Lisa Smith Batchen- Running Down a Dream in Women’s Adventure
Sunday, September 12, 2010
A seasoned and accomplished athlete, Lisa Smith Batchen is no stranger to hardship. Her résumé boasts records and wins at the world’s most grueling ultra endurance runs and she won Marathon Des Sable, a 150 mile race through the Sahara (she’s still the only American to do so). She ran from Las Vegas to the top of Mount Whitney in a single 306-mile push, and in her personal life, she’s struggled with addiction, abuse, depression, and anorexia. In her twenties, Lisa discovered that the endorphin release running provided was a critical component to regaining and maintaining her health, and in the midst of her personal struggles, “Running gave me my life back,” she says.
In fact, Lisa claims that running saved her life, so now she is running to save the lives of others.
This summer, Lisa completed a 2,500-mile run across the United States, called Running Hope Through America. Over the course of 62 days, she ran fifty miles in
each of the fifty states to launch a fundraising campaign she hopes will raise $1 million for orphans with AIDS.
Over the past 12 years, Lisa has used long distance running to raise an average of $400,000 annually for Religious Teachers Filippini (RTP), an organization that works internationally to help orphans with AIDS. Considering Lisa’s long-standing relationship with the RTP, and the fact that her longtime running partner, Sister Mary Beth Lloyd, is now RTP’s Mission Director, upping her fundraising ante was a given; it was just a matter of figuring out how.
Looking for a way to celebrate her fif-tieth birthday, Lisa started toying with the idea of trying to break the women’s record for running across the country – a route that traverses 19 states. While running one day, she realized that goal didn’t suit her. “I didn’t feel like breaking anyone else’s record
anymore. I’ve lost that desire,” she said, deciding instead to focus on
a feat no one had tried. Lisa began brainstorming with her friend, well-known ultra-runner Ray Zahab, who suggested a 50-kilometer run in all 50 states, a challenge no one had undertaken. But sticking true to her endurance roots, Lisa wanted to tackle 50 miles in each of the 50 states.
On April 19th, she began her journey by running the 50-mile stretch bet-ween two RTP landmarks in Trenton and Morristown, New Jersey, and she hardly stopped running for the next 62 days. As she wound her way across the country, loved ones and supporters turned out in droves.
“It felt like one big reunion,” she says, explaining that the highlight of her journey was the crowds of friends, family, and former running students that ran alongside her and came out to wish her well.
New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts – Lisa was feeling stronger and gaining momentum as she looped through the northeast and ran south along the eastern seaboard. But running in Texas, the 23rd state, she twisted her left ankle in a pothole while talking to a running companion. Despite the tremendous pain, Lisa was committed to continuing. Each evening, Lisa would soak her foot in
an ice bath and Sister Mary Beth would sprinkle her foot with Holy Water. “I never thought I wasn’t going to make it,” she says. After years of pushing her body to the limit, this injury was just another challenge to manage. Instead of dwelling on the discomfort, Lisa saw it as an opportunity for learning. “Some people live through that kind of suffering everyday, ” she says. “The experience made me all the more determined to help less fortunate people.” After completing the run, Lisa would learn she had broken her navicular – a small bone on the top of the foot.
Lisa says her lowest point came 2,400 miles into her run, in Montana, her 48th state. Moving from state to state in a bumpy RV, she hadn’t gotten more than a few hours sleep in days, her foot wouldn’t stop throbbing, and Missoula’s freezing weather did little for her motivation. Lisa calls the day a disaster. She was hallucinating and staggered off course. Eventually a member of her support crew found her in a grocery store and drove her back to the course – the only time during any of her runs that Lisa used a car.
On June 19th, she crossed the finish line at her home in Teton Valley, Idaho. Tears streamed down her face as her two daughters scrambled into her arms. Though she’d spent 62 days away from her family, and weeks leading up to her departure busy with training and logistics, her seven-year-old daughter embraced her at the finish line and said, “Mommy, if you decide you want to do this again, that’s okay with me.”
Lisa is grateful for her family’s unwavering support, but now back at home she’s focused on reaching her $1 million fundraising goal through her non-profit Dreamchaser Foundations, which works in conjunction with RTP. Lisa plans to continue coaching through her successful business, Dreamchasers Outdoor Adventure Club, and organizing endurance races that range from long distance runs in exotic locales to local Turkey Trots, with her husband, Jay. “I want to help inspire and encourage other people to use their passions to help others,” she says when asked about her coaching goals. “We all have the opportunity to live an extraordinary life. Sometimes you just have to ask for help. That’s probably the biggest thing I learned on the run. I’m not an ‘ask for help’ person, but I’ve learned it’s okay.”
Along with coaching and fundraising, Lisa has one other nagging goal: As the grand finale to her record-breaking career, she hopes to be the first ten-time woman finisher of the Badwater 135 Ultra, a mid-summer race from Death Valley to the top of Mount Whitney. “I just can’t give up on that dream,” she says of her planned 2011 swan song. Considering her commitment to running down dreams and her dedication to helping others chase theirs, she probably won’t have to.
– Molly Loomis