“The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.”
― John Bingham,
When this year’s historic New York City Marathon takes place on Sunday, November 6, 2016, approximately 50,000 runners will converge at the start line, including Coronado residents Heather Barnett, Micca Bucey, and Lisa Johnson. While their sneakers will cover the same 26.2 mile course during the race, Heather, Micca, and Lisa will each carry a different story in their hearts as to why they are running.
Heather Barnett, a Navy widow and mother to two young children, was selected as a Tillman Scholar in 2015. The Pat Tillman Foundation honors the late NFL player who placed his football career on hold to join the Army after the tragic events of September 11, 2001. On April 22, 2014 Tillman was killed in action in Afghanistan, and the foundation honors his legacy. According to its website, “Founded in 2004, the Pat Tillman Foundation invests in military veterans and their spouses through academic scholarships – building a diverse community of leaders committed to service to others. The scholars chosen show extraordinary academic and leadership potential, a true sense of vocation, and a deep commitment to create positive change through their work in the fields of medicine, law, business, education and the arts.”
As a Tillman Scholar, Heather, whose background is in school counseling, has been pursuing her doctorate in education (Ed.D.) through Alliant International University. Her focus is studying special needs in community colleges, describing it as “bridging the gap for that transitional period of time.” She worries about the lapse of services as well as the lack of services available to students with special needs once they are finished high school. Heather is also actively involved with SEPAC (Special Education Parents Advisory Committee) here in Coronado, and advocates that both special educators and support staff as well as general educators be up to date on the best educational practices for teaching students with special needs so that the inclusion module meets all students’ needs.
This year Heather will be running the NYC Marathon to raise money for the Pat Tillman Foundation. “We’re not expected to give back, but at the same time we want to because they help us so much. It’s way beyond just the financial scholarship of it. It’s a community. It’s a family. They support you basically forever. Once you’re a part of it, there’s a network of people you can call on; there is somebody out there who could potentially help you,” Heather says.
Heather wanted to give back to the Pat Tillman Foundation for not only funding her doctoral studies, but also welcoming her and making her part of a lifelong community. She says, “It was crazy that I signed up for this [NYC Marathon], but the one thing I do is run. I looked at the NYC Marathon, and they have the Team Tillman for that marathon.” She decided, “That’s the best way for me to give back,” and signed up to raise money for the charity,
Heather has already run four full length marathons and several half marathons. When she ran her first marathon in 2009, she was just three minutes shy of qualifying for the Boston Marathon without even purposely trying to qualify for the elite race. She decided to make it her goal to qualify for the Boston Marathon, and she did. After completing her fourth marathon at the Boston Marathon, Heather had no plans of ever running a marathon again. Plans to hang up her racing shoes changed, however, when she saw that the NYC Marathon would give her the chance to help the foundation that has helped her so much. She contemplated, “If I was ever going to do one more marathon, the NYC Marathon is the one I would want to do.”
As part of Team Tillman, Heather has a fundraising website, and she is so close to meeting her goal. She says, “Every dollar that we raise goes right back to the scholarships that we give.” Heather may never be able to pay the Pat Tillman Foundation back for all that it has done for her, but she can pay it forward by helping future foundation recipients. “This is not your typical scholarship,” she says of being selected as a Tillman Scholar. She says she’s extremely humbled and proud to be part of it, and wonders how they chose her. “It’s an interesting mix of people with amazing ideas,” she says of her fellow Tillman Scholars, including future recipients who she will hopefully be helping as she raises money.
Heather knows of one fellow Tillman Scholar who was able to give back 75% of what the money she received from the foundation by raising money for Team Tillman in the NYC Marathon. “I don’t know if I’ll do this year after year after year,” she says of any future plans to run, but she is excited about the opportunity she has to give back, adding, “but I’m going for it this year! I think it will be fun.”
