Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Glimpse into the Life of Elite Ultrarunner Lisa Smith-Batchen

I recently had the opportunity to live for two weeks with Lisa Smith-Batchen, her wonderful husband, Jay, and their two adopted daughters, Anabella and Gabriella, and their dog, Skip. I witnessed her family and professional life as she prepared for the grueling Badwater Ultramarathon. The following are my observations of this time period.

“Do you feel like an elite athlete?”

“No.” It was quiet for a moment as Lisa Smith-Batchen thought out her next words. “I feel like a busy mom,” she said.

She resumed packing her kids’ lunches, a ham and cheese sandwich, pretzels, an apple, a bag of orange slices, and a bag of baby carrots. We were standing in the kitchen of her home in Alta. The sun was just peaking over the horizon, casting a warm glow on the Tetons.

“It’s going to be a beautiful day,” she said, looking out the window. Lisa had been awake since five o’clock. She had taken the dog out for a walk, showered, and dressed for work. Her husband, Jay, was already at their store in Driggs. In a few minutes, the girls would need to wake up. Right next their lunch boxes on the kitchen counter, stood a big jar of money – mostly pennies – that Lisa found on her training runs. Pennies from Heaven she liked to call them. They were all to be donated to AIDS Orphans Rising, a charity very dear to Lisa’s heart and the focus of her life’s work.

“You can feed a child in some countries for six pennies. Just six cents can save someone’s life,” she told me. I wondered if perhaps she thought about her daughters when she talked about orphans. Did the love she feels for her own children fuel her zeal for helping the less fortunate, those children in the world without food, shelter, or loved ones to care for them?

When Gabby and Annie woke up, it was a mad rush to the door. Lisa was already running late to her morning class at Dreamchasers. She put Skip in his kennel in the back of the van, along with food, water, and his leash. As soon as they arrived at the store on Main Street, Lisa hopped out, helped her kids out of their car seats, and dashed into the doors. She glowed with energy.

“Hey everybody,” she called out. “Let’s get moving!”

Music blared from the speakers. She picked up the medicine ball and began her cardio core instruction.

“Get those knees up,” she yelled. “Move it! Keep those abs tight!” By the end of the session her students were drenched in sweat, their breaths coming in short, fast bursts. Everyone seemed content with their morning workout. But, Lisa didn’t stick around to chat. She got the girls together and drove to the Sports Club at Teton Springs, where she would work until closing time.

“When do you find time to train,” I asked her on the ride to the Club. “I don’t have time for that,” she replied.

It was true. In all the time I spent with her, she only did a handful of training sessions. Badwater was fast approaching. This was Lisa’s tenth and final go at the 135-mile run in Death Valley, dubbed “the toughest footrace on the planet.” The race is the final part of her Running Hope to America mission, her way of raising money for and awareness of orphaned children around the world who have lost their parents to AIDS.

Even with Badwater around the corner, Lisa didn’t get in any distance longer than twelve miles prior to the race. There was always too much going on. Kids. Work. Coaching. When she finally got home at night, she would sit with Jay in their living room and they would talk about their day. Sometimes they would just sit silent and be together, loving partners supporting each other through the hectic hubbub of everyday life.

After the girls went to bed, Lisa would get on her computer and sort through hundreds of e-mails, letters from students around the world who sought advice from their coach. Late into the night she worked, sometimes staying up until midnight.

Lisa is many things to many people – a mother, wife, sister, and friend. She is an inspiration and a teacher. She brings hope to many people with her charitable acts of kindness. Her seemingly inexhaustible amount of energy is astonishing to behold. If she spreads herself too thin sometimes, it is because her very nature is selfless.

Even though she didn’t get in what might be considered optimal training for an event like Badwater, her will power alone, her passion for running for charity - running for a purpose, she calls it - will undoubtedly carry her through to a glorious finish, whatever that finish may be.

By the time you read this article, the race will be finished. While I can’t say for sure whether or not she will make it to the finish since nothing is certain in a race like Badwater, I can promise you that Lisa will have given it her all. She will not give up her fight to help the children. Never.

As she shut down her computer for the night, she looked at me and said, “Be ready to wake up early tomorrow, kiddo. We’re going walking before work to look for pennies to put in the jar.” With that, she went to bed.