Beth Swank had never been athletic. In fact, she describes herself as having been a “chubby” child. Her least favorite class was Physical Education, where she hated doing the mile run. She never imagined herself as a runner. After two pregnancies and two surgeries over the course of four years, however, running is what ultimately ended up transforming Beth’s life.
Beth, her husband and their three daughters reside in a suburb of Omaha, Nebraska. In 2009, she gave birth to daughter, Hannah. In 2010, daughter Natalie came along. In 2011, Beth had to have her gallbladder surgically removed. The pregnancies and health issues had taken a toll on Beth’s body. She developed excruciating back pain that radiated down her leg. She tried physical therapy, chiropractic care, steroid injections and medications to alleviate the pain, but nothing worked. An MRI showed that she had two herniated discs in her back. In July of 2012, Beth endured surgery to repaired the herniated discs.
Four years of pregnancies and surgeries were very hard on Beth. After all she had endured, it is not surprising that she had little energy and was overweight.
Beth felt frustrated that she did not have the energy to run around and play with her own children. As tough as the back surgery was for Beth, it actually proved to be a turning point for her. In October, 2012, she and her family attended a fun run held at the Omaha Zoo. Beth decided to try running down a hill on the course, and discovered that she actually enjoyed it. After running and walking the course, she told her husband that she really wanted to get in shape, lose weight and start working out. Beth wanted to feel good again, instead of always feeling tired and unhealthy. She wanted to model good, healthy behavior for her daughters. Beth’s doctor cleared her for physical activity, and that is when she embarked upon a training plan that incorporated Zumba, running, walking and weight training.
Beth set a goal of losing 30 pounds and running a 5k to celebrate her 30th birthday. She had tried a variety of diets in the past, but had not experienced much success. Finally, something clicked and she realized that she did not have to take all of the pounds off at once. Beth took the approach of “slow and steady” and “one step at a time”. As Beth began to shed the pounds, she decided to embark upon a “couch to 5k” program. Beth ran a fun, non-competitive 5k to celebrate her 30th birthday. Crossing the finish line was a moment that she will never forget. Beth could not believe she, the girl who had hated gym class, had run 3 miles! She was thrilled to have her family cheering her on at the finish line. Most importantly, Beth was proud of herself for modeling healthy behavior for her daughters.
From there, Beth decided that she would sign up for and run a half-marathon. Her first half-marathon experience was quite challenging. Going into the race with little experience and a long run of only 8 miles, Beth ended up walking quite a bit and finished more slowly than she had wanted. The experience did not deter her. Beth had heard great things about the Lincoln Half-Marathon and decided that would be her next challenge.
It was through the Omaha Running Group Facebook Page that Beth first heard about Project Purple. Beth was all too familiar with Pancreatic Cancer. When she was in college, her friend Marcy’s father was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer. He fought bravely for many years before losing his life in 2012 to the illness. Just three weeks later, Beth’s great uncle, Art Langer, was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer. Art had the Whipple Procedure in January 2013. Though Art was in his 80s, he looked and acted like a man 20 years younger. The Whipple is a very difficult surgery for any patient to endure. It was so hard on Art that he was forced to move into a nursing home. He started adjuvant chemotherapy in March of 2013. After his second treatment, Art had a heart attack and passed away. It was so hard for Beth and her family to watch this spry, vibrant man lose his life to Pancreatic Cancer. When Beth connected with Project Purple, she knew that she wanted to be a part of their team for the Lincoln Marathon. Beth wanted to do her part to help stop Pancreatic Cancer from affecting more families.
The hardest part of training for the half-marathon for Beth was finding time to train while caring for her family. But Beth’s family was supportive and her training went well. In the days leading up to the Lincoln Half-Marathon, Beth started getting nervous. Her first half-marathon had taken place in her hometown where she was familiar with the course. Now she was going to be running in a city she did not know very well at a much bigger race. The idea seemed overwhelming. Beth attended the Project Purple team dinner the night before the race and that helped ease her fears. Other runners were able to reassure her that all would be fine on race day.
Despite her fears going into the race, the Lincoln Half-Marathon turned out to be a wonderful experience for Beth. She described the race as a huge party with amazing crowd support. She normally runs listening to music, but opted not to for the race because it was so much fun to be engaged with the cheering crowds and her wonderful pace group leader. Beth says, “It was like the city of Lincoln decided to have a big party and a race just happened to run through it!” When the race got tougher around mile 7, Beth reminded herself that she was running on behalf of loved ones she had lost to Pancreatic Cancer. She reminded herself that running 13 miles was easier than going through chemotherapy. Beth is Catholic and wore a rosary her mother had given her. As she ran, she prayed for those who we have lost, those still battling, and the families who have been affected by Pancreatic Cancer. After crossing the finish line, she got a high-five from Project Purple founder, Dino Verrelli. Seeing Dino, and knowing she had completed her second half-marathon in a much faster time than her first, while helping others, brought Beth to tears.
When Beth reflected upon her experience, she says that she was committed to improving her health and losing weight. But on those mornings when she did not want to get up at 4:30 am to go work out, knowing that she was committed to running for a cause as part of a team provided her with the motivation that she needed. Her four-year period of pregnancies and surgeries took a real toll on her body. Many people would have given up and resigned themselves to thinking that they could no longer be active and healthy. But Beth Swank did not give up. She wanted to be the best mom she could be. Beth set goals for herself and worked towards achieving them. Beth has now run five 5ks, one 10k and three half-marathons. Beth has lost 30 lbs and gained strength and endurance. Her energy levels have dramatically increased as she has learned to take care of her own health. What makes Beth happier than anything is the fact that she can now run around with her children. As Beth says, “Running gave me back my life!”
Beth is preparing for the 2015 Lincoln Marathon. You can support her fundraising efforts for Project Purple by donating at her Crowdrise page. Follow this link to support Beth!