Heather reflects on running a marathon as she says, “Nobody signs up for a full length marathon without a story backing it. There is an in-depth reasoning as to why you sign up to do it. My son was diagnosed with autism in 2009, and for me it was just a crazy, life-changing event. It feels like everything is ripped out from under you.” Two years ago everything in Heather’s world changed again when she lost her husband. Heather enjoys running for the time it gives her to focus on herself, acknowledging that taking care of her own well-being helps her take care of her children. Juggling being a single parent to her son and daughter, raising a child with special needs, and working toward her doctorate in education, Heather values what running brings to her life as she tries to manage the “roller coaster events” of recent years.
As an avid runner, Heather usually logs about twenty-five miles per week. With the marathon still being a few months away, she hasn’t begun her full training in earnest yet, but plans to do so this summer. “I don’t want to hurt myself, and do too much too soon.” Most training plans, she notes, are about three months long so she will most likely begin in late July or early August. In the meanwhile, Heather will continue raising money for Team Tillman and run regularly like she does now.
When asked if she is nervous at all about her upcoming marathon in November she answers, “It worries me a tad to run that far again, twenty-six miles. A little on the nervous side, but I know it will just be another day. It will be a long day, and I’ll get through it.” Heather acknowledges she’s a “slight perfectionist with timing” as she notes that she finished the Boston Marathon in 4 hours and 7 minutes. Heather says if she finishes the NYC Marathon between 4 hours and 4 and a half hours she will be happy; not as happy though as all of the future Tillman Scholars she will be helping.
As people reflect on everything she’s gone through and all that she’s doing, she’s often been told that her story is “inspiring”. Heather shrugs that off, and says, “Anything is possible. You just keep putting one foot in front of the other. You keep moving forward. Setting goals, no matter how big or how small, is important. I’m up against a lot already, but it’s a very positive, healthy thing to do.”
Micca Bucey and Lisa Johnson
Three years ago Micca Bucey, who works as the Group Fitness Director at Coronado Fitness Club, crossed a marathon off of her bucket list when she ran the Carlsbad Marathon. “It was actually a really good experience,” she recalls. Her goal was to run a marathon before she turned 40, and Micca laughs as she shares how she met that goal with just five months to spare.
She calls her entry to this year’s NYC Marathon a “fluke” and shares, “The friend who I ran the Carlsbad Marathon with [Jennifer Nelson] is a friend of mine from Virginia. She urged me to do a marathon with her; it was kind of an excuse for her to come to California and visit because she had never been to California. We trained separately, and then did the marathon together that day. Three years later she’d still been bugging me to do another one. We decided to put our names into the New York Marathon lottery, and we both got picked.”
Micca’s running partner here in Coronado is her good friend Lisa Johnson. When Micca discovered that she had secured an entry in this year’s NYC Marathon, she encouraged Lisa to join her, telling Lisa that she could run the marathon too if she signed up to raise money for a charity. “It will be for a good cause, and it will give us motivation to keep running and training for it,” Micca remembers telling her.
This will be the first full marathon for Lisa Johnson, who’s been an avid runner for seven years and has completed two half marathons. “It has been on my bucket list to do a full, and I originally thought, ‘Oh, I’ll do it before I turn 40, and now it’s past that.” With Micca’s encouragement, Lisa started researching which charities have teams raising money for the NYC Marathon, and soon found a charity with which she and her family have a personal connection, Team Reeve.
Team Reeve raises money for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, whose slogan is, “Caring for people today. Finding cures for tomorrow.” Named after the late actor who famously starred as Superman and his late wife, “The Reeve Foundation is dedicated to curing spinal cord injury by funding innovative research, and improving the quality of life for people living with paralysis through grants, information and advocacy.” In 1995 Christopher Reeve was injured in a horse-riding accident, and the spinal cord injury he sustained resulted in him being a paraplegic.
Lisa shares, “I was kind of unsure about it until this opportunity came up for me to run for Team Reeve, and that kind of pushed me over the edge. Once I found Team Reeve, I thought, ‘This is the sign that this is the year, and this is the marathon. Never say never, but I don’t know that I’ll ever do another marathon so part of me thought, ‘If you’re going to do one, New York City would be a cool one to do. Go big or go home!”
