“I want to run at least one mile on my 100th birthday.”
Think you have ambitious goals? Let me introduce you to Bonnie Blades, who may inspire you to dream even bigger! At the age of 42, Bonnie was diagnosed with cervical cancer, and had to undergo a hysterectomy. Three years later, she discovered a lump on the side of her neck, which turned out to be Hodgkins Lymphoma, requiring her to undergo chemotherapy. Just months after finishing up that treatment, she received more bad news at a follow up scan. She now had bone cancer in her right scapula and would need a bone marrow transplant. Three cancers in four years would take its toll on the average person. Very quickly, as I chatted with Bonnie, I learned that she is not your average person. Ten years after her bone marrow transplant, she is cancer free and living life to the fullest. She is also in the midst of an 824 day running streak. Since July 2016, she has not missed a day of running and has no plans on ending this routine. “I want to do this as long as I can, I want to make it to age 100.”
Bonnie grew up in Jericho, Vermont and had a very busy childhood. “I had ten brothers and sisters, so it was a big family and we always had a team.” She was the ninth of eleven children, and from an early age her and her siblings were usually out on some sort of adventure. Her first love was horses. “We had ponies since we were little kids, we rode in shows, but we mostly would go out across the road, down the fields and just take off.” In high school she competed in javelin, discus, and shot put. Running was something Bonnie dabbled in, but it never quite stuck. “I kind of went at things too hard and then I would stop, then would get back into it a couple years later.”
In 2015, a new chapter was about to begin for Bonnie. Her good friend, Sommer, signed both of them up for a 5k known as ‘The Color Run’. She describes Sommer as being very good at goal setting, and persuaded Bonnie to join her at this event. Ironically, Sommer had to back out of that event, leaving Bonnie to go solo. Her apprehension of not knowing anyone was quickly replaced with happiness as she competed in her first ever race. “It was a lot of fun, with people throwing powdered paint at you, with a big celebration at the end.” Sommer continued to encourage Bonnie to set daily goals for herself, and the next year, Sommer signed both of them up for a 10k run, which was taking place on the last day of July 2016. Right before the race, Bonnie made Sommer a deal. She told her, “If you don’t show up at the race this year, I’m done. But if you do show up and race with me, then I will find something to do everyday.” Sommer showed up, and Bonnie made good with her pact. She chose running. Initially, she committed to running every day for one year. “After the year came up, I felt so much better and was so much healthier.” She also noticed the benefits on her immune system. Before running, she had battled with upper respiratory infections, often landing her in the hospital. This was one of the unpleasant side effects from that bone marrow transplant years earlier. During the first winter of her running streak, she never got sick. Her bone density levels were also increasing. So, she kept on running and hasn’t stopped since.
Bonnie runs the same route everyday, with a few slight variations. She crosses the main road from her house and heads down the dirt road where she spent much of her childhood. People sometime ask if she gets bored running the same route, but instead she finds comfort in the familiarity of her surroundings. She started out running a half a mile each day, and about four months in, increased it to one mile per day. Now she aims for one and half miles each day. Over the past few years, she has picked up some fans in her neighborhood. One day, she came home to find a package on her doorstep from her neighbor, Karen. Inside the package was a pair of socks, a gift certificate for running shoes, and a beautiful card. When she thanked her, Karen told her, “I’m going to do this for you every year, because I applaud your commitment to running.” Often, as she runs through her neighborhood, people will call out to her, asking her what day she is on. During a particularly hot stretch this summer, one of her neighbors sprayed her down with a hose as she battled the heat. What started out as a solo venture, has clearly captivated her community, and they are some of her biggest supporters. Her running streak has become their running streak.
Bonnie writes everything into her calendar, keeping statistics on her daily runs. She tallied 190 miles in the last five months of 2016. In 2017, she logged 500 miles, and thru Halloween of 2018, she is at 467 miles year to date. She’s also incorporated pushups, sit ups, and leg lifts into her daily routine. Lately, she has been ending her runs with a short sprint, often getting cheers from patrons at the maple creemee stand that she passes by. Bonnie is one of these people that is very easy to root for.
She talks about bringing her brother to the hospital one evening. “I had got my run in earlier that day, so that was good, but I hadn’t got my exercises in, and it’s 11:15pm. So I got down on the floor of the hospital room to do my exercises, and the doctor comes in and is wondering, what’s going on.” I told him, “I gotta get these in, don’t even talk to me for five minutes!” She’s also run through minor injuries and a colonoscopy. She credits her longevity to being in tune with her body and how she is feeling.
She looks forward to retiring in eight years (from work, not running!) and having more time to run. Working full time creates some challenges with the weather and having to run at certain times of the day. However, she’s not complaining, “I always feel better after a run.”
When Bonnie isn’t running, she likes spending time with her nieces and nephews, bringing them to horse shows and museums. Family plays a big part in her life. A couple of her siblings don’t drive, so she is always happy to be their chauffeur as needed. She also enjoys hiking occasionally and puzzle books. When I asked her if there was one person she would like to run with, she chuckled and said, “I’m happy to go running with anybody, but a lot of times I feel like I’m slowing everyone down.” Speed is one characteristic of a runner, but Bonnie’s dedication, commitment, grit, and passion shine so much brighter. In other words, in life, she’s not slowing anyone down.
Bonnie is often told that she inspires people. From her friends, family, coworkers, neighbors and strangers. As I chatted with her, I felt the same way. Her laugh comes easy, as she always seems to see the bright side of things, from battling cancer to her current running streak. “I was too stubborn to die of cancer, and I’m too stubborn to give up running.” In case you are wondering about her plans for her future milestone birthday. “I want to run at least one mile on my 100th birthday.” We’ll all be rooting for you every stride of the way, go get it Bonnie!