Tag Archives: running

Ultramarathoner Kaci Lickteig

May 24, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

There are runners. There are ultrarunners. And then there’s Kaci Lickteig.

Nicknamed “the Pixie Ninja” by her friends, Lickteig has earned her place among the most competitive ultrarunners in the world. Ultrarunning is the sport of racing distances beyond 26.2 miles, the length of a marathon. Typical distances include 50 kilometers (31.07 miles), 50 miles, and 100 miles. Lickteig has won some of the most grueling races in the sport, including the Western States 100-Miler. For that win, she set the third-fastest time in the race’s 40-plus-year history, 17:57:59.

Her passion for the sport and mental toughness is part gift, part curse. Fatigue won’t slow her; cracked ribs won’t stop her. But in October 2017, she faced an injury that she could not ignore: two stress fractures in her pelvis.

She’s still working toward a full recovery with the help of fellow runner Christy Nielsen. Nielsen is a physical therapist specializing in runners and endurance athletes. Nielsen and Lickteig became friends at the start of Lickteig’s running career. Together, they’re working on returning her to the sport at which she excels.

Lickteig wasn’t a natural with running. Growing up in the small town of Dannebrog, Nebraska, she couldn’t finish her first race in high school without walking. But, training alongside her mom, running became fun. And eventually, it became a lifestyle.

She ran marathons in college, and following graduation in 2012, she ran her first ultramarathon, a 50-kilometer trail run. She won. Her next race was a 100-miler. With encouragement from Nielsen, Lickteig qualified for the Olympic Trials Marathons. Hiring coach Jason Koop in 2014 helped propel her to elite status in ultras. In 2016, UltraRunning Magazine named her the Female Ultrarunner of the Year for winning seven races, beating all runners—male and female—in three of them.

Miguel Ordorica became Lickteig’s running partner around the time she started her ultrarunning. Ordorica recalls a marathon-distance training run with Lickteig nearly five years ago, when she fell and cracked some ribs at mile seven. She kept going, finishing the final 19 miles.

“She’s different from most runners,” he says. “She really doesn’t stop. Most runners stop for bottles of water or to chat.”

That nonstop drive caught up to her in 2017 at the GOATz 50K at Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek, Iowa. The signs of an injury were present at the start of the race: pain in her knee and groin, tightness in her back, and soreness in her hip flexors. She popped some Aleve and thought, “It’s only 30 miles.”

Usually 30 miles would be easy for her, but she wasn’t adequately rested. She’d barely allowed herself recovery time from running the Western States 100-mile race in June before she started training again. Her body was exhausted.

She was leading the women runners with a half-mile left in the race when there was a gut-wrenching pop, something she describes as feeling almost like a muscle popping off bone. A physical therapist herself, she had no idea what she did to her body, but she could barely walk.

Two days later, it was confirmed: Lickteig had two stress fractures in her pelvis, along with an assortment of other injuries. Stress fractures, especially in the lower extremities, are common for distance runners, as are knee and Achilles tendon injuries. A stress fracture like hers was rare.

“Tensile fractures are something only 2 percent of [the] population gets,” Nielsen explains. “The combo of her back being tight and her knees being so swollen, something had to give. It was her pelvis.”

She knows first-hand about the pressure athletes put on themselves. Truly trained athletes, she says, have a hard time listening to their bodies and taking a day off. She was that kind of runner, racing competitively for more than two decades and qualifying for three Olympics Trials.

“It only took me 20 years to tell the difference from being over-trained and being tired from a workout,” says Nielsen. “And that knowledge is so worth it when you get it.”

Lickteig’s recovery started with extreme restrictions. She could barely stand to get her foot in a pant leg. She could do no weight-bearing activities for the first four weeks. Then, using crutches, she’d walk three miles with Ordorica. She did upper body workouts, strength training, and stabilizing exercises under Nielsen’s supervision first at OrthoNebraska and then at ATI Physical Therapy. Lickteig also works as a physical therapist at ATI.

On the 89th day of recovery, Nielsen had Lickteig run on an antigravity treadmill for 35 minutes at 65 percent body weight.

