Personal Essay of Ann Kurtis

By Ann Kurtis (USA)

 

I was one of six children, raised on a small farm in Michigan, by devoted parents. This likely laid the foundation for my strong work ethic and sense of determination. I can thank my parents for that!  Being active and outdoorsy came with the territory. Although I would say that my upbringing was rather idyllic, some unplanned events in life continued to shape and mold me.

 

I never really considered myself an athlete, and despite what I’ve managed to accomplish, I still find it uncomfortable to define myself in that way. We grew up in a rough and tumble atmosphere, riding horses, climbing trees, swimming, jumping from the loft in the barn into piles of hay, and the like. I always struggled, however, with sports that required hand eye coordination (perhaps because of a birth defect that resulted in a blind spot in my peripheral vision). I discovered a love of running, however, and delighted in the simplicity of putting one foot in front of the other for as long or as far or as fast as I cared to go! I attended a small country high school in the 70’s and dabbled in their track program. At that time, cross country was not an option yet for the girls. So, I set out on my own and learned a great deal about myself in the process.

 

Before I had even graduated from high school, an unplanned teenage pregnancy threatened to derail my plans for college and a career. Despite being an honor student, I found myself occasionally hanging out with the wrong crowd, and as you might have surmised, hooking up with the wrong boy! While on the surface this might appear to have been a disaster, it actually helped me develop the focus in life that I needed to see me through, and 2 wonderful children and subsequent grandchildren as well.

 

Perhaps as an attempt to redeem myself, I married the “baby daddy”, and was determined to graduate from high school, on time. My son was 9 months old when I did. I soldiered through and eventually graduated from the University of Michigan with a Bachelor of Science degree, albeit slightly delayed because I welcomed my daughter into the world in the midst of that chaos! During that time, I discovered that running provided an excellent form of stress relief and self-care, and empowerment.

 

When I finally had that diploma in hand in the spring of 1986, I realized I needed another goal in life to keep me moving forward. So later that same year, I ran my first marathon in a little over 4 hours. As with most of my marathons, about 20ish miles in, I vowed I would never subject myself to such torture again! In reality though, I was hooked and went on to run dozens more.

 

Along the way, I eventually parted ways with Baby Daddy. Several years later I met a running legend that would eventually become my husband. I married Doug Kurtis in 2005. In addition to many years of success as an elite athlete, he had become a talented race director as well. I too became involved in the industry and learned a great deal about the behind the scenes workings of large running events in the Detroit area.

 

 

Like many running addicts, I knew I had more in me. I wanted to get faster, and maybe thinner too. Despite never really achieving what one might consider a “runner body”, I managed to qualify for the Boston Marathon more than a dozen times. I frequently joke that “I’m faster than I look”, and I delight in passing skinny runners!

 

The last time I was able to run Boston was in 2013. It was the year of the infamous Boston Bombing. I crossed the finish line in 4 hours and 2 minutes, being slightly disappointed that I didn’t come in under 4 hours. A few moments later, the first of two bombs exploded very close to the line that I just crossed. The sad and disturbing scene that ensued continued to haunt me for many months afterward. I learned a lot about “survivor’s guilt” and “PTSD”. I found it difficult to enjoy the excitement and inspiration that the finish line of a major marathon provides. I did, however, continue my running and my journey.

 

One thing I’ve learned along the way is that we cannot do great things alone. As much as we as distance runners feel we have total control of our goals, we really do rely on the support of those around us. Our families, friends, running buddies, and the complete strangers that stand along the sidelines while we push ourselves to the finish line, all deserve recognition for these accomplishments. I need to remind myself that this fitness journey can become a somewhat selfish and narcissistic pursuit. It’s much larger than any one single individual.

 

In 2018 we moved to the Asheville, NC area. We had been vacationing here for many years and being semi-retired from our day jobs made that possible. I had always been intrigued by the hiking mentality and aspired to integrate this new activity into my life. I’m so grateful for the support of an amazing group of women I’ve bonded with here that made this a reality. I call them my tribe. I’ve always been wound pretty tight and have struggled with some depression and anxiety. Being on the trails, and the roads, has been integral to improving my mental health and helping me relax a bit. Hiking has provided an alternative to running every day and has made me stronger and less prone to running injuries as well.

 

I hope I can continue this journey of forward movement for the rest of my life. I’m turning 60 this year and continue to train with the hopes of completing one more Boston marathon. I have unfinished business at that finish line. I’m also exploring overnight backpacking for the first time in my life. I believe there are still many more miles to travel. We shall see where the journey takes me from here!