Pushing the limits
“Your body will argue that there is no justifiable reason to continue. Your only recourse is to call on your spirit, which fortunately functions independently of logic.”— Tim Noakes, author of “Lore of Running”
When Sondra Grable made it to mile 18 of the California International Marathon, she felt done. Grable had been slogging through a series of storms which had dumped 3 to 6 inches of rain in 24 hours. Severe winds rocked the area, making it extremely difficult to move forward.
She was exhausted, aching, chafing and her toenails were coming off. Grable desperately wanted to be done.
Then she thought of her friend, Christy Quinn, who had been nearly paralyzed in a serious cycling accident over the summer. She remembered how Quinn had to relearn the basics of life most of us take for granted: How to sit up, stand and walk.
“I just thought of how she would love to be out here right now, no matter what the conditions,” Grable said. “I decided a little windstorm wasn’t going to stop me from reaching my goal.”
And her goal was that of most marathon runners: The elusive Boston Marathon qualification. She had tried before, but poor nutrition and fatigue had caused her to “hit the wall,” and she missed the qualifying time of 3 hours, 55 minutes.
This time, it would be different.
When asked to describe the first time they met, Grable and Quinn, both of Camas, smile.
It was at the 2009 Beaver Freezer sprint triathlon at Oregon State University in Corvallis.
Grable, a Camas School District bus driver, asked Quinn to take a photo of her and the two hit it off. They became better acquainted at Lacamas Swim & Sport, where they were both logging laps in the pool while triathlon training.
“We have such an amazing group of friends,” Grable said. “Every Sunday the “Camas Crazies” meet up and run different distances. But we all have the goal of bettering ourselves and being positive.”
Grable and Quinn traveled to Victoria, Canada, in 2010 with two others to complete a half iron man triathlon, which includes a 1.2 mile open water swim, 56 mile bike ride and 13.1 mile run. Just a few months later, Quinn finished Ironman Wisconsin, which is a 2.4 mile open water swim, 112 mile bike ride and 26.2 mile run.
Grable credits Quinn with motivating her to participate in Ironman Canada in 2011. She finished the race in 13 hours, 43 minutes, despite 95 degree temperatures during the marathon portion.
“She and Gloria Califf (a fellow triathlete from Camas) are just so inspiring,” she said. “I had to try it.”
Between the two of them, Quinn, 53, and Grable, 48, have racked up quite an impressive amount of triathlons and road races. Not bad, considering both women didn’t start running until they were in their early 40s.
Quinn switched her focus to triathlons and cycling after a back injury forced her to take time off from running. She then learned how to swim. After Grable met Quinn, they began training together. Last summer, they participated in Tour de Wyoming with a group of fellow cyclists.
The group was at Montpelier, Idaho doing a 100 mile ride. Quinn was traveling approximately 25 mph when she hit a piece of metal in the road. Her bike flew up and she was tossed in the air like a rage doll before landing on the pavement. Her helmet was cracked in two places.
Grable, who had just caught up to the group, ran over, pulled the bike off of Quinn and held her hand.
“She looked over at me and said, ‘Why are your squeezing my hand so hard?’” Grable recalled.
Quinn, who remembers nothing from the accident, can only recall being in an ambulance as she was transported from a small hospital in Soda Springs, Idaho, to a larger one with a trauma unit in Pocatello.
Grable stayed with her until she could be stabilized and transported back to Portland. She recalled that Quinn would drift in and out of consciousness, and ask, “Sondra, what happened?”
“I’d say the same thing and that went on for a while,” she said, looking at Quinn with a smile.
“She is an example of what a true friend is,” Quinn said.
Quinn was diagnosed with an incomplete spinal cord injury. At first, the doctors were uncertain if she’d ever be able to walk again.
“It was a long process,” Quinn said. “Some people recover better than others.”
She spent four weeks in a rehabilitation facility before coming home, where she continues with physical therapy exercises.
She credits her recovery to God, along with the prayers of her family, friends and strangers. Today, Quinn can swim and walk with a cane. She hopes to run again someday, and is trying to convince husband Doug Quinn to join her for tandem biking.
Her hours and hours of training also helped in the recovery process.
“To me, it was just another thing to train for, only this time the outcome is my lifestyle,” Quinn said. “People I didn’t even know would come up to me and tell me they’d been praying. That was pretty incredible.”
Pushing until the end
On Sunday, Dec. 2, Grable crossed the finish line of California International Marathon in 3:45, besting her prior marathon time by 19 minutes and qualifying for Boston. She will run the race on April 21, 2014.
“I just kept Christy in my back pocket the whole time,” she said. “She would be out here with a smile on her face. At mile 20, my friend Tom Kovaric, told me to just take off and run the last 6 miles, and not look back. So off I went. I pushed as hard as I could and have never been so soaking wet in all my life.”
After crossing the finish line, exhausted to the core, Quinn was the first person she called.
“I just told her I’d dedicated the race to her and thanked her for being there,” Grable said.
Quinn was thrilled for her friend.
“I was just overjoyed and so proud of her,” she said. “She worked really hard to get here.”