“I still was able to run. I cried. I cried at minute 17 because I was able to run,” recalls Lickteig.

Four months after her injury, Lickteig has started training for the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run in June. With newfound appreciation for the limitations of the human body, she concedes she may run fewer hours each week and add more rest days.

A pelvic fracture or two won’t stop her. The Western States race is Lickteig’s dream race, according to Ordorica: “She wouldn’t miss Western States unless she had a leg fall off.”


The 2018 Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run takes place June 23-24 in California (wser.org). For more information about the Omaha physical therapists helping Kaci Lickteig to recover, visit orthonebraska.com and atipt.com.

This article was printed in the May/June 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

from left: Kaci Lickteig and Christy Nielsen

Elizabeth Byrnes

November 20, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“Students come up to me in the halls and ask when the pantry is going to stock toothbrushes…Toothbrushes…What they’re coming in for, it’s not just food they need, but basic items to survive and help their family.”

-Elizabeth Byrnes

Tucked away in a discreet supply room at Ralston High School, beyond the steel lockers and crowded classrooms, Elizabeth Byrnes is stocking nonperishable goods.

While classmates hurry to first period at 7:30 a.m., Byrnes shuffles paperwork, counts inventory, coordinates volunteer shifts, and organizes pick-ups and drop-offs for the school’s food pantry.

Byrnes is not your typical teenager. Sure, she’s a 17-year-old cheerleader who gabs on a smartphone and loves to shop at American Eagle. But this 5-foot-6-inch brown-eyed beauty takes her community service seriously.

So when she saw a sign last year advertising the school’s free food pantry, titled the R-Pantry, Byrnes decided to check it out.

“I didn’t know it was needed,” she says.

On that particular day, she visited the small closet of a lecture room where teachers had been operating a makeshift pantry that allowed students in need to shop anonymously for food, toiletries, and other supplies inside the high school.

Roughly 60 percent of students at Ralston Public Schools receive free or reduced-rate meals.

To create a healthy pantry, teacher Dan Boster says the Ralston High staff noticed the need and donated nonperishable items and the seed money—roughly $800 worth—in exchange for casual dress days.

“Once the pantry was created, we handed it off to the students,” says Boster, who also serves as National Honor Society adviser and oversees the pantry project.

Byrnes acquired the larder responsibility and has helped it evolve from the small closet of a lecture hall into a spacious supply room with large tower shelves brimming with food as diverse as artichoke hearts, fruit snacks, and granola bars.

Byrnes has grown the one-person operation to having 70 volunteers on deck to assist when needed. She has presented before the Ralston Chamber of Commerce when soliciting for donations and has advocated and made Ralston High an official Food Bank of the Heartland donation site.

She describes the families who utilize the pantry as living break-even lifestyles, existing paycheck-to-paycheck, with little left over for simple luxuries such as lip balm or toilet paper. Students from such families experience a lot of stress and anxiety over where their next meal is coming from, she adds.

“I saw how education is extremely difficult to get, especially if there’s a need in the household,” Byrnes says. “Students come up to me in the halls and ask when the pantry is going to stock toothbrushes…toothbrushes…What they’re coming in for, it’s not just food they need, but basic items to survive and help their family.”

Food insecurity—which means that people lack access to enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle—can be invisible, she explains. “Not knowing if there will be dinner on Friday night or lunch on Saturday.”

The R-Pantry idea is a positive response to a really challenging situation: student hunger. It is not the ultimate solution, but it is a start.

“I have so much respect and admiration for these students who are asking for help to support their
families.”

Byrnes excels in calculus, biology, and creative writing. She serves on DECA, is a class officer, and participates in National Honors Society. She enjoys running, hiking, and playing with her two dogs—Sophia and Jack.

Byrnes credits her family for always influencing her to do what’s best and help those in need. Dad (Robert E. Byrnes) is a doctor. Mom (Mary Byrnes) is a mortgage banker. Brother (Kent Keller) is a police officer.

“Her empathy for people runs very deep,” her mother says.

