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Summer 2007
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Running the World

When Cathy Rodgers (BA, Physical Education, ’76; MA, Special Major, ’79) turned 50, she was “looking for something a little different,” she says. And she didn’t mean a two-week vacation from her job as vice president of global opportunities at IBM. Rodgers’s something different involved travel to every continent on Earth and a two-year commitment to a major lifestyle change.

“I gave myself a goal for a present—to run a half marathon on all seven continents,” she says.

When Rodgers began training for half marathons (13.1 miles), she couldn’t run to the end of her street without gasping for breath. “It was terrible,” she says, adding that it took 10 months of serious training to prepare for her first race. Rodgers ran five to six days a week, outside, rain or shine.

“Some days were harder than others, but the mantra I used was ‘no excuses,’ ” she says. “If I was tired, I might run slower, it might take me longer, but I just got out there and went the distance. Some days were really cold, some days were pouring rain, but I was sitting there thinking, ‘Yeah, but I’m going to run in Antarctica!’ ”

Rodgers says the best part of the entire experience was the people she met along the way—a group of people “out there running the world.” She ran a half marathon in the Serengeti—and summited Mount Kilimanjaro—with Olympic medalist Joan Benoit, who won the gold at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. She ran in several countries with a couple in their mid-70s who have run a full marathon in each of the 50 states.

Her first race was the Midnight Sun Half Marathon in Anchorage, Alaska, in June 2006. She subsequently ran across Australia’s Sydney Harbour Bridge at sunrise, in Tanzania with a pack of barefoot children taking turns listening to her iPod Shuffle, along the Great Wall of China, along the canals of Amsterdam, and on Antarctica’s King George Island. The seventh and culminating race of her endeavor was on June 29, 2008, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She was lucky to get “unbelievable” weather for each of her races; in Antarctica she ran in 28–30°F weather.

The experience, says Rodgers, has led not only to a healthier body and close friendships, but also to a secondary career as a sustainability advocate. In her travels, she saw firsthand the shrinking ice packs and melting glaciers tied to global warming.

“The snows of Kilimanjaro are substantially less than what they were when Hemingway was writing about them,” she says. “In Antarctica, the place where we started the run, which was normally snow and ice, was actually gravelly dirt for the first three miles. It made an impact on me.”

Now Rodgers, in addition to her full-time job, travels internationally to speak about her personal journey and how people and businesses can affect global change by adopting sustainable practices. She is also thinking about her next goal—to complete a full Ironman Triathlon by age 60.

Anna Harris, Public Affairs and Publications