Sarah Sellers, BSN, CRNA, said she thought about her patients as she ran to second place in the prestigious race.
When word started spreading on April 16, that Sellers had finished second place in the Boston Marathon, her colleagues at Banner-University Medical Center in Tucson, Ariz. were shocked.
Most had no idea the quiet, humble nurse anesthetist keeping patients stable and maintaining airways during surgery had gutted out a rigorous training regimen for the past several months.
Sellers surprised not only coworkers, but also the rest of the world. Unlike most elite runners that day, she had no sponsor, was running only her second marathon ever and had given up serious running until recently because of an injury.
Sellers, 26, decided to train for the Boston Marathon last summer when her brother, who lives in Utah, mentioned he was going to run the race. She thought it would be fun to join him for the event and she started training for Utah’s Huntsville Marathon in September to qualify for the Boston race.
A former distance runner in college, she was familiar with training routines. While earning her BSN at Weber State University in Utah, Sellers had made all-conference finals, but a navicular stress fracture had forced the young athlete to stop running her junior year. She suspected the stress and exhaustion of nursing school combined with college sports put her at risk of injury. After a year off, she slowly worked her way back into running after enrolling in the CRNA program at Barry University in Orlando, Fla.
In September, she finished her first marathon in two hours, 44 minutes and 77 seconds — a time that earned her a spot with the elite women running the Boston Marathon. She contacted her former college coach to get a workout regimen that would get her in shape before and after work. Three days a week, Sellers set her alarm for 4 a.m. and ran six miles before heading to the hospital.
After a 10-hour shift, she’d run another 10 miles. On lighter training days, she only ran after work and always took Sunday off from running.
The runs after work proved to be the hardest.
“I just didn’t feel good because I was tired, and I thought it would get better once I got used to it,” said Sellers, who started working at Banner-University Medical Center about a year ago. “But that never happened. Once I realized this was how it was going to be, I accepted that I could still have a good workout even if it was challenging.”
A nurse’s perspective of the Boston Marathon
That grit would come in handy the day of the race. On April 16, the temperature was below 40 degrees as she lined up with more than 50 elite runners in the rain and wind.
“During the first mile, the entire group was slow because nobody wanted to lead in the strong headwinds,” Sellers said.
As the group broke into smaller packs, she joined one in the middle, but soon wanted to pick up the pace. She ran ahead solo in the headwind for several miles, but Sellers worried this would drain her strength too quickly.
Around mile 11, she felt her energy flagging and slowed down to slip into a group behind her. Then she started thinking about her patients.
“I was nervous because I was tired and didn’t want to spiral downward emotionally,” Sellers said. “But I thought about what my patients go through on a daily basis, and it put things in perspective. I also tried to take the same attitude I had with running after work. It’s not going to feel good, but I can do it.”
When one of the women in the group pulled ahead, Sellers followed. She felt guilty drafting behind the runner and tried to take a turn leading in the wind, but the woman wouldn’t give up her lead.
Around mile 20, Sellers started passing some of the big names in the field, women she had idolized like Molly Huddle and Shalane Flanagan. Then the energy of the crowd started fueling her strides. She had no idea how many women were ahead of her, but the bystanders seemed excited. When she crossed the finish line with a time of 2:44:04, Sellers asked the officials how she had placed.
“Second,” said an official. She didn’t believe her.
“It was very surreal,” Sellers said. “It was raining and cold and I was hurting, and I wondered if this was actually happening.”
Staff celebrate the Boston Marathon placing nurse
A generally quiet person, the ensuing news conferences, photo shoots and awards dinner felt a little overwhelming, but Sellers won’t have any trouble finding a sponsor to pay for airfare and hotels for her next marathon. She’s interested in training to qualify for the 2020 Summer Olympics.
When she returned to work, a group of nurses, physicians and technicians surprised her in the break room at 6:45 a.m. with chocolate cake, balloons and walls decorated with news articles about her achievement. Fellow nurse anesthetist Bridget Vyborny, DNP, CRNA, was among those celebrating that morning. Like many, she has been inspired by Sellers.
“When I heard how hard she was training, I realized I have no excuse not to exercise after work,” Vyborny said. “She is such a modest nurse who never complains, and hearing about her accomplishment has made me think I can do better.”
Editor’s note: Top image of photo of Sellers at marathon by MarathonFoto.com.
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