Local ‘warrior’ who has run a marathon in all 50 states helps others reach the finish lineBy Lannan M. O’Brien | Photography by Rob Meier
Every Wednesday evening, you can find Stephanie Thompson at the Sandwich end of the Cape Cod Canal. The weather matters not—with sun on her face or rain in her hair, she’s ready to lead anyone who arrives before 5:30 p.m. on a four-mile run to the Sagamore Bridge and back. Attendees range in age, skill level and speed, but all have something in common: together, they are Warrior Runners.
Thompson, 33, started the free fun run on New Year’s Day, spreading the word via a blog on her website. It doesn’t hurt that the location is also where she works for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a Cape Cod Canal park ranger. From the first event, which attracted eight people, a couple of regulars have returned weekly to run with her—but, more accurately, she runs alongside them.
When asked why she does it, Thompson says, “I like the leadership aspect of it.” For her, it’s all about embarking on a journey, however short or long, and “helping someone along the way.”
When speaking with Thompson, it’s hard not to notice a refreshing genuineness in her character. Perhaps some mistake her quiet and kind demeanor for shyness or innocence before learning of the challenges she has faced and battles she has fought. In truth, her tendency to lead and the name of her running group derive from her personal experience: Thompson herself is a warrior, a veteran of the U.S. Navy who served active duty from 2006 to 2010.
Just last fall, Thompson completed one of her biggest goals yet: to run a marathon in each of the 50 states. It took her about four years, over which she says she averaged one marathon per month. Thompson has also run marathons on five different continents, facing about every challenge imaginable throughout her travels. “I got food poisoning in Peru, frostbite on [Mount] Kilimanjaro,” she says. In Antarctica, she ran a marathon with a blind man and his guide, she stayed with them until they reached the finish line.
“Between the Navy and running I feel like I’ve built up this foundation, this toolbox,” she says of her ability to overcome obstacles and help others do the same. “I may be soft-spoken, but I’m going to be right there with people at the base level doing the activity.”
Thompson’s philosophy on life—that it is its own marathon, or journey, rife with hurdles—and her eagerness to help other people are woven through her daily actions. She coaches the girls’ cross country team for the Sandwich STEM Academy, and in addition to her regular job, offers running services like coaching, personal and group training with a free initial consultation and athletic evaluation. This month, Thompson will be running the Falmouth Road Race in support of the Special Olympics Massachusetts (she had already raised more than half of her $1,000 fundraising goal in early June).
Whatever she’s doing, she enjoys getting to know others on a personal level. “If people trust you, they’re going to let it all out. I like learning what their goals are and what they’re trying to overcome.”
She helped a woman train this year for the Ragnar Cape Cod Relay, a 200-mile running relay from Hull to Provincetown, who was facing physical hardships from pneumonia to severe plantar fasciitis. As a coach, Thompson says the experience challenged her to come up with a dynamic training routine, including three-day rests, running and biking, and even motivational videos. She also provided emotional support.
“[Being a coach] is about being that extra support for someone who isn’t sure that they can accomplish a goal they’ve set out to do,” she says, and recalls a favorite quote—“‘The body achieves what the mind believes.’”
In addition to her weekly runs at the canal, Thompson has led runs on local hiking trails throughout the summer. More information on her fun runs and other events is posted on her website.