Barbie Damon

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In 11 years, Barbie and her husband have completed a marathon in every state. Barbie credits Alpha Phi's philanthropic mission, women's heart health, and the American Heart Association (AHA) as her gateway into running. Barbie initially joined the AHA's Train to End Stroke (TTES) Program, which allows participants to train for and run a marathon while raising funds for the cause. After completing this first marathon in Kona, HI, the duo never stopped, wrapping up their 50th marathon in Chicago, Ill in October 2014. 

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College major: Telecommunications & film; sociology

How did Alpha Phi's philanthropy play a role in your marathon journey?
With gratitude, it is safe to say that this entire journey can be credited to Alpha Phi Foundation's philanthropic mission of women's heart health, along with the American Heart Association (AHA). I was ultimately inspired by a "call to action" mailer from the AHA's American Stroke Association. The fact that the mailer even ended up in my mailbox was due to my relationship with the AHA that began as a result of Alpha Phi's long-established mission to advance women's heart health. I was presented with the opportunity to join the Train to End Stroke (TTES) Program, which allowed participants to become part of a team trained to run a marathon (26.2 miles) in exchange for a commitment to raise funds and awareness for the cause. The timing couldn't have been more perfect, as we were, sadly, experiencing many personal connections to the devastating effects of stroke (family and friends).  

Since then, you and your husband have completed a marathon in every state. When did you decide to embark on this journey? Though I wouldn't say that we were inactive before taking on this challenge, we had never really been runners. We decided to run that marathon (thinking that it would be our "one and only" 26.2) in honor of those loved-ones, to raise money and awareness, and through a desire to introduce something different (and more healthy) in our own lives. However, after completing that first marathon (Kona, Hawaii), and finding that the feeling of crossing the finish line (along with the healthy benefits) was so incredibly powerful, I decided we should try to do another marathon "on our own," a few months later, in our hometown (at the time, Seattle). I will never forget when, at about mile 23, running through the Seattle arboretum, I struck up a conversation with a fellow marathoner who told me that he was attempting to run a marathon in every U.S. state. I thought that adopting that goal would be an incredible way to explore our country!

In appreciation for equipping us with the base tools and skills to embark on this mission, we chose to fundraise again for the AHA in celebration of our penultimate marathon event (Chicago, Ill.) in our 50-state challenge. It was an honor to thank and once again support the organization that set us on this path.  

What's your training regimen like? Rather than being in a position of "starting over" with each new marathon cycle, staying in perpetual marathon-training mode was preferred over losing any of the fitness required to finish the individual 26.2-mile races. In general, with slight modifications, the original training plan provided by the TTES (Train to End Stroke) program was used as the base model. Fundamental to this strict regimen was remaining dedicated to the 'long runs' that were part of each weekend, consisting of distances between 10 and 20 miles. Weekday runs were shorter, and were complemented by cardio workouts (lap swimming, spinning, and elliptical) and strength training. 

You also train with your husband. How does this training shape your relationship? The long training runs that we did together were cherished. It was our opportunity to connect on a deeper level, away from the tugs of technology, distractions at home, etc. Our conversations focused on a number of areas, from the minutia and mundane (such as catching up on each other's weeks, discussing travel logistics and/or venting frustrations about work/life in order to leave behind any negative energy rather than bring it into our home) to making key life decisions (such as matters of real estate, uprooting our lives from one state to another and even those decisions related to funeral service arrangements for parents who have passed over the course of the past 11 years).

During races, particularly the large city events (especially post-Boston bombing), we stayed together. However, on some race days, we found that if our respective paces didn't match one another, we were comfortable separating and experiencing the event from our respective "run grooves."

We see training for and completing a marathon as a metaphor for marriage. It requires dedication to the commitment we've made to each other and to the event itself, through sickness and health, through good times and bad. The process of the 50-state marathon journey was an extreme exaggeration of that theory. We found that what we provided one another throughout our odyssey was really the key to what makes our relationship so strong: honoring each other's efforts, being each other's biggest cheerleaders and inspiring one another. 


Do you use any mobile fitness apps? If so, which ones? Throughout the 11 years of this journey, athletic and fitness related technology has truly advanced. One of the pioneering companies in the endurance athletic technology fields is Garmin. The ever-evolving functionality offered by the company's technology, including the timing, GPS and mileage-tracking features, became integral during training as well as in each event. 


What's one item you use when you run that you couldn't live without? While the maintenance of properly-fitting footwear cannot be under-estimated (training for and running 4-6 marathons a year, we each went through an average of four pair of running shoes each year), the most important item to remember when running is a positive mental attitude. This mind set is not only an essential asset for staying dedicated to all the repetitive, inglorious training workouts, but is also a necessity on a race day, when unforeseen circumstances arise (such as injuries, inclement weather, and/or illness).


Of all the marathons, which has been your favorite to run so far and why? This is always a tough question, as there is truly something special about every marathon. There are different favorites for different reasons. Some stand out because of the beauty of the course (South Dakota, Idaho) or have meaning because of the people met and the friendships made (Arkansas, Montana) or because friends and family (people that had never run a marathon) were coaxed to train for and join in the event (Maine, Missouri, Texas, D.C.) or even the meaning behind the event itself (New Mexico, D.C., Oklahoma City Memorial and the marathon chosen in Kansas to honor victims and heroes on the 10th anniversary of 9/11).


How did you start your mornings during marathon training? Mondays through Thursdays, mornings started very early. I rolled out of bed between 3:30 and 4:00 a.m. to go to the gym for 60-120 minutes, and every Saturday was spent getting an early start out on the road or trail for long runs. There are numerous training routes in and around the Portland area, and requisite mileage along with weather conditions played a major factor in the route selected each weekend. 


How do you define success? In the context of a challenge such as this, the definition of success goes beyond simply achieving a goal or accomplishing an objective. For me, success is defined by the dedication, the integrity, and the passion along the way. In addition, success requires continuously learning and adapting while maintaining focus on and trusting the process. Success is defined as much by crossing the final finish line as it is by looking back and being proud of the resolve and the commitment to each step along the way. 


How did it feel when you crossed the finish line of your final marathon? There were extreme feelings of relief, joy and gratitude! It wasn't unlike the previous 49 finishes; just intensely magnified! The bonus in Chicago was being able to share the elation with friends and family that traveled to join us for the finale.


Now that you've hit a major milestone, what's next? Continuing to pursue opportunities for active travel will provide enduring memories of experiencing new places and feelings of accomplishment. A side quest of completing a marathon on each continent will continue to be a forethought (having already completed one in both Rome, Italy, and Canberra, Australia), as will exploring communities through other sports, such as a multi-week cycling trip through Vietnam or running the rapids of Chile, perhaps.

Our journey offered us the incredible opportunity to "see the country 26.2 miles at a time" and we have abounding gratitude for the beauty and diversity that exists across the United States. Exploring the unique gems and cultures that each state offered, including state and national parks, monuments, museums, sporting events, festivals, local cuisine and libations, and enjoying reunions with family and friends were key benefits of our journey. 

In reflection, I have tremendous gratitude towards the American Heart Association, women's heart health and Alpha Phi for their respective roles in setting this journey in motion. Further, I am thankful to Alpha Phi for cultivating in me passion and charity, which inspired loyalty to the process and dedication to this odyssey.