Running down a dream

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Running down a dream

Hanson Lee, Senior Sports Reporter

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Lauren Zeutenhorst wakes up at 3 a.m. to the sound of an alarm on a quiet Boston morning. As she gets up, the day has finally come and the feeling is  surreal. She puts on race clothing in her hotel room, then quickly packs everything up in order to catch a bus and be on her way to Hopkinton, Massachusetts, to run the Boston Marathon.

She sits on the bus and stares out the window, seeing the course go by at 60 miles per hour. She thinks to herself, “I’m gonna run this entire thing… This entire distance.” This is when she starts to get nervous.

Unlike most marathons, which tend to make a loop, the Boston Marathon runs one way from Hopkinton, Massachusetts to Copley Square in downtown Boston.

After about a 30-minute bus ride, the starting line is the only thing on Zeutenhorst’s mind. As the time finally comes and the race is about to begin, she feels her adrenaline build. She waits among a huge crowd of people. The moment has finally come.

You may know Lauren Zeutenhorst as the executive director of events and protocol at CWU, but Zeutenhorst will be competing at the Boston Marathon this year for her third straight year.

Deciding on Boston

After graduating from Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, Zeutenhorst moved to Boston to attend graduate school at Boston College in 2013, where she studied higher education administration.

After watching the Boston Marathon for the first time, Zeutenhorst realized that she wanted to experience the marathon for herself.

“I was like, I would do this someday,” Zeutenhorst said. “This is so cool.”

Zeutenhorst was an athlete during her time at Gonzaga playing soccer for three years, but she was never inspired to get into the running scene until after arriving in Boston.

“Part of me was missing––really missing––that competitive, athletic environment,” Zeutenhorst said. “I started taking up running because it worked well with my schedule.”

Zeutenhorst started working at True Runner, a competitive running store in Boston which also allowed her to join a running team as part of the job. It was there that she started to run longer distances.

 

Motivation from adversity

Around the same time she began working at True Runner, Zeutenhorst’s grandmother was diagnosed with cancer. With the struggles and challenges that she saw her grandmother going through, Zeutenhorst was inspired to be by her grandmother’s side and push herself on a physically challenging journey of her own.

“We got these bracelets that said, ‘physical journey,’” Zeutenhorst said. “[My grandmother] was going through her physical journey of chemo and cancer treatment, and I was going on my physical journey of training for my first marathon.”

Zeutenhorst’s grandmother is now in remission.

This led to Zeutenhorst completing her first marathon during the fall of 2014, which put her on a path towards eventually accomplishing any marathoner’s dream––the Boston Marathon.   

Zeutenhorst didn’t actually attempt the Boston Marathon for the first time until 2016, a year after she graduated from Boston College and moved back home to Washington.

“It was something to bring me back to Boston,” Zeutenhorst said. “It was amazing. It’s an incredible experience.”

Shortly after Zeutenhorst moved back to Washington, she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). MS is a disease in which nerve damage disrupts the communication between the brain and other parts of the body. Heat is a big factor in MS symptoms and can cause rapid exhaustion and fatigue, especially during exercise.

“It’s definitely exhausting and much more tiring,” Zeutenhorst said. “Your whole body feels like lead.”  

Kelsey, one of Zeutenhorst’s close friends and soccer teammate’s from Gonzaga, also had MS and the two were able to reach out to each other and reconnect. For Zeutenhorst, this opportunity to find support in an old friend helped give her hope that running would always be an option for her moving forward, despite the disease that was in front of her.

Kelsey tragically passed away soon after their conversations together. This only fueled Zeutenhorst’s motivation to never give up on herself and her goals as a runner.

The first two

While preparing for her first Boston Marathon in 2016, Zeutenhorst attended a speech by Katherine Switzer at Yakima Rotary, the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon in 1967. She and Switzer spoke briefly after the speech and Switzer mentioned her new foundation, 261 Fearless, which Zeutenhorst started  following on social media shortly after.

“She was really interested in my marathon journey,” Zeutenhorst said. “She was very interested in me personally without even knowing me.”

Created in 2015, 261 Fearless is a nonprofit organization which has a goal of creating a global running network for women all over the world through the power of running. With open arms, this movement has been able to empower women to stay strong and fearless together as a team.

When Zeutenhorst made her first appearance in the Boston Marathon, she ran for a small charity organization known as the McCourt Foundation. The McCourt Foundation provides assistance to people diagnosed with neurological disorders, including MS, through funding and research.