However, the driven teen doesn’t always communicate well with mom and dad, jokes her mother: “She was never one to seek glory. We didn’t know how involved she had been in the pantry until she was recognized. When she made homecoming court, we didn’t know about it until people began congratulating us.”

Mom adds, “She moves through life as if this is just a job. Helping others is just what she does.”

Byrnes plans to attend a four-year university next year and major in biology. She’d like to someday become a cosmetic dentist or dermatologist.

Byrnes encourages other young people: “If you see something you could change or help out, don’t be afraid to jump in there. You could change someone’s life with your one small action.”

The R-Pantry at Ralston High School (8969 Park Drive), is open on Fridays after school until 4 p.m. To volunteer, contact the school at 402-331-7373.

This article was printed in the Winter 2016 edition of Family Guide, an Omaha Publications magazine.

Emily Mwaja

September 18, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Emily Mwaja places her hands on the bar, making sure her grip was is right. She plants her feet. It’s time. Time to set a new world record.

Lifts of  264 lbs…286…293…and, finally 301 lbs.  followed. She had dead-lifted almost three times her body weight. And she had broken her own record.

Emily Mwaja stands all of 5’4.”

The pint-sized powerhouse came to the United States from Kenya when she was a young girl and (in 2001) to Omaha to attend Bellevue University. She received her degree in education and science in 2004.

Mwaja had always been a runner, but when her knees began to object she shifted her fitness regimen to the YMCA. It was there that she first encountered dead lifting.

“I thought, ‘Oh that’s interesting,’” Mwaja says, “because some of the lifters looked really big and masculine while others were just…normal guys. But all were lifting really, really big weights.”

She began doing her workouts near the men, mimicking their actions. Her efforts were noticed by gym-mate and trainer John Jones, who asked her to deadlift with him.

“I needed someone to tell me what to do in the gym,” she says, “and he didn’t have to tell me twice. I warned him right away that I didn’t want to look like a bodybuilder. I told him I just wanted to be…strong!”

She soon graduated from lifting a mere 45 lbs. to a weight of 225 lbs. with ease. Jones encouraged her to enter competitions.

Strong she became, winning first place in the 123 lbs. weight class with a 286-lbs.-lift at the World Championships in Las Vegas in 2013.

“I’m very competitive,” Mwaja adds, “but it’s really mind over matter when you are lifting.”

That same intensity and commitment carried her from a seasonal position with Girls Inc. to the title of program director. Now she works with girls in winning the national organization’s affiliate awards and, just like her deadlifting, Mwaja is always out for gold.

“I will see another affiliate is recognized and I’ll tell my boss, ‘We gotta get on this! We have to make this happen!’ And she’ll tell me, ‘Emily, we can’t do everything,’ ‘But we can do almost everything,’ I tell her.”

Sizing up the competition, it would seem, is a key to her success both in the gym and with her girls.

“I’ll see a woman from Canada is the current record holder,” Mwaja explains. “She lifted 296. Okay, I can do 296. I can do more. That’s my drive. I tell myself I’m gonna put up 300.”

Mwaja now has 19 trophies, most residing in her office at Girls Inc.

“Some of the little girls ask if I won those in math or something like that. I just laugh and tell them, ‘No, I’m really strong.’”

Just like she hopes her Girls Inc. kids will be in all of life’s challenges—strong.

Emily-Mwaja1

Iron Woman

June 4, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article originally published in May/June 2015 issue of 60-Plus.

The Ironman Triathlon consists of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run. Surely, one might think, such a feat of athleticism would explode the joints of a human over, what, 40?

Not so, at least for the super-human. Mariana Phipps will be 71 this coming May. She’s a mom to three boys. Heck, she’s grandma to six children. Yet, she’s still a top competitor in one of the world’s most grueling test of human endurance.

Phipps was a swimmer as a girl, but couldn’t compete in high school or college in pre-Title IX days. By the time she started taking classes at Creighton University, it seemed that her serious days as an athlete were behind her.

“I was a pretty good, heavy smoker, and didn’t even think about doing any sports,” she says. “I had kids and I was busy.”

