy we get running together and spending time with our Dear Ultrarunning Friends.

I, Priscilla have been dealing with Serve Gender Dysphoria for My Entire life and have identified as Transgender. This Year after Running 100 Miles and Beyond in Full Firefighter Gear at the Jackpot Ultra and the Beyond Limits Ultra with Rieko by My side I truly knew anything is possible. 

It was these two very tough experiences gave me and Rieko the Strength to start paving the way for My eventual Transformation.
Unfortunately this was briefly sidetracked after a Hate Crime Occurred and I was Assaulted by another Firefighter on Duty for being Different.
This tested our resolve greatly. With Rieko’s love and motivation along with the Support of our Ultramarathon Friends we came out of it with more clarity than ever.

Since July Priscilla has been Transitioning to Her Authentic Self and Rieko has found even more motivation and joy in our life together. Running and Fitness has a whole new meaning as we truly see how non judgmental and supportive the Ultramarathon Community is.

During the tough times our Ultramarathon Friends Reaching out has made such a Wonderful Difference.

Thank You Yolanda for All of Your Love and Support.
-Priscilla and Rieko Lyell

Sunday, December 16, 2018

2018 Inspiring People of the Year Cheryl Symons

She's a 3X Ironman, and Over 300 Marathons/Ultras
Cheryl Symons (48, from Melbourne Australia)

I don’t think of myself as an athlete or even being athletic.  When I was younger I avoided playing most sports however that is also when my athletic ambitions started.  In Australia we had a television show on a Saturday afternoon - Wide World of Sports which ran small segments on sporting events all around the world, and I remember watching the Hawaii Ironman and being absolutely in awe.  So after spending my 20’s working and partying and my early 30’s still working long hours and coming out of a relationship, I decided it was time to do something for myself and to build some personal confidence.  I initially decided that that something was running, but in the back of my mind the thought of being an ironman was there.

With no real running background, other than a few laps of an icon Melbourne landmark – ‘The Tan’ I bought a book containing a few marathon plans and followed it religiously and 15 months later ran my first marathon.  Dehydrated and exhausted at the end I declared to my parents patiently waiting for me at the finish that I would never do that again.  Fast forward to November 2018 (14 years later) and I have just completed my 300th marathon/ultra and hope I will still be running strong for many more years.  I have also finished 3 ironmans and ironman is actually what led me to Ultras.
As I said, I don’t consider myself to be an athlete. 

I honestly believe and regularly say to other runners and non-runners, that if I can do it anyone can.  I’m not fast, I’m not skinny, I’m not physically strong – but what I do have in spades in determination and a never give up attitude.  One of my favourite sayings is Death Before DNF (Did Not Finish).  I ran the final 13 miles of a 50km trail run with broken ribs a few years ago and never once did it cross my mind to quit.  But, everyone is different and I understand why for others stopping is the right course of action.

I enjoy exploring my physical and mental limits through running and will often be seen smiling away to myself whilst on the road, trail or track for no particular reason other than the pure joy of being out there.  In the last three years I have discovered fixed time races and love them.  I’ve done quite a few 24 hours events and stepped up to the 48 hour this year and have a strong desire to graduate to the 6 day plus events next year.

It’s a rare occasion to see me with headphones in – I enjoy the quiet time, thinking or simply choosing not to think or chatting to old friends and making new ones.  My motto the last few years is simply that life is short and you need to live it whilst you can.  If you want to do something give it a go don’t have regrets.  It doesn’t matter if you come first, last or somewhere in-between enjoy the experience and remember to smile for the cameras.

219 Marathons
3 Ironman Triathlons
81 Ultra-marathons (23 are 100 miles or greater)

Fastest marathon :           3:52:25
24 hour PR          :               118.37 miles
48 hour PR          :               195 miles            

Saturday, December 15, 2018

2018 Inspiring People of the Year Jeanne Skrocki

Professional Violinist, Aeronautical Engineer, Private Pilot, Motivational Speaker, Author, Music Ambassador, Wife, Mother

I started playing the violin at five years old.  My mother is a violinist and she was also my first teacher.  She taught me to love music and to love playing the violin.  By the time I was 10 years old, I was good enough to play a solo with the local community orchestra where I lived.  When I was finished, I took my little bow and everyone stood up and they were all clapping for ME.  I vividly remember thinking, THIS is what I want to do!  They like me when I play the violin!  So I worked very hard and began practicing 3 or 4 hours every day.  When I was 14 years old I won a competition and, as a result, I got to solo with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra.  This made me certain that my dream was to be a famous concert violinist and to play with orchestras all over the world!  When I was 16 I had the great honor of being accepted as a student of the greatest violinist of the 20th century, Jascha Heifetz.  I studied with him in master classes at the University of Southern California.  I was certain the next step would be my solo career as a concert violinist.

