It wasn’t too long ago that Fort Smith resident Meredith Rice didn’t even like to run, let alone want to. But next Monday, she will run the Boston Marathon.
It’s an intimidating race and not just because it’s 26.2 miles long. It is the oldest annual marathon in the world, first held in 1897.
When they think of the Boston Marathon, many people only know that it is difficult to participate in it. That’s because runners must qualify by proving their pace – how fast they can run a marathon – in another race.
The elements of speed and time are exactly what makes this Rice’s big challenge.
“The Boston … is a big deal. Not everyone gets the chance to run it, and there’s pressure with that, which is what scares me,” Rice said. She will be among the non-elite runners who race while raising money for 261 Fearless, a non-profit organization that empowers women around the world to run, regardless of their life circumstances, age, pace or pace. their place of residence. “Fearless doesn’t always mean you’re unafraid or unafraid, it means you do things despite those fears, do it anyway.”
261 Fearless was founded by Edith Zuschmann and the iconic Katherine Switzer, who was the first woman to run the Boston Marathon with a bib (race number). When Switzer first ran the Boston race, women were not allowed. She only achieved this by registering with her initials to conceal her gender. Then, during the marathon, Switzer’s boyfriend tackled the race director who tried to stop him from crossing the finish line.
Rice says that while reading “Marathon Woman,” Switzer’s personal story, she was inspired by her ability to overcome these societal barriers, prove others wrong, and open the door for female runners.
“Other people put limits on her, saying she couldn’t do it,” Rice says. That’s a big part of why it’s so important to her to run the same race on the 50th anniversary of women’s entry into the Boston Marathon. “It’s really cool to be part of a team led by one of the women who fought to give us this right. I’m literally following in her footsteps.”
Zuschmann, CEO of 261 Fearless, says she recognized the power Katherine Switzer’s story held for other runners and wanted to harness it to help even more women. The two were friends who met while running. Over dinner and time spent together, Zuschmann heard many inspiring anecdotes.
“These women would say ‘Wow, 261, that’s a number that means magic to me, (it makes me) fearless,'” Zuschmann told Zoom from Klagenfurt, Austria. “At the same time, my passion for running was an experience that I tried to share with as many women as possible.”
Zuschmann says that so often his friends and acquaintances didn’t feel capable. They would point out that she was super fit, when they might not be. They cut the wind with their own sails.
Since so many people have found inspiration in Switzer’s story, Zuschmann thought that naming an organization after her might be the perfect avenue to network for a safe and secure environment for women to try to run.
“We wanted to help them find self-esteem,” says Zuschmann. “And it worked.”
Today, 261 Fearless has 20 clubs in 12 countries on five continents, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, where some women ran only to flee war, says Zuschmann. 261 provides mentorship and training to train female running coaches, who then lead a group of female runners. At least once a week they host an in-person group run, but the most important element is wholehearted support.
“We’re creating a non-judgmental, non-competitive community, a safe space to try running,” Zuschmann said. “A lot of women feel embarrassed. They don’t feel comfortable (running) if someone is watching them. But (here) they don’t need to worry about what they’re wearing or their appearance.”
The culture surrounding the act of running is exactly what was so critical for Rice in the past.
In 2013, she moved to Houston with her then-boyfriend. She was adjusting to a new job, didn’t know anyone in the area but him and his parents, and was struggling with her weight. When she found a personal trainer who loved running and wanted her to do it too, she was reluctant because of her bad experiences.
“I hated running in high school,” Rice says. She was a necessary part of conditioning for basketball, and when it came to timed runs, she was sometimes the token person who wouldn’t finish in time – meaning the whole team would have to do the whole thing again. practice.
“I wasn’t the most popular person,” she says. “I hated running and would almost get sick of it. I avoided it at all costs.”
Since Rice lived in a small town, the school required any athlete to also run on the track to have enough members on the team. She once had to run the mile for her school track team on a stormy day. She hadn’t practiced well – and she knew everyone was waiting for her to finish so the boys’ team could compete. After finishing last or second to last, her coach said he would never force her to do it again, and Rice dropped out of the sport altogether for her senior year.
Fast forward to his adult life and the personal trainer asked him to try running and then set both an immediate goal and a longer term goal. At first, all Rice wanted to do was run a non-stop 5k. She had no idea beyond that, so she just said she wanted to run the Disney Half Marathon to appease the coach.
That first year back to running helped her lose 75 pounds, which was driven by the fit in her wedding dress, but after the wedding she stopped running and the weight came back. She realized she wanted to make running part of her lifestyle and to do that she changed her outlook and found a supportive community.
“There are definitely days when I run and I’m not friends…(but) my mantra is ‘Finish lines, not finish times,'” Rice said. I can go faster, but it’s not about that for me. This is my personal journey in these kilometers.”
She ran her first half marathon at Disney in 2018, a particular set of events called Fairy Tale Challenge, in which Rice ran a 5K one day, a 10K the next, and on the final day the half marathon to complete the runDisney Princess Half Marathon Weekend.
Suddenly, running wasn’t just about losing weight. Now, this could be a fun, celebratory event, and she was hooked. Rice started to book as many races as she could into her schedule and since then she hasn’t counted the number of races she has completed. She has shoeboxes full of medals from in-person and virtual events and typically hosts five or six big events a year.
The races “are the fun part and the beauty of it,” she says. “No one understands you like another runner. It doesn’t matter how fast they have the same nerves, we run the same distance and the respect is there.”
Unlike her running experiences in high school, Rice found herself in supportive environments and competing with herself rather than focused on competing with other people.
After experiencing Run Disney for the first time, Rice immediately began looking for a place to do her first full marathon. She chose the 2019 London Marathon because it was an important place for her. It was there that she studied abroad, at the time when she began to know her husband.
She has since run half marathons in Florida, Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, New York and Kansas and hopes to complete one in each state. Of the six major world marathons, Rice has run three: London, New York and Berlin. Boston will make its fourth spot on the path to being a six-star finisher.
“I learned a lot about myself through running,” says Rice. “About my strength, my mental toughness… It made me a better and stronger person, showed my perseverance and it definitely challenged me physically, mentally and emotionally.”
According to Zuschmann, 261 Fearless helps women of all ages find worthwhile purpose and community through running, but more importantly, empowerment.
“It’s not about race or distance,” says Zuschmann. “You just put one foot in front of the other, feeling the energy, and it gives you courage, self-esteem and self-confidence to overcome other challenges in your life.
“When you start moving your body, your life also starts moving.”
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If you would like to help Meredith Rice contribute to 261 Fearless, visit her donation page on givengain.com under “Meredith Rice Fundraising for 261 Fearless”. For more information about the organization, visit 261fearless.org. You can also vicariously experience Rice’s running journey through her YouTube channel, Rice Runner.