Why I Run: Hilary’s Story 1


I cannot say enough about Hilary. I met her during her high school years, when my husband was her teacher. She babysat our little ones, and I grew to love her beauty and joy and sense of humor. she is all that is good and light. I follow her journey to the Ironman, and I hope you will, too.

My running has evolved over the years, much like I have. It started out of a need to please, unsure and unsteady and erratically grasping for a comfortable pace. Running transitioned, then, to a competition, to winning, to finding a place on the podium. Most recently, however, I run for one purpose. I run because I can.

As the child of runners, I grew up in large part on the racecourse, handing out water or taking the family dog for the one-mile fun run. My mother used to hire babysitter so she could get in her precious time on the road and my stepfather went to the Olympic trials in the marathon. As a pleaser, my natural inclination was to run.

When I arrived in the unsteady state of middle school adolescence, I ran because I was good at it. I won races and medals and attention. I kept going because I could define myself by something other than my older siblings, less than perfect grades, or hopeless fashion choices.

Then, suddenly, things changed. The doctors, as a result of an operation to fix a heart defect, found a cyst in my brain. Without knowing what, exactly, sat in my left frontal lobe, I moved through the early years of high school with a smile to mask lurking denial and trepidation. After enough non-diagnoses, and the intervention of faith, my mother and I made the decision to have the tumor removed. At the age of seventeen, I shaved my head, wrote a few notes just in case, and underwent brain surgery.

The surgery was a success and as I sat in the hospital, I had the morphine-induced idea that I would run the Boston Marathon one day. I had a lot of work to do before that would happen. One month later, when my brother and sister were home from college to celebrate Christmas, we received results from the surgery. The doctor called my mother on the day before Christmas to tell her that it was cancer. Being the woman that she is, momma calmly explained that she needed to run a few last minute errands and drove off. She later told me that she parked the car and cried for the entire two hours that we believed she was buying last minute gifts. She quietly held on to my diagnoses until long after the New Year, knowing that the value of our time together that year was far more important than anything that could have been done.

I didn’t return full time to school for a few months, plagued by sickness and still in the fragile stages of recovery. For the next ten years, I would go back to the doctor for MRIs to confirm that the cancer had not come back. In that time, I held on to my Boston Marathon dream.

I ran my first marathon at the age 19. Six years and seven marathons later, I qualified for and competed in the Boston Marathon. It was, in all senses of the cliché, a dream come true. As I approach my ten-year cancer-free anniversary on November 20th, I look forward to my biggest feat yet. To celebrate my fight and to honor the fights of others, I am participating in the Ironman Triathlon in Arizona. It is a race that consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run. I am dedicating each of the 140.6 miles to a different fight. Some of my honorees did not win their battles, and others have left them long behind. But the reason that I smile when I put on my running shoes, even if it was a forced smile on some days, is because after everything that I have seen and felt and thought, I am grateful that I can.


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One thought on “Why I Run: Hilary’s Story

  • Kurt

    Hilary. I hear your voice and see your smile in your writing. It is a knowing smile. One that knows: 1) pain 2) peace 3) that your smile DOES affect others. One of my favorite pictures of all time is of you as a freshman. Sitting on a large flat rock, angled rock. You are looking back over your shoulder at me smiling big. You know that I am about to put you on my back and carry you down the mountain due to a sprained ankle suffered moments before. Your smile knows that it won’t be fun for me and that it is currently no fun for you, but you are not going to apologize for circumstances. Just live in the moment and look forward. With a smile. Similarly, 3 years later, You served me again with a smile. On the same trip into the woods! I had fallen (but I could get up, barely.) My leg was badly injured. After driving the kids/groups back to the campsite, I needed to go to the hospital. I needed someone to go with me, but i needed all the adults to stay with the kids. You did not hesitate to volunteer. I had been bleeding all day and was not sure how things were going down there and was unsure if I would be able to go back to the campsite. Your presence in the van on the way and in the waiting room was settling. You made corny jokes (my kinda gal) and shared much of your experience with your surgery and recovery. Then when they were finally ready to have me come back and clean/dress and stitch up my wound, you came with me and stood right there. Asking nurses questions, and never missing a beat. It was totally gross… I am not sure I ever told you how much that meant to me at the time. Getting back to camp and making sure it didn’t blow up and dreading what my wife was going to say when i showed her the stitches and told her how it happened was all I could think about. I took your presence, and your encouragement and your smile for granted.

    Thank you for then. Thank you for now. Totally wish you lived closer. Glad you are running and continue to live and love life.

    Kurt (Formerly Mr. L)