When her husband found out he had heart disease, they both quit smoking. However, she says, when you quit smoking, you need to do something else, “otherwise you blow up pretty fast.” She got back into swimming, and since many of her fellow swimmers were runners as well, she took up running and, later, bike riding.

Phipps ran her first marathon at age 51 in 1995 in Lincoln. She did her first Ironman at age 56 and qualified for the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii in her first year of qualifying. She routinely finishes in first or second place for her age group in triathlons and won the World Championship for her age group in Hawaii in 2005.

Kurt Beisch, who works as the race director for Race Omaha, a Nebraska non-profit organization in the multi-sport industry, says the World Championship in Hawaii is like the Super Bowl for triathlons.

Race Omaha puts on several annual racing events, including the Omaha Triathlon, the Omaha Women’s Triathlon, and the Omaha Kids Triathlon. The competitors, Beisch says, are definitely an eclectic bunch.

“They range from newbies, first-time multi-sport athletes, to very decorated nationally ranked athletes,” he says. The women’s triathlon field is made up of about 38 percent first-time athletes, which makes for a great amount of camaraderie.

Indeed, Phipps says, the triathlon competitors make the sport a very social one. This may seem a bit odd for an activity that, on its surface, seems to depend entirely on the individual’s stamina and endurance. But competitors feed off each other’s enthusiasm.

“We have a very good brotherhood of triathletes here in Omaha,” she says. “And I am fortunate enough to know a lot of younger ones and more mature ones.”

Beisch, who is also a decorated triathlete, estimates that about 15 percent of the participants in the field at the events are aged 50 or older, and some of them are some of the most accomplished athletes in the country.

“[They] make me look like a grade-school triathlete compared to the achievements they’ve had in the course of their lifetime,” he says.

Older competitors, he says, have an advantage in qualifying because there are fewer of them, so there’s less competition.

But more so than the competition, Beisch says, triathletes experience a great sense of accomplishment and that “coming across that finish line is an event.

“You have covered a lot of ground, you have pushed yourself in different ways and you have competed in three events,” he says.

Phipps has worked for Nebraska Furniture Mart for the last 39 years, and the company has been very flexible with her hours to allow her maximum training time. When getting ready for a triathlon, her weekly schedule involves two swims, two bike rides, and two runs. She trains 10-20 hours a week for an Ironman and may bike up to six hours a day (though shorter triathlons
don’t require as much training time).

She gives the impression of someone who really knows her stuff. In spite of the many jokes she makes about her age, there’s a quickness and vitality to her manner.

She’s also, it seems, just about unstoppable. She has a plate and several screws in each arm and a visible scar running down from her wrist. Before one event she broke her foot and couldn’t take painkillers because painkillers can cause kidney damage. She competed anyway.

This year, she plans on competing in the Boston Marathon for the sixth year in a row. In 2013, she was having a great race and was approximately four blocks from the finish line when the race was stopped and she was escorted to safety.

Later, she saw the local Boston media’s coverage of the bombing from her hotel room. “It was grotesque. Just blood everywhere. Obviously, people crying and moaning. It was just horrible.”

However, there wasn’t any hesitation about returning the next year.

“It wasn’t even a question about going back,” she says. “We weren’t about to let the enemy stop our dreams.”

So what keeps her going? Part of it, Phipps says, is that you compete against yourself.

“You can’t compare yourself to what you were 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago,” she says. “Every time you enter a new age group you have to think it’s almost like a whole new ballgame.

“Luckily, they have age groups every five years. You think of yourself as trying to stay as fast as you can in that age group, and it’s the one thing that you look forward to getting older…because let’s face it, getting older is not fun. But, when you do go over that next hump, into the next age group, then you realize it’s a whole new set of personal records for your age. That helps a lot.”

Marianna Phipps2

Parenting on the Run

June 6, 2014 by

Personal trainers, gym time, yoga classes, and top-notch workout facilities are all wonderful. But for many on-the-go parents, those types of sometimes time-consuming fitness outings are as feasible as a weekend trip to Cabo.

