TEAM BETSY: Battling Cancer at the Blue Ridge Marathon

For those of us who are runners, we understand the attraction of a challenge. We connect with the idea of pushing the boundaries of what we are capable of as humans. We also know how personal they are, what we define as a “challenge” is different for everyone. It isn’t about achieving the goals that others have set; it’s about setting goals for yourself and using those goals to push you to go outside of your comfort zone.

As a Carilion employee and long-time race volunteer, Betsy Parkins watched for years as others accomplished their lofty goals completing various race distances of the Blue Ridge. Betsy felt inspired by the amount of diversity in age and ability level from those participating, and decided to create her own goal. She set her mind on running the Blue Ridge half-marathon the following year, but the task ahead wasn’t going to be as simple as just signing up for a training program and logging the miles. She had been diagnosed with both breast and colon cancer a few years prior and her illness was not simply going to go away. She spoke with her doctor who told her she should “absolutely not” attempt to run America’s Toughest Half Marathon in her condition.

Still, Betsy could not shake the thought that she should and could do this. She could imagine herself reaching the top of Peakwood, and crossing the finish line victorious, and didn’t want to let that vision go. They were all right there in her mind. All she had to do was start walking and the rest would fall into place, so she started planning a year in advance to participate in the 2016 race. She rallied a team together and created “Team Betsy” (seen crossing the finish line in the image), a group of friends and coworkers who believed in her and were excited about helping her accomplish her goal.

Throughout the race, Betsy faced adversity both physically and mentally.  Pushing to the summit of Peakwood, with every step getting steeper and more difficult for even the healthiest of runners she relied on her support network to keep her moving forward. The support and encouragement from the staff and volunteers at the top of Peakwood made the experience made her cry. “The staff along the course were amazing”, she recalled, “despite being last and having to wait so long for us – they were all still there. I’ve never felt so much humanity in my life”.

Betsy finished the Blue Ridge Half Marathon in 2016 with the support of her team with a time of 6 hours, 12 minutes and 28 seconds, a challenge many in her situation wouldn’t have even attempted. Was she the fastest in the race? No. Did she break any records? No. Yet Betsy describes the half marathon as “the most magical, amazing 6 hours of my life”. Her reasons? The team she had behind her, supporting and encouraging her, the spectators waiting to cheer her on no matter how long it took, and the feeling of accomplishment when she completed the race. “I will never forget coming around the corner and on to the finish line. It was so much better than I ever imagine,” she said.

Betsy understood that this dream wasn’t about running a certain time, having the nicest gear, or really even running at all. Whether you are walking the race, working with a team, or running for your PR, what matters is that you accomplished a new and exciting goal. It’s about pushing yourself to your individual limits and enjoying the people and experiences that have helped you get there.

Written by our Intern Austyn DiIoia
Edited by Julia Boas
Published June 29, 2016

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