SALT LAKE CITY — Sarah Sellers describes the weather during Monday's Boston Marathon as a "monsoon." But what she experienced as a runner while she drew strength from spectators along the route reminded her of a scripture from Doctrine and Covenants 84:88, in which the Lord promises to send angels to support his children during their trials.
"And whoso receiveth you, there I will be also, for I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up," the scripture reads.
During the last half of the race, when the 26-year-old from Utah was struggling and tempted to ease up her pace, she would look at the crowd and throw a fist pump or wave. It was their enthusiasm and encouragement that gave her the strength to keep going.
She says the feeling she felt is analogous to the human experience.
"We’re in the elements, we’re suffering, and we feel the pain at the moment. But really there are cheerleaders on both sides to buoy us up the entire time. If you are looking at the pavement, focused on the fact that you’re getting freezing rain from all angles, it’s easy to get down on yourself and feel alone," Sellers said in a telephone interview with the Deseret News Wednesday. "In the spiritual sense, we’re never alone, even if it feels like it. It’s probably because we’re looking down at the pavement. We need to face forward, focus on our goals, think about the reason we are there, and draw upon the support of our faith and our people."
Discovering this parallel for running the race of life was just as meaningful to Sellers as her second place finish in this week's Boston Marathon. It helped to put all the adversity she's experienced into proper gospel perspective, including a serious injury in college and years of training in extreme elements, said Sellers, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Far from the crowds and the finish line in Boston, Sellers recalled suffering a navicular stress fracture at what she thought was the peak of her college career at Weber State University in 2013. Not only did the injury mean the end of competing in college, but the risk for long-term damage seemed to signal the end of competitive running all together, Sellers said.
Although a lifelong, active member of the LDS Church, the injury caused her to review who she was.
"Being a runner was a huge part of who I was. When that was taken away, I had to re-evaluate who I was as a person. I realized the only thing to have as your foundation is really the gospel of Jesus Christ. Anything else can crumble. That was key," Sellers said. "In building up to Boston, I knew that running was something I loved and hope to keep doing, even competing, but it didn't define who I am as a person."
In the years that followed her injury, Sellers has felt the support of several angels, including family members. Sellers' parents, Neil and Andrea Callister, instilled in her a passion for running when she was in middle school. Her husband, Blake Sellers, has always been a pillar of strength in her life.
Last year, her young brother Ryan Callister, suggested they run the Boston Marathon together. He started later than she did, so she never knew how he was doing, but knowing he was going to run hard motivated her. She finished about four minutes faster than him, she said.
"Of course I wanted him to do well, but the competitive sibling rivalry was there," Sellers said. "I knew if I slacked off Ryan would probably beat my time."
Sellers has also felt blessed during her life for living the Word of Wisdom, the LDS Church's health code. As a nurse anesthetist working in the health care industry, Sellers sees the effects of living a healthy and balanced lifestyle each day.
"It's never been a challenge," Sellers said. "In following it I've been blessed physically and spiritually."
Another brother, Marcus Callister, wrote a tribute to his sister on Facebook after her Boston triumph. In the post, he noted her training in all types of weather as preparation for her success in Boston and the Lord's answered prayers.
"She relished running on cold, snowy Utah days, because while she hated being cold she knew plenty of other runners would stay home. But I have also seen her moments of doubt. She burned with frustration when injuries knocked one season after another off course. She gave her absolute all in pinnacle races and came just cruelly short of her cherished goals and dreams," Marcus Callister wrote.6 comments on this story
"Why? We all asked, and I know she did too. Today we got one answer, because I believe nothing else could have prepared her for this day. Nothing else could have built up the strength, patience, endurance and granite-solid mental toughness to pound through 26.2 miles of freezing wind and rain and then stand all amazed at an unfathomable second-place finish. God didn’t give her golden wings to fly upon today, instead He sent a nightmare storm that He had built her up to break through. With sincere respect to all who battled the elements in Boston today, I say that my sister Sarah was an absolute miracle."
While Sellers has never allowed the weather or excuses to beat her in running, having a solid gospel foundation and the support of many people will continue to make all the difference for her.
"The LDS Church is my foundation," Sellers said. "Without the gospel of Jesus Christ, success would feel pretty hollow. In failures I would have nothing to fall back on."