But in the next couple of years, things began to change.... My older brother, whom I was extremely close to, suddenly died at only 19 years old.  My mom moved away and there was other turmoil in my household and in my life.  I was 18 years old and I began to doubt the dream that was born on that stage as a little girl.  I had never done anything else except play the violin.  What if there was something that I liked better? How would I know?  I wasn’t certain anymore.  So I made a radical decision to quit the violin and try to find out.

The next ten years took me in many different directions.  I worked as a secretary and as a ride operator at an amusement park.  I went to college and graduated with a degree in Aeronautical Engineering.  After graduation, I worked for two years as an aerodynamics engineer in San Diego. During this time, I got my pilot’s license, married my first husband (a pilot, of course), and then spent two years living in Mozambique, Africa, doing humanitarian work with Air Serv International.  I learned to speak Portuguese and trained many of the nationals who worked in the office.  It was the best and worst time of my life. There was gunfire on the outskirts of the city every night.  It was too dangerous to leave the city by ground transportation. Electricity came and went, and we had water for only about 20 minutes a day—at 5:00 in the morning! So when you heard the water come on, you’d jump out of bed and fill every bucket and tub you could find because that was your water for the day. In spite of the danger and inconveniences, living in Africa was amazing.

Shortly after we came home from Africa, I ran into friend who told me about an orchestra, Pacific Symphony, that was having auditions for violinists. After ten years away from it, I got the violin out and dusted it off and started practicing again. It felt pretty awful for the first few months, but I worked hard and a year later I took the audition and I won the job!  That audition was 27 years ago and I have since enjoyed a successful music career as Assistant Concertmaster of Pacific Symphony, recording hundreds of major motion picture film scores, teaching and coaching.

I have also had the tremendous joy and blessing of passing on my love of the violin to my daughter, who studied violin with my mom through high school and with me in college.  We have all three enjoyed a life of music together, performing together and teaching and sharing our love of music with others.  It is truly a unique blessing to be three generations of violinists!

I discovered walking for my health as a result of a ruptured appendix in 2013.  I have a very high tolerance for pain, so I did not know anything was seriously wrong until I finally went to the emergency room after three days.  By that time there was so much infection and inflammation that it was not operable.  I was in the hospital for three weeks on IV antibiotics and it was a very dangerous situation.  While I was in the hospital I noticed that there was a big difference in the healing time of surgery patients who were in good shape and those who were not.  I decided that I was going to exercise and take better care of myself and get in shape when I got out of the hospital.  Since my knees don’t do well with running I decided to start walking.

Since then I have walked hundreds of miles and gained an appreciation of the importance of taking good care of myself.  Two years ago I attempted to complete Yolanda’s 52 Day Challenge and I was not able to walk every day or to finish so I tried again this past summer.  I did it!  I walked at least two miles a day for a total of 120 miles over the 52 days.  This has motivated me to set new goals and challenges and even begin entering some races.  Walking has stabilized my blood sugar issues from hypoglycemia (low blood sugar, the opposite of diabetes).  It has helped alleviate my joint pain and cramps in my legs.  More importantly, I have discovered that daily walking is not just essential for my physical health but even more for my mental and emotional health.  It is my time to be outside and breathe fresh air and feel the sun and the wind.  It is the time that I think about things and spend time in prayer and get energy for the day.

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to live out so many different dreams and desires already in my life.  I believe that we are all here for a reason and that we all have a gift to share with the world.  People often express amazement that I have done so many things in my lifetime so far.  But I believe that we are all capable of doing anything that we want and set our mind to.  I was able to experience these amazing opportunities because I was not afraid to say “yes”, I believed that I would figure out how to do it and I was willing to put in the work that would be required.  I overcame fear with courage, doubt with determination.