After a successful experience being able to run for the McCourt Foundation in 2016, Zeutenhorst returned to face the challenge again in 2017, but this time for a new team.

Zeutenhorst explained that it’s actually a lot harder for charities to get into Boston than it is for individuals who are trying to qualify. This is because these charities are only allowed a certain number of runners.

The McCourt Foundation was one of the smaller teams in the charity pool in Boston, which meant that they were only granted five racing bibs. Since the team liked to mix it up every year and was looking to bring in a new wave of members for 2017, Zeutenhorst knew she had to look elsewhere.

When she found out that 261 Fearless was going to be one of the featured charities in Boston the following year, she knew she wanted to join the team as she began to prepare for her second Boston Marathon.  

“I applied and reached out to Kathrine. The rest was history,” Zeutenhorst said.  

Battling Multiple Sclerosis

When it’s hot outside, Zeutenhorst’s MS symptoms usually kick in and she tends to feel lethargic and tired because of the heat.

“The heat just completely zaps me,” Zeutenhorst said. “It makes me really dizzy.”

Zeutenhorst said that besides feeling tired and really heavy during her past races at Boston, MS has been as much as a mental barrier for her as it has been a physical barrier.

As a runner, MS can be an be a very difficult and seemingly endless battle physically and mentally. For Zeutenhorst, her passion for running has persistently overridden the nature of her symptoms that have stood in her way. The Boston Marathon is a prime example.

Zeutenhorst heads into mile 19, what she refers to as the final test of the race – Heartbreak Hill. Heartbreak Hill, which consists of three rigorous hills heading up Commonwealth Avenue, lasts until the end of mile 21 where you finally reach the peak of all your efforts.

Zeutenhorst finally reaches the top of Heartbreak Hill at the end of mile 21. As she crests the final incline, she sees Boston College to her right and can feel the presence of a place she once considered home. Seeing friends, family and peers cheering for her as she runs by, she knows that the hardest part of the race is over. All there is to do now is make the best of a downhill finish.

Over the last five years, following the horrific bombings near the finish line in 2013, the race has become more than a national running spectacle. It has become an event that symbolizes the strength and unity that can be found within the city.

“Seeing the resilience of the city and the resilience of the race itself and being able to be a part of that. Once you do something like that… then for me running isn’t about exercise anymore,” Zeutenhorst said. “You get out there and you feel this connection.”

Zeutenhorst turns onto Boston’s famous Boylston Street. Her adrenaline builds as she sees the finish line. She knows that she’s close. She tells herself, “Ok, I’ve got to go all out.” With 385 yards to go, all Zeutenhorst has to do is finish what she started. Zeutenhorst stops for the first time in about five hours and all she feels now is exhaustion and instant relief. The magnitude of her accomplishments and the clarity of the moment won’t kick in until later.

“I do not get super emotional… All you want is to stop. To cross that finish line and be done with it,”  Zeutenhorst said.

Later, she’ll return to the finish line with her medal. Then she takes a picture. Watching friends and others cross the finish line that she was able to cross not long ago, it’s then she realizes the true meaning of what she’s been able to accomplish.

”In the moment you’re not really thinking about your experience,” Zeutenhorst said. “When you get to watch it, it’s completely different.”

This time around, Zeutenhorst’s best friend and training partner, Alli Scott, will be joining Zeutenhorst on her journey through Boston. Scott became good friends with Zeutenhorst during their freshman year at Gonzaga, but they became even closer during their time on the soccer field.

Scott has run with Zeutenhorst for years now, but joined 261 Fearless alongside Zeutenhorst this year in hopes of accomplishing her first-ever marathon. To Scott, having the opportunity to be with Zeutenhorst has been a special experience.

Scott said that watching Zeutenhorst stay so positive despite what she’s encountered over the years has been beyond inspiring.

It’s really powerful,” Scott said. “It makes me emotional.”

The past two years, Zeutenhorst has been on a journey, running the Boston Marathon for a cause that’s bigger than herself. In the face of adversity, Zeutenhorst has made it her mission to run for her friends, family and a disease that has tried to bring her down.

This year, Zeutenhorst is taking the marathon on as more of a personal goal, something that she feels like she hasn’t quite gotten to do yet.

“Obviously I always run for a charity… and personally for my family and for my friend who I lost,” Zeutenhorst said. “The third and final Boston will be run with me as the number one reason why.”      

 

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Running down a dream