Tag Archives: marathon

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.

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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.