The next chapter in my life is as a motivational speaker, author and music ambassador.  It is my dream to use my life experiences and the wisdom I have gained to encourage and help others who want to make a difference in the world; those who are fearful and not certain how to move forward and take advantage of amazing opportunities when they come along.  And especially those who are struggling towards a goal and need motivation to continue the fight.  I want to share my love of music and how important it is in our lives, individually and as a society.  And I will continue to walk and take care of myself so that I have the energy to go after more dreams!


Please like and follow my Facebook page:Jeanne Skrocki

Detailed story of my life on this podcast: 

Friday, December 14, 2018

2018 Inspiring People of the Year Natalie Larson

A (1,171 Mile) Walk From Mexico to Oregon

I started running marathons in 2004 after deciding not to be a nun! I had been very achievement oriented in high school (valedictorian, cheerleading captain, found a mistake on a national standardized test). When I met a friend in college who wanted to be a monk it enchanted me, it seemed to me the highest form of devotion. Halfway through college I transferred to a Catholic school and soon after joined a monastery. At first, it was everything I dreamed, but I soon felt as though I would never be able to fully express my drive to excel. That summer my aunt and uncle, marathon runners, were visiting my parents. They suggested I run a marathon, to have a new direction for my life.

I wanted to prove to my aunt and uncle that I could do it, so I followed the Hal Higdon online beginner’s guide and sixteen weeks later I crossed the finish line in just under five hours, my calves cramping and causing me to fall over! I couldn’t walk normally for three days after the race, but I was hooked.

After running a few more sporadic marathons during my undergraduate degree in Art at Grinnell I decided to get a little more serious about speed and trained to qualify for the Boston Marathon, which I did just after graduating in 2007. 2007 to 2009 was a whirlwind of philosophy graduate school, teaching SAT and GRE classes for the Princeton Review in Thailand and Nashville, writing ACT questions for a book (two of which are about running! and modelling for art classes, including Nashville artist Alan LeQuire. There is a life-sized bronze statue of me in someone’s backyard in Nashville… and you can still buy a 14” bronze mini caryatid in my likeness at the LeQuire Gallery.

In 2009 I began a second undergraduate degree at Vanderbilt University, where I completed a double major in mathematics and computer science in three years, interning at Harvard, MIT, and NASA during my summers. My running time was limited but I would take books to the treadmill to walk and made flashcards to take with me on my runs and hikes. Looking for a new running challenge, I completed my first ultra, a 50k in Nashville in 2010. In 2012 I began a graduate degree in computer science at UC San Diego where I joined the graduate student running club and the West Coast Road Runners. I wanted a new goal so decided to train for a 50 mile ultramarathon, and recruited a friend to train with me. In 2014 I completed my first 50 mile race. Soon after my training partner and I joined with other San Diego runners to form a dedicated trail and ultra running group - the Trail Crashers. We trained together for our first 100 mile race in 2015 - which was to be the San Diego 100, although I got a little excited and ran two other 100 mile races first… The longer the distance the better I seemed to do. I won my first race in the summer of 2015, Merrill’s Mile, a 24 hour race in Georgia that was the fourth of six 100+ mile races I completed in eight weeks.

In 2016 I set a new female course record at the Jackpot Ultra Running Festival 100 mile race in 17:24:58. According to Ultrarunning Magazine this was the 11th fastest female 100 mile time of the year. I also ran the 34th fastest female 100k and the 99th fastest female 50 mile race of the year. 2016 included four first place wins (Jackpot 100, Beyond Limits 100, Riverbank One Day 24 Hour, Orange Curtain 100k), one overall male/female win at the Beyond Limits 100, and three course records - the Jackpot 100, Riverbank One Day 24 Hour, and the Bare Burro 5k. In 2017, while waiting for a job to start, I was injured and unable to run. So I turned to walking. I would take long journey walks, 10-20 miles or more, heading out the door with a light pack and a credit card, stopping for food and water along the way. I climbed all of the local mountains and explored local trails, and streets.