What is it about Team Reeve that has inspired Lisa to travel across the country to run 26.2 miles? When Lisa’s younger brother Patrick was a senior in college, he was in an accident which left him as a quadriplegic. “As you might imagine, that threw our family into a whole new realm that we had never imagined being a part of,” she recalls. “You’re so in shock, and you’re so much in grief. You don’t know anything about doctors and treatments and what to do and where to go.”
“From the very beginning they [Reeve Foundation] were a source of great information and encouragement while my brother was in the hospital. He was in physical rehab, and then he moved back home with my parents. My mom became the president of the Orange County chapter of Christopher Reeve. She did that for about five years, and their main goal was fundraising. Every year she would put on the gala, and I was involved in that with her. During that time I was able to meet both Christopher and Dana Reeve separately. They would come out to the gala, and we got to sit with them a couple times. Both of them have passed away; Christopher died of complications from his injury, and his wife Dana died of cancer a couple of years after he did. I’m so grateful for what Christopher Reeve has done for my family and since Christopher and Dana aren’t here anymore, I especially want to keep their legacy alive and their foundation going,” Lisa says.
She continues, “For people who have spinal cord injuries, it’s a lifelong struggle. My brother’s been injured 20 years this past March 8th. You would think that the worst would be over in the beginning, but there are so many health complications to all of his systems; he has chronic pain. It’s just a struggle. There aren’t very many doctors who specialize in quadriplegics. Christopher Reeve has a 24 hour nurse line where you can call and talk with someone who’s familiar with the injury. It’s obviously a cause that’s near and dear to my heart. Not only do they provide support, they continue to research for a cure. They’re convinced that someday we’ll be able to regenerate a spinal cord, and people will be able to walk again. I don’t know if we’ll see it within my brother’s lifetime; that would be great. If not, I’d love for that to be the contribution to the future. It was also important to me that none of the money goes to get me to New York or pay for my accommodations; it all goes to Team Reeve. ”
While Micca isn’t doing any fundraising herself, she’s helping Lisa by promoting Lisa’s fundraising through Coronado Fitness Club. “We are going to put her link on our [Coronado Fitness Club’s] Facebook page, and we have a sign in the gym to donate to her.”
Christopher Foote, owner of Coronado Fitness Club, says, “I’ve been training Lisa, getting her ready for her race. I love training all walks of life. I love finding out someone’s why. As I’ve gotten to know Lisa, she told me about her brother and her why, and it fired me up. Between her and Micca, it’s hard to contain the positive energy in one room. I couldn’t think of two better people to help push each other. We all need that extra boost and push, including myself as a trainer. We all need it. I couldn’t be more proud to sponsor both of these amazing women, who make everyone around them better. I love everything they stand for in our community, and that they are constantly lifting people up all around them.”
In addition to overseeing all of the fitness class scheduling at Coronado Fitness Club, Micca also teaches kickboxing, Zumba, spin, TRX, and high-intensity interval training. She says that training for the NYC Marathon is “still a little too far out,” but with the amount of constant physical activity she’s involved in at work, she’s already well on her way to being ready this November. Of her training with Lisa she says, “We’re trying to keep up our weekly running, and add on a mile or two each week. Right now we have a base of 15 to 20 miles per week through the summer. Once August hits we’ll really start our strict training regiment, and I’ll probably have to back off of my workouts at the gym because my body just won’t be able to handle it. I won’t be able to actually do all the classes that I’m teaching; I’ll have to watch, and teach that way.”
Of their training for the marathon, Lisa laughs as she says, “The most I’ve ever run is a half marathon so part of me still thinks it’s crazy. I think we’re going to use one of the Hal Higdon training programs. Having someone to do it with is really important to me. I’m relational enough that that will get me out of bed and running on the days when I don’t want to run.” Lisa and Micca aren’t just training together; they’re planning on running side by side throughout the 26.2 miles on race day. “Running the marathon with her gives me confidence that we’ll keep each other going. I’d like to say I’d do it by myself, but I don’t know that I’m wired as such that I could do it by myself. Just being in it together gives me a lot of encouragement.”