Heck, maybe all that running around of parenthood is all you need to be fit.
Not likely, though, says Tim Kruger, manager of Peak Performance Omaha. But, he says, parents need not surrender in the battle of the bulge. They just need to go Old School.

Got 20 minutes somewhere in between the school play and the baseball practice? Throw on the shorts, T-shirts and trainers, and go for a jog.

Kruger makes his case for arguably the oldest and most time-tested exercise technique in human history–running. It’s cheap, he says. It’s available 24/7. It only takes a few minutes to get out of work clothes and on the road.

The solitude can be therapeutic for a parent overwhelmed by work and kid time. That nice rush of endorphins, that calm that comes when you’ve gassed your muscles. A jog can take the edge off the frenzy of a parent’s schedule.

Getting Started:

  • Set a goal (from as simple as being able to run for 30 minutes or something more ambitious such as completing a half-marathon) to keep motivation up.
  • Research several different training programs to understand what will bring the goal into reach.
  • Get a good pair of shoes that fit. If your shoes don’t work for you, you’re much more likely to quit.
  • Don’t try to be a superstar. Start out slowly to avoid injury and to give yourself a chance to really enjoy your jogs.

Once You’ve Hit the Road:

  • Always start with several minutes of warm-up. Do some light movement followed by slow and consistent stretching that focuses on leg muscle groups such as the quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves.
  • If you get bored running alone—and time allows—you may want to find a running partner or running club to stay motivated and accountable (and maybe even have an adult conversation!).
  • Always dress for the weather with moisture-wicking fabrics (Nike’s Dri-FIT, for example) and use layers that you can unzip or remove as needed.
  • Hydrate properly before, after, and during (if possible) each run.
  • Spend the same amount of time cooling down and stretching as you did warming up to avoid injury.
  • Always plan for at least one rest day per week.

Some Great Places to Run in or Near Omaha:

  • The local school track. If you have bad knees, the rubber surfaces on many tracks may make running more pleasant for you.
  • Any of the increasing number of Omaha trails. Hitting a trail may not be possible every day, but mixing in a trail run every week or two can keep your regimen fresh. Get more information at
  • omahatrails.com.
  • Take on one of the region’s great runs, the Wabash Trail beginning in Council Bluffs.

For more information, or to meet with Tim or another Peak Performance running expert, visit Peak Performance at www.run2peak.com.

Jodi Saso’s 
Heart for Running

February 18, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

For many avid runners, qualifying for the Boston Marathon is considered the pinnacle of their running career. For 35-year-old Jodi Saso, completing the Boston Marathon was that and so much more.

Not only did it mark a major feat in her running career, but Saso crossed the finish line just 10 weeks after undergoing major heart surgery. Completing the marathon was a personal confirmation that she had risen above her heart condition and could continue “life as usual,” despite this unexpected setback.

“I didn’t want to be a victim of my circumstances and lay around feeling sorry for myself,” says Saso. “It was all about determination and not wanting to live that life. I figured I had one shot to do this, and I wasn’t going to let my surgery get in the way.”

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This is all even more amazing when you consider the fact that Saso had taken up running just several years ago when she decided she need to do something to get herself and her dog into shape. The pounds began to fall off, running became easier, and it wasn’t long before Saso had developed a new passion.

Saso found running to be a natural fit, and before long, she had started training for marathons. By 2012, she had run eight marathons in one year in addition to several half marathons and a 50-mile run. She was hooked and breaking her own records with each race. Saso felt wonderful physically and emotionally.

But an annual check-up with her doctor told her otherwise.

When Saso was very young, her pediatrician suspected that she might have Marfan syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that affects the connective tissue. The most serious complications of Marfan are defects of the heart valve and aorta. However, Saso never received a firm diagnosis. When she began seeing a new family practitioner in her late 20s, he too suspected Marfan syndrome and recommended they monitor her heart on a regular basis. A heart echo performed at her 2012 visit revealed an aortic aneurysm—a stretched and bulging section in the wall of the aorta.

