Despite my best efforts and self-awareness, my mind will still sometimes take a word and then pop-up a stereotype. A quick image in my mind of what X should look like. When you hear the words “ultra-marathoner” and “endurance athlete,” what do YOU think of?
My friend Lori Enlow has forever changed those words in my mind’s eye. I hope as we share and amplify her story, there will be a re-programming of other brains as well. So here goes:
What is an Ultra-Marathoner? What is an Endurance Athlete?
She’s an Indigenous woman. She’s Cherokee. She’s a great mom to 3 kids. She’s a wife. She’s a Nurse Practitioner working at Cherokee Elder Care, doing the hard and necessary work to take care of high risk elderly individuals in a relatively small town clinic in rural America. Native America. She can run harder, faster, longer than anyone you know. She’s disciplined. She’s committed. She’s laser focused on making better communities in big and small ways. Her work in Indian country is not limited to Cherokee Nation. Some of you may recognize her from her work in Moenkopi in Hopi territory.
As you can tell, I am a gold star member of the Lori Enlow fan club. Watching her races in-progress, quietly cheering her on, FB private messaging with her totally proud dad about her next race. She is strength and resilience personified. The word “grit” doesn’t begin to capture it.
But like the rest of us, sometimes she has a rougher day than expected and things don’t always work out like she hoped they would. You know what she does? She gets up again, brushes it off and re-engages. Every. Single. Time. Such an inspiration.
Like many of this blog’s previous health stories, Lori’s remarkable journey included a scary wake-up call. She describes that and a timeline of the evolution of her running career, in her own words:
“I took an interest in running as I watched my dad lace up his shoes and go for runs when I was young. The first run I remember, I was about 9 or 10 and I followed my dad and his friend out on one of their runs. I think I ran about 2 miles with them. I still remember the feeling of floating, the breeze, the smells, and listening to my dad and his friend chat. I ran track for a year or two in high school, and loved the training, but I was not a strong performer at races. I was quite sure I wasn’t very good at it.
After high school, I continued to run a few miles a day, a few days a week off and on for years. A few children, and more than a few pounds later, I found out I was diabetic. I was only 37 or 38 and I was shocked. I knew what that future held for me. I had years of experience helping Native men and women manage and treat their diabetes. I watched as adult children brought their mom’s and dad’s into the ER for complications of diabetes, I watched patient after patient go on to dialysis, lose their legs, lose their sight, lose their independence as early as age 40 or 50. I looked at my beautiful, lively, happy children. I vowed they would never have to take me to the hospital or to dialysis due to my diabetes. I did not want my children having to take care of me because I was unable to do the things I must do to remain as healthy and active as possible.
I began to change my diet and increase my running. Not long after, a friend invited me to start running in the mornings with she and a few other girls. The mileage they were doing seemed crazy, and when I found out she was going to run a 50 mile race, I thought she was crazy too. I was struggling with motivation to do the amount of exercise I knew my body needed, so I decided to join the gang. I decided to join in on the 50 mile race I once thought was ridiculous, and I started researching endurance running. I loved the training, and I loved the race.
From that point forward, I used races as an end to a means. I knew if I had a big scary race in a few months, I would do the work. To be able to do the training, I would have to eat healthier. I would need to fuel my body in a way that would support training for ultra races. I decided after that first 50 miler I would pick the biggest, scariest race I could think of and go for it. Leadville 100 was that race in 2012. It is a mountain race. The entire course sits above 10,000 feet. Most ski resorts sit at around 7-9,000ft. We would climb up and over Hope Pass at over 12,000ft twice, once at mile 45, then go all the way down the back side, hit mile 50, turn around and climb it again, and then run 45 more miles.
Racing scary races has given me passion and confidence myself, in motherhood, wifehood, workhood, and ultimately lifehood. It has introduced me to people and places that have made me more human, more humble, more kind. I circle back to my children. I can see how my walk has impacted their walk in a positive way.
My recipe? “Dream up a dream, turn that dream into a goal, build a plan to meet that goal, and then work tirelessly until that goal has been accomplished”. I stole it from an insanely badass elite endurance athlete, Tommy Rivers Puzy, he is currently fighting for his life with a rare form of lung cancer. A little over a year ago he was a full time ultra marathoner at the top of his game, a solid income from racing and coaching. Today he requires a walker and can only take a few steps without gasping for air. I will share a couple of his quotes…”Today, like everyday, I drag this candy ass out of bed, remind myself that I’m the only one in control on this quest to reach my own new potential, and remember with each struggling breath, “What a gift it is to be alive”. And my favorite…. “Fight like hell. Wash. Rinse. Repeat”.
Keep an eye out for the races on Lori’s calendar this year:
- 3/19/21 – 3 days of Syllamo: A stage race on the Syllamo trail in Arkansas 31 miles the first day, 50 miles the second day, and 12 miles on day 3 3 Days of Syllamo
- 5/29/21 – Bryce Canyon 50 miler in Utah Bryce Canyon Ultra Marathons » Vacation Races
- 7/30/21: Ouray 100 mile race Ouray 100 Mile Endurance Run
- 10/8-10/12/21: Moab 240 mile race Home (moab200.com)