Amy Donaldson: Running saved Payson woman after accident stole her brother's life

Published: Sunday, April 7 2013 7:20 p.m. MDT

“It was really, really hard,” she laughed. “I didn’t know what I was doing, and when I met running friends, they said, ‘Don’t you need to get specific running shoes?’”

She eventually did. Her goal was simply to lose the 25 pounds she and her brother talked about losing before he’d died. Their weight-loss efforts were a contest he was winning until the car accident claimed his life. She decided to finish the contest a winner.

Finding herself living a healthy lifestyle after struggling with an eating disorder opened a lot of doors, many of those she never imagined. She decided to run a 5K at Lavender Days in Mona on July 4, 2010.

“I actually placed third in my age group,” she said, still sounding a little shocked at her 24-minute time. “It was really exciting for me. I was just running to get back into shape, to lose some weight, just for fun. It was like, ‘Oh, my gosh! I’m kind of good at this!’”

What Wardle found every time she stepped outside to run was something she’d lost forever — Trevor.

“Running is my time with my brother,” she said, admitting she talks to him and often feels his love when she’s logging training miles, something she writes about on her blog. “I think the reason I’ve had so much success is that I feel like I can fight through anything because my brother lived with that mental illness his whole life.” Wardle actually invested in running shoes and became curious about just how good she might be. She ran the Halloween Half Marathon on Oct. 31, 2010, exactly one year from the day of Trevor’s funeral.

“It was just catastrophic for me,” she said. “It was huge. I never ever believed that this girl who couldn’t run a 13-minute mile in high school, who’d dealt with weight her entire life, could finish a half marathon. It was just so incredibly exciting.” The last mile she kept repeating, “You can do this for Trevor. You’re running for Trevor."

"Especially the last mile of every single race," she says, "it’s for my brother.”

She started a blog and started training harder, with more purpose. A friend dropped out of the Ogden Marathon and offered her a chance to run 26.2 miles for free. Wardle was already signed up for the Utah Valley Marathon and thought a trial run would be fun.

“It was hard,” she said. “I was very, very unprepared. I didn’t really know what I was doing, and I finished in 3:53.”

Despite the difficulty of that first-time experience, she ran Utah Valley two weeks later and qualified for the Boston Marathon.

“When I first started I couldn’t fathom finishing a 5K,” she said. “It’s been so eye-opening and miraculous in a way.”

She ran the Boston Marathon in April 2012, even after officials suggested runners should defer their entries because of record-high temperatures. Wardle’s parents accompanied her on the trip and were worried, especially because she’d struggled with hydration.

“There was no way I was backing down,” she said. “I told them, ‘My brother is going to be with me, and he’s going to take care of me.’ I ended up finishing in 3:22 and was the third-place female from Utah.”

Maybe most impressive to Wardle was the fact that bib numbers are given based on times. She started in the 13,000s and finished 2,035. That number still hangs on her refrigerator as she prepares to run the Salt Lake City Half Marathon on April 20.

“It was a light-bulb moment and a breakthrough of my running career really,” she said. “It was incredibly exciting. My time wasn’t that great compared to what I’ve run now. But it was such a breakthrough, and it was that moment where I went from I’m just a runner and I can run a marathon to I’m becoming an athlete. Running is becoming more to me than finishing a race.” In September 2012 she ran the Top of Utah Marathon in 2:58, which led to Salt Lake Marathon officials offering her an elite runner entry.

“It’s all happened so fast. It’s been really overwhelming,” she said. “I haven’t had any coaching, but I have influences, friends, who have helped me along the way.”

In fact, nearly all of her friends are people she’s met through the sport.

“It’s changed my life in so many ways,” she said. “Running absolutely 100 percent saved my life. It helped me cope with my brother’s death. The thought of living without him was ... well, running saved me. It taught me I can move forward. I can fight.”

Her favorite aspect of the sport is that runners of all abilities share so much of what makes the sport special.

“It doesn’t matter what anyone can do,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re fast or slow. It’s the shared passion that makes running so unique. … It’s all about being out there and being grateful for every, single step.”

Twitter: adonsports

Email: adonaldson@desnews.com

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