“Running is my way of taking back the control over the body that, I feel like, tried to take control from me.”
Maria Chevalier looks at her running life in two stages. In her first stage, she turned to the sport that offered her acceptance and friendship. The second stage began when she turned twenty-six, and received a diagnosis that changed everything. Throughout her entire journey, I get the sense that her experiences have shaped her into the kind of person that soaks up every drop of life she can.
“I’m a navy brat. I was born in Scotland, and we stayed over there until I was four.” When Maria’s family moved to the States, they settled just outside of Chicago. Early on, she had limited exposure to sports, taking some dance classes and did a bit of skating with her brother. Nine years later, her family ventured out west to Colorado. “That’s where I call home, it’s where I lived and grew up the most.” She credits her Dad, who ran cross-country, for planting the running seed in her mind. As she entered the eighth grade, in a new state, she decided to join the cross-country team. “Everyone was super nice, and I felt like I actually found my spot.” She spoke fondly of one of her teammates, Amy Youngblood, and the bond they shared. Over the next decade, she attend high school and college in Colorado.
When Maria was sixteen years old, she recalled a tragic running story. One of her classmates was killed by a mountain lion behind school. “Our high school was built up on a mountainside, with a bunch of old mine shafts behind it, and great trails.” He was out running, and when he didn’t show up at home that evening, his parents filed a missing person’s report. On the third day, they found his body. Since then, she has learned to look for signs while out on the trail, such as a fresh animal kill, to know when to back off. Her school also began offering assemblies on what to do if you encountered dangerous animals out on the trail. It was after high school, in a summer running club, where Maria truly caught the running bug. She spoke about the coach who put the group together. “He took us on a crazy road trip to New Mexico, and we all did our first half marathon, and I was hooked!”
I was curious, as to who she would most like to go out on a run with. “I think if I could run with anybody, I would love to run with my younger self. Because I would really love to get her perspective on where she thinks this running thing is gonna go, and to tell her that there are some big life changes coming, that running is really gonna get you through, so love it and take care of it while you can.” Those challenges arrived in Maria’s late twenties, when she received a medical diagnosis that meant she would be unable to have children of her own. It was during this period of her life, that her younger sister, Rosina, played an important role. “She largely influenced my re-discovery and purpose I found in running.” Since then, she has undergone thirteen surgeries related to this diagnosis, and some of the complications have led to lifelong issues that will always require maintenance surgeries. Throughout it all, running has been the force that has kept her centered. “Running is my way of taking back the control over the body that, I feel like, tried to take control from me.”
Maria hasn’t stopped running since. After her half marathon, she jumped up to the full marathons, and completed ten marathons in ten different states. She had heard about the ’50 States Club’ from some of her friends and that intrigued her. She kept accumulating finishes in more and more states. Then, she was introduced to ultra running and ran her first 50k, and found a desire to go even longer distances. “Running is really my only jam.”
Boulder, CO, was the location of one of Maria’s happiest running memories. It was October of 2012, three months after a bitter disappointment at the Vermont 100, in which she experienced her first DNF. She assembled a team to support her, as she took another crack at completing her first 100 miler. Two of her good friends flew out with her, and her best friend from high school, who lived near the event, also joined them. About twenty hours into the race, after running all night, the sun came up with a wonderful surprise. “At sunrise, my friend was running with me, and we looked over to the right and there were twelve hot air balloons, with the sun beating behind them.” The last seven miles was especially sweet. “Being able to cross that finish line, and having all of them with me on the final loop, was one of my proudest and happiest moments.”
When the topic came up about her favorite place to run, Colorado was tops. One specific place is Hanging Lake, CO. “There’s just a whole lot of nostalgia there, there’s something new around every corner, and it’s the feeling of being home, it smells like home.” Maria painted a picture of the trails on the mountain she grew up on, running down them to catch a ride to school, and then running back up them to get home.
The running food that tops her list may surprise you. “I discovered salmon jerky this year, which I lovingly call bacon of the sea.” This has provided her with a salty, chewy protein treat while she puts in long miles out on the trail. She has turned other runners on to this hidden gem, even if they were a bit skeptical at first. Maria has been a pescatarian for the past twenty-eight years, and she also leans on potatoes, figs, other fruits, rice balls and mostly sticks with whole foods.
When we talked about gear, Maria’s big focus is on her shoes. “I am a huge fan of swapping shoes, so I never run in the same shoes two days in a row.” She feels this rotation of shoes, helps her get more mileage out of them. She turns to different shoes, depending on the conditions. She is ready for anything: mud, slippery rocks, dirt roads, pavement, or her treadmill shoes. She laughed, “I guess I have way more shoes than I wanted.” We then discussed her running packs, which she names. There is Ozwaldo (Ozzie) and Constance (Connie). She also has her treasured stuffed Yeti, which was a gift from her friend, Carolyn. “He’s my must have, I have to have him on my long races.” His name is CaYeti, and he always has her back.
Maria is also a huge supporter of Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sport, and is a big fundraiser for the cause. She spoke passionately about a boy named Nick, from Indiana, who she runs for. He was born with a traumatic brain injury, and was never expected to walk or talk. Four years ago, she had the opportunity to meet Nick and spend the weekend with his family. She was excited to report that Nick took his first unassisted steps this year at the age of ten. He also spoke his first words at the age of five, when he told his mother that he loved her. Nick also participates in an Adaptive Sports Camp. This cause has been a big motivator for Maria to keep coming back to Vermont.
When I inquired about her future running goals, the first thing Maria mentioned was finishing the Vermont 100. She also would like to do Leadville, as it is in her old backyard, as well as the Summer Solstice 50 miler in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. She plans on running every street in her town, as well as running the length of her state of Rhode Island. Possibly someday, she will tackle running across the state of Colorado over a multi-day run. She is closing in on her 50 States Club goal, having run a marathon in 42 states so far. Longevity in the sport of running is Maria’s ultimate goal. “I love the idea of slowing down and taking my time with the trails.” She is inspired by a seventy-four year old woman in her running group that still qualifies for the Boston Marathon every year.
You would think that working full time, on top of running 50-70 miles per week, as well as doing lots of charity work and mentoring would leave little time for other hobbies. You would be wrong. Maria also participates in a few community bands, having received a music scholarship in college. Her main instruments are the clarinet and saxophone. She serves as the President of the Wampanoag Road Runners. She also loves to go camping with her husband, Richie, aka “Schnitzel”, who she calls her biggest fan, and spending time with her cats, Cash and Vegas (the Wittens). I was blown away by her energy and positivity, and had to ask her if there was anything she didn’t do. She laughed, “I can’t knit, but I would love to learn how.”