Grandma’s Marathon Changed My Life

When I think of Grandma’s Marathon I always get emotional for several reasons. For me, it is more than a marathon, but rather the most epic 26.2-mile victory lap that changed my life.

I lost all of my hair at age 2 due to the autoimmune condition, Alopecia. It was extremely hard growing up without having any hair and being the only kid in my school and community with this condition. There weren’t the opportunities there are today to connect with others. I felt very isolated, alone, and like an outcast. I wore a wig since I can remember to simply be like all of the other kids. I was told and made to believe, “girls are pretty when they have hair”. It was uncomfortable. I never truly felt like my true self as I walked around every single day harboring this secret wanting to tell others, lying to people who would ask as I insisted I wasn’t wearing a wig. I was bullied and teased a lot. Kids would call me a boy, comment on the way my wig looked and my lack of eyebrows and eyelashes. I was so embarrassed and truthfully felt like I deserved it, because to my core I did feel ugly and didn’t feel like a girl because of my lack of hair. I let kids make fun of me and said nothing, and never told my teachers because I didn’t want them to like me even more.

I became very quiet and reserved because of this and walked around every day carrying these feelings and weight on my shoulders letting it continually build. As time went on I discovered I had a love for basketball in 5th grade. I had a natural talent for the game and began to stand out from my peers, but this time it was in a positive way. I had this incredible outlet that brought me so much joy and an opportunity to forget about my Alopecia and focus on something else. I would come home from school and shoot hoops in my driveway for hours pretending to make the game winning shot; the crows would go wild as they cheered for me. This became my escape when I never thought about my Alopecia or how mean kids were. I began to dream big within the game. I wanted to receive a scholarship to play in college and be the best player I could be. Though kids were still not nice, and even opposing teams I was bothered less because I had such drive and focus. I went on to break countless school records and had a great high school career and received several scholarships offers. It was a true dream come true.

I had eventually chosen the University of Minnesota-Duluth. From the first time, I visited the school everything felt right.  I was still very much wearing my wig and trying to hide my Alopecia all through college. I went to extreme measures to continue to do this from taping my wig to my head (just as I had always done) to anything I could to cover it up and avoid anyone knowing. I said no a lot to keep my Alopecia a secret. I was so fearful of rejection and others people being mean.

I have always been a very competitive person and living in Duluth during the summers I had watched Grandma’s Marathon with friends and loved to cheer on the runners. I was never a runner. The length of the basketball court was enough for me. But, watching the emotion, the grit, and just pure determination of the runners was so inspiring to me. It inspired me to want to run a marathon to merely cross it off my bucket list. So, in the summer of 2012 the year before I graduated I signed up for the marathon a few weeks before. I remember my friends thinking it was crazy. I barely had enough time to train after the basketball post-season was done, but I was determined to cross the finish line.

I can still so vividly remember race morning. Everyone was in their sweats and I showed up in my race clothes despite the chilly morning. I definitely had rookie written all over me. We all sat on the ground and people began to ask me about my training, my goal, and just who I was. No one looked at me differently because of my Alopecia or made me feel like I didn’t belong. This has become something I love about the running community so much. We are all so different. We all look, train, and have different goals but come together on race day to cheer for others and I love that so much.

As I ran down alongside Lake Superior the excitement from the crowds, the cheers and smiles were the best feelings. I truly felt like Super Woman. I felt strong, empowered, and beautiful. A feeling I had never felt. In running it is about you, versus basketball where you have teammates. I loved the independent feeling that I am the one in control. I will never forget the incredible feeling of crossing the finish line. It was such a rush and I knew the moment I did I wanted to become a runner. I fell in love with the sport that morning.

 I began to run marathons all over the country. I loved the feeling of being in a city where no one knew me, or about my Alopecia. Running became my escape and outlet. I loved the feeling of challenging myself and setting big goals for myself that allowed me to work hard. As I began to cross more finish lines the more confidence I gained in myself. I began to slowly tell people about my Alopecia and give myself small tasks to go somewhere without my wig. It was extremely scary and took a lot of pep talks but I was slowly becoming the woman I had always dreamed of.

Running has empowered me so much to learn to love, accept and embrace my Alopecia and baldhead. When I run I feel the most beautiful, strong, and the most like me.

As I was training for the San Diego Marathon on a hot 20-mile training run I was overcome with so much strength that I took my wig off mid-run. This was the biggest turning point in my life. As I held it in my hand (it was so sweaty and smelt awful) it was the first time I saw nothing beautiful about it. This had been my security blanket for so long and I felt it was what made me beautiful and feminine. Tears welled in my eyes as I balled it up and ran home with it. I truly looked at myself in the mirror. I saw my beautiful eyes and facial features that I had hidden for so long. I hung up my wig dripping in sweat and haven’t looked back since.

Fast forward to today and the years without my wig. It isn’t always easy. Unfortunately, people are not always nice and have told me I look manly or looked better with my wig and yes, it hurts but I know who I am and what I stand for. I feel the most like me without my wig and my baldhead out shining for the world to see.

Though I have run many marathons and a few 100 milers I still get all of the butterflies and excitement when it comes to running and looking ahead to my goals. It is such a special gift I will never take for granted. Through the sport, I discovered so much about myself. It all began in the summer of 2012 in Duluth and I simply cannot wait to celebrate 10 years of running in June; the greatest gift I have been given. Never be afraid to take the first step, you never know where it may lead you.

Lindsay Walters

Lindsay is one of our Offical Grambassadors for the 2022 Grandma’s Marathon Weekend. Meet the rest of the ambassadors here.

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Favorite Grandma’s Marathon Memory: Marathon 2012-my first marathon ever. The last mile when you’re coming into downtown and you hear the crowds of people, the high fives and excitement, and crossing the finish line. It was surreal and the best feeling! That was when I knew I wanted to be a runner and pursue marathon running! 

Favorite Running (& Life ) Quote: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us” Marianne Williamson, movie Coach Carter 

2022 Running goals: Break 3 hours in the marathon 

Go-to pre-race meal: all of the peanut butter bagels 

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