Running the Good Race
When Donna Garske walked in the door of Starbucks, I watched from a distance as she glanced around nervously for a few moments, before rising to meet her at the door. "I'm so glad we found each other!" she exclaimed, "I realized on the way here that I had no idea who I was looking for." I smirked at this statement, because I knew her the minute she walked in the door. As if her sleek and muscular frame wasn't enough to immediately give her away as a runner, she had the glow of someone who loved what she did, and was about to have the chance to sit down with a stranger and share her passion.
As we started talking it became clear to me that my first impression was right on cue. I hardly had to ask any questions as tales of determination, adventure, danger and overcoming obstacles flowed from her lips. Donna's love for running began at a very young age. However, growing up in the 1970s, she was not allowed to compete on her high school team because she was a female. Instead, she joined the cheerleading squad and worked out with the cross country team at every available opportunity. "On my first date with my husband we ran ten miles together. This was significant, first because he actually ran the whole time, and second because working out was something we could do together. That became a big focus in our relationship and 30 years later we are still going strong," Donna beamed.
Over the years, Donna and her husband, Jeff, have travelled all over the country competing in 5K races (3.1 miles), triathlons (run, bike, swim), full marathons (26.2 miles) and everything in between. Even during her vacations she always sneaks in a good run to enhance her experience and soak in the culture of wherever she may be. "I ran all of San Francisco with my husband and it was breathtaking. We found parks, restaurants and streets we never would have come across. I always like to take the paths least taken and venture off because I never know what I will find."
Although Donna's ventures have brought her to some interesting destinations, they have also taken her into some risky situations as well. In some of her trail runs she has encountered wildlife such as mountain lions, bears, rattlesnakes and gators. On one occasion she got lost with a group of runners at a race in Minnesota and ended up running dead end into a lake. What should have been a quick 10K (5.6 miles) turned into a ten mile run and, oh yeah, she was pregnant at the time. "To me, trail running is the ultimate adventure because you never know what you'll see, what obstacle you'll run into or what animal you may encounter."
One very admirable trait about Donna is her determination in setting goals and constantly pushing herself forward. In April she accomplished one of her biggest lifetime goals: to qualify and run in the most elite race in the country, the Boston Marathon. "Boston was the biggest expo you could imagine. They now allow 27,000 people to run. It was incredible to be surrounded by some of the most elite runners in the world. I have never done a marathon where there were solid masses of people running and cheering the entire time. The first two or three miles I was frustrated because I could hardly run, but then I started to soak it all in and enjoy myself. There were bands, people high-fiving each other, banners, helicopters and mile markers built right into the pavement. We have already decided that we are going back next year, whether I qualify again or not."
Donna also has several other goals that she is working towards. She has qualified this year to run in the New York Marathon for the first time, and her plan there is to soak in the sights and take pictures as she runs. She also plans to run the Rim to Rim race, a 22-mile run along the edge of the Grand Canyon, as well as the Trans Rocky Run, a five-day run with a team in the high altitudes of the Colorado Mountains. "Many of my race goals have changed throughout the years and others I've had to revise, but they are just as important. I know that my best days are behind me but I have new goals now and I am happy to be working towards those. I have a friend who is 65 and still running marathons. If I have to give anything because of age or health, I just hope I never have to give up running. "
Favorite places on the Island to run: Sea Pines Forest Preserve, Pinckney Island, Dolphin Head
Other hobbies: Biking, massage, swimming, and tending to her horses
Family: Husband, Jeff; daughter, Kallie (28); son, Zach (25)
A major highlight from Boston Marathon: Hearing Katherine Sweitzer, the first female runner to run in the Boston Marathon, speak. She has made her life work breaking ground for women, and now nearly 44 percent of the runners at Boston are women.