Why Pushing Beyond Limits was the Only Option
My name is Stephanie Kundin. Seven years ago, I found out it wasn’t a matter of “if” but a matter of “when” I would face end stage renal (kidney) failure. I was 32
I needed an outlet to maintain a positive personal and emotional focus.
I needed an outlet to increase the condition of my body.
I needed an outlet to live for another day.
And yes, having type 1 diabetes for 22 years, and never giving in to the disease, gave me a boost of determination right out of the gate. This was one more challenge.
My love for running began
I built my way up to daily runs of 5 miles. I found myself having a harder time maintaining my endurance and health. I had to finally face reality. It was time to start dialysis 15 hours a week. But it didn’t slow me, at least not mentally. I’d go for runs at 3 am to make it to dialysis by 5 am. After treatments on Saturday’s I’d go to spin class. Outside of two organs not working, my body not producing red blood cells that nourish your muscles, and calcium being striped from my bones, I was in the best shape of my life. I was upbeat, happy and unbreakable. I left every treatment with a smile on my face reminding the other patients how important mind over matter is and appreciating one more day.
The plot thickens.
Not only did I fall in love with running, but my best friend, and the most inspirational person I have ever met, Ken Rubeli, found himself falling in love with the sport as well.
Of course, my five mile runs seemed like a warm-up to him. In just two years he went from barely being able to run one mile to becoming an ultra runner. It inspired me daily.
Flying to Boulder, CO for the Boulder 100 and watching him kill his first 100 mile run while I stayed up all night crewing, was addicting. I was determined that one day I would run an ultra. Many thought I was crazy for such thoughts. Instead, I kept running even with catheter ports hanging from my chest and an insulin pump around my waist. Not me, not my best friend and no one that was a part of the ultra community thought I was crazy. As I continued to support Ken, he quickly found his passion in life. Running not only saved my life but saved Ken’s too. He was overweight, over worked and stressed. Ken had to change his life. He set-out to discontinue unhealthy behaviors and start living a healthier lifestyle.
On April 10, 2011 at 4:30 PM, while volunteering at Labor of Love’s 100 Mile race at the mid-point aide station, my life forever changed.A friend’s car pulled up and Ken calmly stepped out. I stared at him in complete bewilderment. He smiled and asked, “Guess who has two organs waiting for her in Phoenix?” I continued to stare at him with complete confusion. Ken was 49 miles into the race and having the best race of his life. I couldn’t understand why he had stopped running. I suddenly realized that he stopped his race to help save my life. The race was appropriately named “Labor of Love”.
After over a year on the organ donor list, my hopes for an extended life started to fade so I set-out to truly enjoy life. With the prospect of fewer tomorrows, I wasn’t going to miss anything, including the chance to watch Ken run his second 100 miler. Ken made a habit of pushing himself extra hard on the mornings I had to endure dialysis. He said if I could get through the awful cramps of dialysis, he would make a point of pushing himself beyond his perceived running limits. Even though I had undergone surgery to have a graft put in my arm for dialysis, I was determined to work the aide station and watch him race. There I stood--dialysis ports sticking out of my chest, an insulin pump tethered to my side, and stitches running up my swollen arm. And yet, I was watching these amazing ultra runners push their limits. Even though in pain, I was exactly where I wanted to be on that freezing cold afternoon and I was beyond happy.
While I had finally started accepting the fact my special organ call would never come, Ken did not. When he found out there was no cell service on the remote Labor of Love course, he asked me to give my mom, his friend Scott’s cell number. Although Scott lived 45 minutes away in Las Vegas, he promised Ken he would drop everything and race out to the course if my mom called. I’m sure you can see where this story is going. At mile 49, on a desolate camping road, Ken looked over and saw Scott pulling up next to him. Quickly realizing this was not your typical ultra marathon hallucination, Ken hoped in the car and they drove one mile ahead to get me at the 50 mile aide station. The next few hours were a blur. We sped to the airport to catch one of the last flights back to Phoenix. I can only look back and smile as I remember Ken walking through the airport in his stinking running clothes and having to take his dirty shoes off at the security check point. We arrived at Mayo Hospital in Phoenix that evening. As we sat in theMayo Clinic hospital, we didn’t talk about the seriousness of the surgery that I was being prepped for; instead, we talked about who was winning the race!
