December 12 2017
Meet Rhonda-Marie and Steven Parke, two ultrarunners who discovered their love for each other through running.
On Feb. 21, 2003, I woke up from a biopsy to learn that I had breast cancer. Through the following year, I underwent four rounds of chemotherapy and seven weeks of radiation. The loss of my hair, weight and appetite contributed to a loss of self esteem. My husband and I had been having issues in our marriage, and with the stress of the disease, our relationship unraveled, and we separated.
I was distraught over the breakdown of my marriage, but I was able to beat the cancer. I spent the next couple of years working on getting my life back in order and soon I met someone who encouraged me. My new friend continued to tell me that I was strong and could beat anything. I had never had the gumption to believe in myself like that before.
I had always wanted to run a marathon, so I connected with a charity group, Team In Training, as a step toward that goal. In the spring of 2007, I walked my first marathon in San Diego. I felt terrible during the race, but when I stepped over the finish line, I crossed over a barrier in my life. Remembering that experience still overwhelms me with emotion and brings me to tears. For the first time, I realized I could do anything.
Although I was walking long distances, it was still hard for me to run. After working with a new team, a non profit called Northern Sierra Endurance Training, I was able to move slowly from walking to run-walking to running a full marathon. It is amazing what you can do when you put your mind to it. At the 2010 California International Marathon, I got to a point in the race where I felt like I had hit a wall. I thought, Oh no, I have trained too hard and come too far. I’m not giving up now. I pushed myself to keep going, and I finished with a time that qualified me for Boston.
At 56, l feel healthier and stronger, both mentally and physically, than l did in my 20s. As my coach often says, “Think positively and keep smiling. Always look forward to the next start line.” I appreciate every day and continue to be thankful for what lies ahead.