I had wanted to do something epic with the unique opportunity I had - time off waiting for my clearance and a small retainer stipend. I started researching long trails in the US and looked for one that didn’t yet have a “Fastest Known Time” (FKT). Originally I hoped to do the American Discovery Trail, which spans the entire US, starts in California, and goes right through my hometown of Muscatine, Iowa. However, I got a call that I needed to be ready for my job to start in only a couple of months. The California Coastal Trail (CCT) seemed like the perfect fit -- it was only 1,200 miles, close by, had good weather, and was always close to civilization -- not much trail experience required! Since nobody had ever recorded an FKT, all I had to do was properly document my trip, and complete it, no pressure to go faster than my body would allow. In the end, I covered nearly a marathon a day for 44.5 days, my injury healed, and I won Ultrarunning Magazine’s #4 FKT of the year for 2017. I wrote a lengthy report of the trip as part of the FKT documentation:  It was an amazing adventure.

2018 has been a year of training and building speed, for the first time in my running career I’ve been working with a dedicated coach. I’m looking forward to returning to racing in 2019.

Thank you to Yolanda for inviting me to write my story on this blog. Yolanda’s determination and positivity continually inspire me!

Thursday, December 13, 2018

2018 Inspiring People of the Year Chris and Sarah Smith

Chris and Sarah Smith, A Love Story

     “I’d like to run a marathon sometime” Sarah, my wife said to her boss when I was in a meeting with them. And so began our love story, coaching her to run “a marathon” which eventuated in us running the Javelina Jundred together for our honeymoon. Since then we’ve been running marathons and ultras wherever we travel. Sarah has been my crew partner, my inspiration and life, encouraging my best at my Razorback 72hr ultra victory, and my run across India. 

     After returning from India (a ultra run/humanitarian mission to highlight human slavery in India), I was 25 pounds lighter and both physically and mentally exhausted. My goal was to train back up again so I could target the 6 day Across the Years Ultra, (hopefully this time not arriving 1 1/2 days late due to flight cancellations and having to chase the field). But after running only 4 Marathon and a bunch of half’s, that year I began to experience numbness and sciatic pain in my legs. By November I was not only unable to run but could no longer walk and could hardly stand more than a few minutes. A bad fall the year before our honeymoon at the Javelina Jundred Ultra had crushed my L5 bone into my spinal cords and was finally making its presence known and my pain tolerance couldn’t cover it up. 

   In December I underwent major back surgery; spinal fusion and decompression, removing bone parts to relieve my spinal cord which popped back into its original form. The following day refusing painkillers so my recovery would quicken, I was up and walking motivating myself to run once more. Two months post surgery after fast walking a half marathon, I began to run again. I gave my first finishers medal to my gifted neurosurgeon who had performed the miracle on my back. Now 12 months later with my back fully fused, I’ve completed 5 marathons, 4 ultra races (2 buckles) post surgery and am on my road to complete recovery. Next year depending on Sarah, I’ll begin my goals of challenging multi day events again, or run across another country, who knows... 

     About 6 month ago Sarah and I were run/walking on the edge of the Appalachians, she had covered around 36 miles in hilly technical trail that Sunday. The following day we were at the Bing Cancer Center for a “routine breast exam”. From there our lives took a major turn. After weeks of biopsies, blood draws and scans Sarah was diagnosed with Metastatic breast cancer, stage 4. With news like that most would bury themselves in depression and darkness but not my Sarah. “If me completing the Columbus Marathon while undergoing cancer treatment inspires just one person to keep doing the things that bring them joy while faced with evil, then it’s worth it. And If my experience can help just one person know what to expect when they first get that scary diagnosis, then it’s worth it.” She won the Columbus Spirit Award This year and was featured on the front page of The Columbus Dispatch the day before the race. 

   Sarah has continued to stay strong throughout chemo medications and heartbreaking treatments. Two weeks prior to the Columbus Marathon, we ran the NorthCoast 24 Ultra where she ran 100km while stopping to take her meds half way. A week after Columbus she ran 55 miles at the RunAmuk Ultra, although the side effects took their toll that weekend which for me, is very hard to endure. 

   Sarah’s in her 6th month of chemo now but her “bound and determined” approach is still as strong as ever. Her faith in God and her love of running inspires me and everyone around her. The joy we share in running and walking both trails and paths is a blessing, and although we have been certainly tested along the way we couldn’t be happier with our life together and wouldn’t change a thing. 

