KAYSVILLE – For Jennifer Harward, every step does more than just move her ahead in a marathon.
Harward, who has run marathons since 2003, recently completed her goal of running a marathon in all 50 states. In addition, she uses those marathons to raise money for the Pat Summitt Foundation, which works to fight Alzheimer’s and support those afflicted with the disease.
“It increased the importance of my goal,” said Harward, a library media specialist at Davis High School.
Harward ran her 50th marathon in Delaware this past December, but her journey towards that goal started all the way back in college when she decided she wanted to run marathons. After her first half marathon, however, a sore knee dampened her enthusiasm.
“I kind of gave it up,” she said.
Then, in 2003, she happened to be in London on the day of the London Marathon, which will often feature runners in outlandish costumes. The finish line for the race is at Buckingham Palace, and Harward was there just as the runners who had taken 7-8 hours crossed the finish line.
“I had this preconceived notion of who could run a marathon,” said Harward. “But when I saw how much fun they were having, I realized I was wrong. Anyone can run a marathon.”
She immediately began training for marathons, sometimes running in as many as four a year. Though personal experiences cut her back to one marathon in 2008, she soon picked up the bug again and was back training for the next event.
“It really is an obsessive sport,” said Harward. “It’s just an amazing experience.”
She only had seven marathons under her belt when she first heard about the 50 States Marathon Club in March 2010. The club requires runners to have finished 10 marathons before they can even apply, a number Harward completed in June of that year at Notre Dame.
“I’m a big football fan, so that was really significant for me,” she said.
Once she hit that benchmark, her numbers rapidly started climbing. Though she prefers big city races such as the New York Marathon and the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington D.C., she said she has fond memories of all her races.
“It’s kind of like being asked which is your favorite child,” she said. “You could rattle off pretty much any state and there would be something endearing about it.”
It was in New Jersey, however, that she found real meaning in what she was doing. The marathon was set during NCAA March Madness, and Harward had brought along several basketball-related books to read.
One of these was “Sum It Up,” the autobiography of well-known basketball coach Pat Summitt from the University of Tennessee.
Summit was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the age of 59, and had to quit active coaching the next year. She is now head coach emeritus.
“Normally, I’ll read a book, enjoy it and move onto the next one, but nine months later that book still hasn’t left me,” Harward said. “She’s one of the greatest coaches college basketball has ever seen, and the fact that this disease could come and do what it’s doing to her haunted me.”
Harward then decided to donate a dollar for every mile she ran during her 50-state quest. She also urged friends and neighbors to join her, sponsoring certain states or marathons. The total combined donations recently hit the $4,000 mark.
Now that she’s hit 50 states, she plans to sponsor those states where she’s run multiple races. After that, she’ll find some other way to use her passion to help.
“Every time I go someplace and run, I’m representing Coach Summitt and all these other people,” she said. “It adds meaning to what I’m doing.”