The benefits of running helped carry me through a quick recovery. My doctors, who happened to be avid runners themselves, told me my high level of pre-surgery fitness played a big part in my body accepting my new kidney and pancreas. In just 6 short weeks after the surgery, I was back attending ultra races. I surprised Ken on his birthday to watch him run the Nanny Goat race. While Ken struggled for the first time with extreme nausea during this race and had to settle for a 50 mile finish, this race ended up being one of the most important races we’ve ever attended. It was during this race, we got to know four very special endurance runners who to this day remain close friends. We were blessed to bond with Ed Ettinghausen, Michael and Kimberly Miller and Tony Nguyen (aka, Endorphin Dude), four of the best West Coast ultra community ambassadors.
So back to the magic of running. During Nanny Goat, I had the chance to briefly run alongside Ed Ettinghausen during one of his 116 laps. To my surprise, I learned that Ed’s youngest daughter has Juvenile Diabetes and is insulin dependent. Having been diabetic nearly all my life, I knew how horrible it was to take shots throughout the day. With my new pancreas producing at full strength, I was no longer diabetic and the days of pumping my body full of insulin were over. I was lucky enough to have and use a very expensive insulin pump during my last several years of being a diabetic. The pump automatically fed the insulin into my body without the need of administering daily shots. Since I no longer needed the pump, I wanted to give it to someone who could truly benefit. I could think of no better person to give my pump to than the daughter of arguably the most inspirational ultra runner. My gift to Ed’s daughter was nothing unusual; it’s what other runners would have done. As I would come to learn over the years, runners will go to great lengths to help other runners.
Although my body was now much stronger, the balance of 2011 was a tough year for both Ken and me as we both dealt with changes in our family situations. As any endurance runner will tell you, being strong mentally is half the battle to doing well in an ultra event. Ken struggled for several months with poor race performances and even contemplated quitting the sport. Fortunately, having guys like Michael Miller around helped Ken regain focus. Michael always says running, like life, is all about “ebbs and flows.” You just got to get through the ebbs and the flows will come.
Well the “flows” have come for both Ken and me in 2012. One year after my transplant, I returned to the Labor of Love race and finished my first 10K in one hour, while Ken finished the 100 miler with an 8th place finish. Words can’t describe the magic of returning a year later to cross the finish line together. A couple months later I ran the FANS 50K, my first ultra marathon finish! Ken happened to set his 24 hour PR at this race too. Our 2012 got even better. A few weeks later, Ken did something every runner dreams of – he won a podium award with his third place finish at the Silverston 24 hour race. I even completed the 6 hour race, which at 9,500 feet is tough, even with new organs! While we know the inevitable “ebb” will come and go, Ken and I are both enjoying our long-running “flow” in 2012. The year of celebrating success was even sweeter now that we are more than best friends, we had fallen for each other. For once, the two words falling and running together are considered a great thing!
Why Beyond Limits Running
Life, like running, is all about pushing beyond limits. Runners of all abilities have learned there really is no such thing as a limit. Limits are merely perceptions in the mind that can be overcome through very hard work and determination. Ken and I have had to break through our share of perceived physical and mental limitations over the years and we’re far from done.
Our inspiration for forming Beyond Limits Running is to provide runners of all levels the opportunity to experience the joy of “smashing” through their perceived physical and emotional limitations.
Not only will you find Beyond Limits Running a place where you can achieve such breakthroughs but also have the Ultra Community support you. From cheering the last runner in as they cross the finish line, capturing runner's PR's, encouraging one another when a DNF is faced, to creating and improving a runner's experience through nutrition, clothing and foot care, the Beyond Limits crew is here for you. Live, love and run as if there is no tomorrow; we do!
Join us as we Go Beyond Limits ~ Where Boundaries Don't Exist.