This article appeared in the Fredericton Daily Gleaner June 18.
Growing up in Sackville, Cathy Jeffrey first used jogging to keep in shape for her high performance tennis career.
She has many memories of running behind the family suburban van near her cottage with her siblings, training until her father “could see us in the mirror, laying face down in the dirt.”
The early regiment paid dividends for Jeffrey, who competed annually at the Canadian Junior National Tennis Championships, winning a couple of doubles titles, all of which served as a stepping stone to making the Virginia Tech University tennis team on a full tuition Division 1 scholarship.
“We were a tennis family,” said Jeffrey, then Cathy Dixon. “We all played tennis competitively, and my father was our dedicated no-nonsense coach. I spent my childhood training two to three times a day and travelling to tournaments all summer.”
Tennis, with her father coaching and her mother soothing the setbacks, was just part of Jeffrey’s personal sports theme, which meant lots of activities. Running was part of that, if just to keep in shape.
However, it was not until recently – April 2011 in fact – when Jeffrey took her interest in the sport to new levels. And it was her tennis background that helped her prepare for the demands, hitting goals and long training sessions. It ultimately led to a personal-best time of 2:59.19, a remarkable progression in such a short time.
“Tennis taught me to work hard and it taught me how to set goals,” she said. “I knew if I set a goal of a sub three-hour marathon, I was mentally strong enough to work hard enough to get there.”
Like many, the first strides were difficult but she knew she had the ability. That and some motivation from her brother got her going in earnest.
“My brother Chuck, a competitive runner, called me in April 2011,” Jeffrey said. “I remember his exact words. ‘Cathy, you’re lazy. You should start running, you never know, you might even be good at it.’
“At the time, I had a full-time career, a three-year-old daughter, a one-year-old son and a husband who worked and lived in a different city.”
She jokes that she was happy just to get her gear on properly for those early runs but Chuck’s suggestion brought her to the realization that she was missing – and she needed – a competitive outlet.
“I needed competition to feel whole,” she said. “It’s hard for some people to understand how you can still feel a void despite having two wonderful children and a loving husband who is an amazing father.”
Once underway, it did not take long to grab a foothold and before she knew it, she ran a half marathon that fall and later qualified for the 2013 Boston Marathon (which she ran with Chuck), thanks to intensive training, 90-mile weeks, massage therapy and other commitments to make it all work.
While that event is memorable for many because of the attacks at the finish line, she used the experience to prepare for another event she treasures dearly – the California International Marathon, where she reunited with her sisters Beth and Jean who supported her race and celebrated a personal-best time of 2:59.19 in the December 2013 event. That was good for 306th place in the 6,238-runner field and sixth in her division.
“Races are very personal, and I like that,” said Jeffrey, who has worked as a senior portfolio manager, managing a fundamental long/short equity fund, for almost 20 years. “They are about living up to your months or years of sacrifice and dedicated training and executing on your individual training-based goals.“
Generally, she runs alone, which allows her to let go of her responsibilities and stresses. She’ll crank out the country music and even sing out loud.
“Although hills in this city are plentiful, I usually choose flat paths,” she said. “I love to run along the St. John River and I feel very fortunate to live here, with so many beautiful places to run.”
Over the past two years, she has dealt with an injury that has slowed her training efforts. Ideally, she’ll be back on pace to qualify for next year’s Boston Marathon as well as act as a pacer to help others qualify.
“I have experimented relentlessly with any and every drug-free treatment option available,” she explains of the past couple of years. “It’s been a very challenging time, but I am finally starting to feel notably better and I have many people to thank.”
Ultimately, she hopes she can incorporate running into the family vacation plans, and travel with her children to see the world through running.
“I really look forward to that over the long term,” she said. “There are so many spectacular marathons to experience.”
Kevin Barrett’s column appears every other Saturday. If you have a suggestion for a feature story, email him at email@example.com or visit barrettkevin.wordpress.com.