“When the aorta becomes stretched, there is a big risk of the aorta dissecting or tearing or, even worse, rupturing and causing death,” says Traci Jurrens, MD, cardiologist at Nebraska Methodist Hospital, who performed the echocardiogram. “Jodi’s aorta had reached the threshold for repair.”

Because of the difficulty of the procedure, most cardiac surgeons replace both the valve and aorta during surgery, which requires lifelong anticoagulation with the blood-thinning drug called Coumadin, explains Dr. Jurrens. Coumadin can have a host of side effects, including easy bruising and bleeding.

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“Since she was so young, we determined that it would be worthwhile for Saso to go to the Mayo Clinic, where cardiac surgeons were able to perform the surgery without removing her own valve,” notes Dr. Jurrens.

Saso’s surgery was scheduled for Jan. 31, 2013. The timing could not have been worse. She had qualified for the Boston Marathon the spring before. The run was scheduled for April 15, just 10 weeks after her surgery. It was a dream she was not willing to let go so easily. “I asked my doctors if there was any way that I could still run the race,” she says. “They were doubtful, but they said it was contingent upon how the surgery and recovery went.”

Following surgery, Saso says she was in so much pain that she thought she would never leave the hospital. “Before I left the hospital, they told me that I had to walk the entire floor six times a day,” she says. “That first day, I could barely walk 10 feet.”

But that’s when Saso’s determination kicked in. “My goal was to run the Boston, and I was going to do everything I could to make that happen.” By day three, she was off pain medications. By day five, she was doing two laps instead of one six times a day and was released from the hospital to go home.

Encouraged by her quick recovery, Saso was on a fast track from then on, she says. By two weeks, Dr. Jurrens had released Saso to return to work. Four weeks after surgery, Saso finished an entire stress test—Dr. Jurrens’ first patient to do that. Jurrens cleared her to run the Boston as long as she promised to run it over four hours.

Boston-2013-2

Donning a T-shirt that read, “I had open heart surgery 10 weeks ago. Let’s do this!” Saso proudly crossed the finish line in 4:08:15.

“I felt amazing,” she says. Luck continued to be on Saso’s side. Having mistakenly booked her return flight extremely close to the race finish time, she had no time to hang out and celebrate. Instead, she left the race immediately to catch her flight. A short time later, she heard about the 2013 Boston bombings. “Someone was looking over me,” she says.

“Jodi has done remarkably,” says Dr. Jurrens. “It is quite a difficult procedure, but Jodi had excellent results. Because Jodi was in such great shape, she was able to get through surgery very well. In general, great functional capacity prior to surgery predicts better recovery from cardiac surgery. That being said, we really do not know what is safe for Jodi in regard to running, and we do discourage excessive exercise. But running is Jodi’s life, and she is going to make her own decision in regard to running.”

Saso completed five marathons in 2013 but says she is planning to slow down the pace for her own health benefits. “I’m going to do just two marathons a year in the future,” she says. “I want to be smart about this, and I really don’t want to have surgery again.”

The pace may be slower, but her determination to live life as usual is stronger than ever, says Saso. She recites one of her favorite quotes, which she says she applies both to running and life: “The body does not want you to do this. As you run, it tells you to stop, but the mind must be strong. You can always go too far for your body. You must handle the pain with strategy…it is not age. It is not diet. It is the will to succeed. Let’s do this!”

Feeling Young on the Run

May 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Tori Young, 40, was on the drill team in high school. She never considered herself an athlete, and she spent most of her time eating whatever she wanted. But, as it always does, metabolism caught up with her. “I heard from my friends that things get more challenging when you hit 40,” she says. “They weren’t kidding!”

Although she doesn’t feel older, Young realized her body required more attention than it did back in her carefree high school days. She tried lots of things to get back on track—Jazzercise, tracking meals on the MyFitnessPal app, Kosama, running on the treadmill, P90X, yoga, dancing videos, Kettlebell workouts—but she always found it hard to stick to those programs.

She admits most of the problem was her hectic lifestyle. “I started each week with the best intentions…but like everyone, when we’re busy and on-the-go, it’s easy to make poor choices.”