On days when Lisa finds herself struggling on a long run she thinks, “Whose dumb idea was this to sign up for this marathon?” Because she’s committed to Team Reeve though, she keeps pushing herself. “Once you commit with Christopher Reeve to running, you are committing. You are committing to raising a minimum of $4,000, and I would love to blow that away. Whatever money is not raised by the race, you’re responsible for.” As part of Team Reeve, Lisa has a fundraising website, where she has already begun accepting donations.
Lisa shares, “I think running for something other than myself gives me more purpose and drive. Team Reeve has a running coach as a consultant so when you sign up for Team Reeve you have access to him. I had a really good phone conversation with him. He helps with your training plan, if you have questions, if you get hurt, and he also has suggestions for fundraising. It’s been so encouraging to have people donate. I’m not a person who very easily asks for money or has ever done anything like this before so there was a little discomfort to start with, but it is so encouraging to me and to my family when somebody donates. Somebody will donate, and make a comment saying, ‘In honor of Patrick,’ and I’ll pass it on to my mom and dad and brother so they can feel the encouragement. That’s a surprising part to me that I didn’t expect. People from your past who you wouldn’t think would contribute have been touched in some way so they’ve contributed.”
What emotions is Micca experiencing as she thinks about her second marathon? “Everything,” she says as she laughs. “When I got the email that my name had been picked for the lottery, I was nauseous and I wanted to cry,” she recalls. “Then it set in, and I’m now just I’m excited. I think it’s going to be a really fun experience! I’m going to try to enjoy being there, and not worry about what time I cross the finish line.” She says that during her first marathon she was really focused on what time she got, and crossed the finish line at four hours and two minutes. “This time I’m not going to focus on that [time], and take pictures along the way,” she says, admitting that she’s normally competitive. She’s looking forward to running with both Lisa and Jennifer, who she’s been friends with for nine years now.
Thinking about November 6th Lisa says, “I am nervous. I think in the end it’s going to be mind over body a little bit. I’m excited to do it in New York City with all of the sights and the sounds and the history there.” When she was newly married, Lisa attended graduate school at Princeton University in New Jersey, and she and her husband would frequently hop on a train to New York City to catch Broadway shows or go out to dinner. “I’m counting on the adrenaline of the city and the energy of all the people carrying me through miles 19 through 26,” she says, remembering what makes New York City a city like no other.
“It’s been a really long time,” Micca says as she tries to remember the last time she was in New York City. “My husband is in the military so we’ve moved around quite a bit, but we’ve lived in Virginia twice. While we were there, we went to New York a couple of times just for vacation.” She’s looking forward to not only running, but also having the opportunity to experience a few touristy things that she still hasn’t gotten around to seeing such as the Statue of Liberty. Micca’s children were initially very excited when they found out their Mom would be running the NYC Marathon, thinking they would be accompanying her to New York City. They quickly got over the disappointment that Mom was going without them, and are now proud of her. Micca compliments her husband for being “so encouraging,” adding, “He knows it takes up a lot of time to train and that I need help from him with the kids and family life. He’s excited too.”
Like Micca, Lisa has experienced the same support from her own husband and children. Before signing up, she discussed it with her husband knowing that this undertaking would be a “family commitment.” “There are days when I’m going to be gone on long runs, things I’m going to miss, or responsibilities that he’s going to take over,” she acknowledges, but says her husband was supportive from the moment she mentioned the idea, saying, “You should do it! I think that’s great! We will help out.” She says her kids “think it’s cool too.” She chuckles as she thinks about her daughter asking her, “Why did you wait until you were so old?”
While Lisa was focused on her time during both of her half marathons, she says, “I’ve kind of changed the kind of runner that I am so that’s not as important to me as just finishing and enjoying it, enjoying the person I’m running with, and just taking it all in. I’m glad that I didn’t choose to do a marathon back then [before she turned 40] because it would have been a totally different type of experience than I feel it will be now.” Most of all, Lisa will run for her brother Patrick, who she calls a “brave warrior.” He may no longer be able to run, but Lisa is hopeful that every donation made to Team Reeve will be one step closer to making that a possibility again someday.