    Fast walking with Yolanda a few years back at the Jackpot100 Ultra we became great ultra world friends and have followed each other’s adventures along the way. She is both a great athlete and a great roll player within our sport and her personal support for my challenges and adventures in life are greatly appreciated. 

-Chris and Sarah

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

2018 Inspiring People of the Year Nikkis Campbell

She Overcame Depression and Became an IRONMAN

Good Afternoon,

First let me tell you that it is more than an honor to inspire one of the people that inspires me the most.  Thank you for allowing me to share my story with you.

The journey started towards the end of 2017 when my youngest daughter, my best friend graduated high school and left home for the Air Force.   The life I looked forward to was not as exciting as I thought it would be.  I was now an Empty Nester but came home every day sad and depressed because I was missing my best friend.  I have 3 kids and all 3 left home at 18, but the hardest was when the youngest left.  I was spiraling down a road of depression and I knew it because it was a road that I had been down before.  Until one day Alexis called and asked me what was I doing.  I told her that I was laying across the bed and her response was "Mom I did not make this sacrifice so that you could just lay around, I sacrificed so that you could live your life."  When I got off the phone tears fell and I got up and went for an 8 mile run.  The next day I decided to set a new goal and that goal was train for an Ironman.  

I did not know which Ironman I wanted to do but I knew that training would be tough and it would be what I needed to get me out of this funk I was in.   At first I was training entirely too much and too early.  I was doing this because I wanted to be tired when I came home, too tired to focus on the silence and thoughts of missing my youngest daughter who is now stationed in Turkey.   

I would wake up at 3:30 am go for a run or a swim, 8 am head to work, and every night I would run, swim or bike.  I was so exhausted when I got home but I had a routine and it was a routine that I needed to get me through my depression.  In the midst of training I found out that my mom was sick and has dementia.  That almost broke me but I kept training.  Never thought that there would be a day that my mom wouldn't remember who I am.

Training was hard as I faced some mental challenges and physical challenges.  Most of my training was done alone and I relied on the BE IRON FIT BOOK to get me through because I couldn't afford a coach.  Training for an Ironman is totally different because you have time for NOTHING!  Thankfully my close friends understood and was constantly checking on me and making me laugh.  

On, September 30 I completed Ironman Chattanooga something that I dreamed of doing is now real.......NIKKIS CAMPBELL YOU ARE AN IRONMAN is what I heard when I crossed the finish line.   So to sum up 2018 it was a the year that I overcame depression, focused on myself and God, and became an Ironman.  


Tuesday, December 11, 2018

2018 Inspiring People of the Year Beth Connolly

Beth Loves Long Distance Walking and Cycling

Having spent the better part of my childhood playing in the desert, and choosing to be unshod, or at least minimally shod, the minimalist lifestyle has always appealed to me.  Pedestrianism was not always a choice, but a way of life. To a large degree, If you wanted to go to your friend's house, you walked. And once you got there, we either walked to where we were going, or we jumped on our bikes. It was not a chore, it's just how it was. Walking four miles to Circle K to read the comic in the wrapper of a piece of Hubba Bubba bubble gum was enough for us! For most of my entire young life, I had walked to school or to the bus stop, (which were separated by miles, not driveways).

   My love of walking and cycling long distances eventually led to running. I began running relatively seriously a few years ago. The original reason for me to pick up the trot was to help a canine friend of mine, who suddenly found herself homeless. My idea behind the running with her was to keep her stress level down, and it worked like a charm. One mile led to two, then three....

   I was hooked. I began racing local 5ks to help with local charity. That felt really good, so I ran longer distances, and for more Charities, ultimately accomplishing Ultra Distance. (Over 26.2 miles.)

   Having admired several athletes (which very much includes pedestrianism) over the last few years, I have experienced a wide range of relationships with people who share common interests. You do not have to be fast to make a difference. You just need to move. The long pedestrian, running and biking distances appeal to me for environmental reasons as well. Improving your health while using no gas is a win/win, and always feels good. 

   Using all of these tools as an athlete who has no limits with a key focus on the environment has led me to this community of people. That has been the biggest benefit of all!