As a technical recruiting lead with Client Resources, Inc., she’s constantly running around town and treating candidates and consultants to lunch, which makes eating well difficult. And then, of course, she didn’t want to cut into her family time with husband Chad, a teacher and football coach at Millard West High School, and their four kids—Elli, 12, Beau, 9, Leah, 6, and Reid, 2. “Having four kids is absolutely crazy, but it keeps us on our toes,” she adds.20130420_bs_8210 Medium Copy

But an opportunity appeared a few years ago when Young’s oldest daughter, Elli, told her about a school program for third through fifth graders called Girls on the Run. “It’s so cool,” Young says. “It’s all about girl power, being a good friend, and being encouraging and supportive of others while training to run a 5K.” She adds that the girls often included their moms in this program.

Elli, who was in third grade then, didn’t want to do it. “She said, ‘That would be like having gym class even more often!’” Young laughs, explaining that it was probably for the best anyway because she was pregnant with her youngest son, Reid, at the time and wouldn’t have been able to run.

“We did feel like we missed out though, so we signed up the next year. I printed off a Couch to 5K training program online and was able to get to the point where I could run four miles without stopping.”

During Elli’s fourth grade year, they both ran the program’s 5K. “I had to walk twice during that run since it was mapped out on their grade school playground, and it was 30-some laps around the blacktop, down a hill, around the playground equipment, and back up the hill,” Young says. “The hills kicked my butt!”

Although Young stopped running regularly after that 5K, she ran again with Elli in the fifth graders’ 5K. Later, they signed up for a Siena-Francis benefit run. “It was nice to do something that we could do together that was good for us but also benefited [Siena-Francis House],” says Elli, who’s now in middle school.

“I know I have to be aware of how I talk about my own body and my feelings about how I look. We’ve had conversations about not focusing on how many pounds we weigh and comparing that to others, but instead on how we’re treating our bodies and what we’re putting in them.” – Tori Young

Since then, Young and Elli have been participating in all the runs they can. They even participated in Papillion’s Half Marathon events this May; Young ran the 10K while Elli ran the 5K. Both agree that they really want to run The Color Run and Color Me Rad 5Ks, which they look forward to trying in the future.

Young finds running with her daughter to be an inspiring way to maintain a healthy lifestyle. “I love when we practice and go to Zorinsky [Lake] together…We set some goals, like being able to run farther, and it’s fun to meet one and then set the next one.”

But it’s not just all about the run; it’s also about the time she gets to spend with Elli that keeps her going. “With four kids, I wish I could give them each more one-on-one time, so I really love just talking with her [during our runs].”

“We get to have an uninterrupted conversation and talk about my school, her work, our friends, and random stories,” Elli adds. “We also talk about our goals for the future, like other runs we’d like to do [and] ways to eat healthier.”

“I dislike the body issues that come for most females,” Young says. “I know I have to be aware of how I talk about my own body and my feelings about how I look. We’ve had conversations about not focusing on how many pounds we weigh and comparing that to others, but instead on how we’re treating our bodies and what we’re putting in them.”20130420_bs_8226 Medium Copy

Seeing Elli improve makes Young think they’re headed in the right direction, too. “She was born with a cyst in her lung, which resulted in a 12-day stay in the NICU and a surgery for her right after birth…they removed the top lobe of her right lung. Her scars are faint, her lung regenerated, and the only real lasting effect is some asthma.” Young adds that Elli has gone from feeling like she “can’t do it” and using asthma as an out to pushing herself harder.

Young believes it’s important for parents and their kids to be physically active together. “It’s so easy to get caught up in television…We have so many devices that capture our attention, and it’s hard to break away from e-mail, Facebook, and Instagram…Making time to be physically active together provides the opportunity for quality time and setting goals that we can work toward together.”

Because Young and Elli have been running so much in the last few years, it’s really started to rub off on the other family members. “My husband has been running more lately, and even recently admitted that he pushed himself faster on the treadmill than [me] because he didn’t like the thought of me outrunning him!”

Most importantly, Young feels healthy and happy right now. All she cares about is feeling good about herself, being a positive body image role model for her daughters, and having the energy to keep up with her job and her kids.