How did we miss this?! Not one, but two nurses came out of nowhere to finish in the top 5 in the prestigious Boston Marathon last month! They beat out almost all the famous professional runners.
But it’s not just the times they made that are impressive. It’s the amazing stories behind them!
“I still can’t believe I finished second”
Sarah Sellers is a 26-year-old full-time nurse anesthetist. She squeezes in her workouts at 4 AM, before work, or 7 PM, after a 10-hour shift.
She only signed up to run Boston because her younger brother was doing it.
It was just her second marathon ever. She only ran her first marathon last September.
She had no agent. No sponsors. She paid her own plane ticket and hotel.
“She was essentially an anonymous runner competing against the biggest names in the sport,” the Washington Post reported.
It was the coldest Boston Marathon in 30 years. “It was like a hurricane out there,” Sarah said afterward. The professionals faltered in the wind and the rain.
Not Sarah: she ran her second 13.1 miles faster than her first. She came second!
When she crossed the finish line, she had no idea. She literally didn’t believe the race official who told her so. She thought he just meant second in her age group. “I was kind of in shock,” she said.
Tuesday, press conferences. Wednesday? Back to nursing
“I’m going to wake up and this will be a dream,” Sarah told a journalist afterward. “Some of the women I was passing, it was just complete disbelief”. She considers them her idols, not her peers: “I shouldn’t be on the same page as any of the top 20 women. They’re in a different league than me.”
Sports journalists were equally stunned. She had to present herself at a press conference. The first question anyone asked was: “Please introduce yourself. Tell us who you are.”
It was “surreal,” she told the Boston Globe. “Best case scenario going in, I thought I would maybe win enough money to cover the trip out here,” she said. Instead, she won $75,000.
The Nurse Who Took a Very Different Route to 2nd Place in the Boston Marathon. https://t.co/pDlFRmQ145
— NYT (@NYT) April 17, 2018
It was all a bit of a whirlwind, she recounted to the New York Times – but trust a nurse to be as down-to-earth about it all as she was!
First, an awards dinner Monday night, which “came with the unexpected bonus of a free meal”. Sleep at 2 AM, up by 7 AM for news conferences and photo shoots. Then an afternoon flight back to Tucson, AZ.
Wednesday morning, back at work for her next nursing shift. To celebrate, she planned to do some mountain biking.
“I love working as a nurse anesthetist. It gives me perspective on life”
Her Boston result was enough to qualify her for the US Olympic trials, but she’s not even considering working less.
“I love working as a nurse anesthetist. It does make training a little bit challenging, but .. I wouldn’t want to give up working.” Being a nurse is “really rewarding and gives me perspective on life,” she added to the Post journalist.
As for the money? “My husband and I both just finished graduate school, so hopefully we’ll be able to put a dent in our student loans.”
What about an upgrade to first class for her flight back at least, a journalist suggested, so she could stretch her legs a bit? No way. “I have a moral opposition to first class. There are so many things I’d rather spend money on than a flight.”
Still wrapping my head around Sarah Sellers' story. She has no agent or sponsors. She works as a full-time nurse anesthetist. On Monday, in her second marathon ever, she beat a loaded-field of the sports best to finish second at the Boston Marathon https://t.co/JO7sQjNY7U
— Kelyn Soong (@KelynSoong) April 17, 2018
Women rule the day
For women runners, the Boston Marathon was a particularly momentous day. Desiree Linden became the first American woman to win the race since 1985. Sarah Sellers’ second-place finish made it the first one-two finish for American women since 1979. Far fewer women dropped out of this year’s race than men.
One of those women staring down the adverse conditions was another nurse. The Vice headline said it all: “Nurse Places Fifth in Boston Marathon, Works 10-Hour Shift the Next Day”.
Sarah Sellers had at least run fast enough in her first marathon to win a starting place with the elite women. Jessica Chichester, a 31-year-old full-time nurse practitioner from Brooklyn, only started the race half an hour later, with the rest of the runners. But she overtook most of the pros, and finished in fifth place!
Take a shock fifth place in the Boston Marathon, drive back to New York City, work a 10-hour shift
Jessica finished the race just 23 seconds too late to make the Olympic qualifiers. Because she wasn’t placed with the elites, she also didn’t get the $15,000 that normally comes with a fifth-place finish. But she shrugged it all off: “I can think of a lot of ways to use that money, but I knew going into the race that I wasn’t eligible for it.”
She was just proud of an amazing result, an eight-minute personal record. Like Sarah, she got there through grit and hard work. “I realized almost all of my best performances were in bad conditions,” she told Vice.
Jessica has to fit training with her team mates in Manhattan in between seeing “back-to-back patients all day” and taking paperwork home. It’s not ideal, “but it’s just what I had to do,” she explained.
She runs home from her job in Queens almost every day, and eschews guilt pleasures. “I’m not the kind of person who watches Netflix until late at night, I’d just rather be asleep.”
After her shock fifth-place finish, Jessica had little time to celebrate. She drove back to New York that same night, to work a 10-hour shift on Tuesday.
Speaking of way fewer women dropping out of this year's Boston Marathon versus men: Nurse Places Fifth in Boston Marathon, Works 10-Hour Shift the Next Day https://t.co/j1OOHxSQFR
— Jennifer Bendery (@jbendery) April 22, 2018
Resilience. Overcoming adversity. There’s even more to this story!
It was a good day for amateur runners in general. The men’s winner was a high school administrator in Japan. Third and fourth place on the women’s side went to a dietitian and a Spanish professor! A New York Times writer went as far as to speculate that the intense weather conditions worked to the advantage of amateurs, since they are used to grapple with setbacks and obstacles as they juggle their marathon training with work and family obligations.
Something to that, maybe! As nurses, Sarah and Jessica proved how resilient they were. Sarah herself explained it pretty much the same way to the New York Times: “When you are doing your hard workouts after a long day of work, you’re just never going to feel good or comfortable. So in a strange way I was very used to not feeling good while running. I think that helped me.”
Here’s something else still to keep in mind: Sarah Sellers made a name for herself locally as track and field and cross-country runner at Weber State University, out in Ogden, Utah. She won a few races back in 2009-2012 while she was getting her nursing degree. But as a senior, five years ago, she broke a bone in her foot. She didn’t do any running a whole year after that, and then grad school got in the way.
“It took her three years to get healthy again after that break,” Sarah’s coach Paul Pilkington told the Globe.
— CNN (@CNN) April 17, 2018
“I think the biggest thing is her mental toughness,” Pilkington proudly told the press. She’s “very gritty and tough in adverse conditions.”
He told CNN, “she has persevered through injuries, graduate school and has a full-time job,” then faced “one of the best fields they have ever had and really tough conditions” in Boston. She just “works super, super hard,” her husband Blake said.
At the same time, she retained the ability to take things as they come. When they were making their way to the marathon, Sarah and Blake first drove up to Maine for some biking. “Elite runners usually don’t do such things,” the New York Times remarked archly.
This combination of resilience and a down-to-earth attitude is something a lot of nurses can relate with. “I’ve done nothing notable up to this point,” Sarah insisted to the Globe. But she added that “I think my story probably resonates with a lot of people that work really hard and have big goals. I think it’s cool to show that sometimes, you can have a great day and things can pay off.”