Secondary Story

Gail White – Boston Marathon competitor & European cyclist

by Dorothy Bliskey

If a quilt pattern could tell Gail White’s story, the threads of silver and gold zigzagging through it would represent her love for biking and running. Both are life-long interests tightly woven into her quilt of life. Highlights have been 15 years of annual bicycling tours in Europe and running in the Boston Marathon.

White, who at 56 has returned to competitive running and just completed her first Boston Marathon, was a track star at Beaver Dam High School in the 1970s.

As a teenager, she ran the 100 yard dash, the 220 yard dash, anchored both the 4 x 100 relay and 4 x 220 relay teams and was voted Most Valuable Player on the varsity track team in 1972.

As an adult, White ran six miles a day as a fitness activity. In 1999 she began competing in the Madison-based Crazy Legs run and recently began adding marathons to her half-marathon run regime.

It should come as no surprise to hear her speak about her love for the sport of running. But to run in the Boston Marathon this year for the first time at age 56 is a lofty goal and amazing accomplishment.

She completed the 2013 Boston Marathon in 3 hours and 46 minutes. While she says it was not her best personal run time, it was still well within the perimeters expected of someone her age.

“Each age group has their own finishing-time requirement for the Boston Marathon. Since I’m in the 55-59 age group, I needed to be able to run a marathon in less than 4 hours and 10 minutes.”

“Given the difficulty level of Boston compared to the relatively flat course in Chicago, for example, I was very pleased with my time. Now that I know what to expect, I am anxious to return to Boston in 2014 and get a second shot at the course.”

White and her family members were spared any injuries in the bombing tragedy at this year’s Boston Marathon, due in part to her finishing time and to cell phone technology. She had finished the race about 25 minutes ahead of the explosions and was on her way to the post-running area to receive her medal, heat blanket, fluids and nutrition. Her plans were to meet up with her husband Jim, their daughter Sara and their son Todd who was there with his wife Kamille and son Owen, age 5.

“During the race my family had been tracking me on their cell phones,” White said. “They knew I had already finished the race, and, as a result, they didn’t go to the finish line area where the bombs exploded. Instead they were making their way to the family reunion area. This use of technology was the key in keeping them from going to the area where the explosion ultimately occurred.”

White described the scene. “The bomb blasts were very loud and caused everyone to stop talking instantly,” she said, noting the tall buildings prevented her from seeing or feeling the actual explosions. “People immediately started making phone calls to find out what had happened. In just a few minutes ambulances were coming. We spent the next two hours at our hotel answering phone calls, text messages and emails from frantic family members and friends who knew we were there.”

While tragic and sad, the bombings have not deterred White from returning to the Boston Marathon next year.

“I will absolutely run in the 2014 race, Lord willing,” White said. “It will be an event unlike any Boston Marathons in the past as the communities along the marathon route rally to show support for the victims and prove to the world that terrorists cannot take the spirit out of the greatest, most prestigious race in the world.”

Although White had created a lifetime of running for fitness, she drifted away from it as bicycling started to grab her interest 15 years ago.

“Around age 40 I discovered cycling and moved away from running,” White explains. She became an avid cyclist, traveling to Europe every summer for a two-week bike trip with organized tour companies from Seattle, Washington and Bend, Oregon.”

In fact, White recently returned from her 15th annual two-week non-competitive biking tour – this time in Italy. While there she enjoyed the scenery, the camaraderie of fellow cyclists, and the culture of another country as she biked through mountainous terrain. She traversed the landscapes of Italy which is shaped like a boot, starting on the east coastline in the “heel” and ending in the “toe.”

White has trekked through European countries like France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria and Spain — biking as many as 800 miles and climbing as high as 60,000 feet on each annual adventure. “I have biked many of the highest mountains in Europe – climbs that are in the European pro races,” White said. “Having the opportunity to experience what the professionals do is exciting.”

Her love for biking began when she was a child living in the countryside not far from Beaver Dam. She used her bike as a mode of transportation to get to her friend’s house or to the swimming pool.

“I’ve always loved to bike and to run. The two sports complement each other quite nicely,” White said. “Both require strong legs and a solid core, so training for the two sports has lots of overlap.”

“In running, I am fortunate to have qualified for the Boston Marathon and to run in what is the most prestigious race in the world. Many runners try for years and never qualify for it. I am truly blessed to have gotten the opportunity.”

White says her accomplishments would not have been possible without the support of her husband Jim. “He is my biggest fan and has been very supportive. You cannot be a distance runner without a strong support network.”

As for other interests White dabbles in? “I love to quilt,” she says, noting she’s made 30 quilts in the past 10 years. “It’s a hobby I enjoy with my daughter Sara.”

Perhaps those threads of silver and gold will one day be quilted together to tell her story.

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