Throughout 2020, our goal is to introduce our readers to as many of our athletes as we can. Their stories constantly inspire and challenge us to be better, do better and move better as a company. We will be launching a blog series focused on our “Apex Crew”—a small yet powerful group of athletes, whose outdoor passions connect with their larger communities in new and exciting ways. Our “At the Apex” series strives to introduce you to their stories and help share some insight into what makes these athletes so influential.
Our first spotlight turns on Jenn Thompson—mother of four, ultra-runner, nurse, survivor. For those of you meeting Jenn for the first time, she has a very unique story to share. In June 2004, Jenn was diagnosed with possible lung cancer at 28 weeks pregnant and was hospitalized for six weeks. In August 2014 she was bitten by a rattlesnake—twice—and was hospitalized for a month. In October 2016 she suffered a pulmonary hemorrhage and in February 2017 she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Throughout all of this hardship, Jenn stayed focused on her goals and fought back with everything she had, showing the world her fighting spirit! We talked to Jenn about her journey and she shared with us some of her thoughts on running, Topo, and facing times of difficulty.
If you could go back in time and change one thing about your journey, would you? What would that one thing be?
Jenn: I wouldn’t change my journey. The roads we are asked to walk form the patchwork quilt that tells our story. We learn the hard way sometimes. We all make mistakes, and we all have choices. Do I wish that I had not faced nearly dying on a trail? Do I wish I did not have a brain tumor? Yes, sometimes. But the privilege of being able to answer these questions…how about that? Being able to lace up my shoes and run 2 miles, 10 miles, 50 miles, 100 miles, how incredibly blessed I am. Some roads we do not get to choose. Perspective and reaction are all you have. I wouldn’t change my road.
Jenn, you often say “hardships offer two choice – they are either going to destroy you, or give you another reason to do better.” What does that mean to you and how has this meaning changed in the five years since your rattlesnake attack?
Jenn: Hardships truly do only offer us the two options. As I mentioned above, what you have is your perspective and your reaction. For me, as an adult with severe PTSD and anxiety I have learned that sometimes my anxiety is predetermined. I have to work hard every day to keep my ‘reactions’ in check. Over the course of the past 5 years, I have learned that deep within each hardship, still lies an opportunity, a gift or several gifts and a chance to reinforce your patchwork quilt with another square. I thought the rattlesnake bite would be the hardest thing I ever had to go through. Three years after being bitten, I would face a brain tumor, and the most complicated surgery I could have imagined. I lost the ability to see normally. My world was turned upside down – again. But there it is again, the opportunity to be destroyed or the opportunity to do better. Together with one of the best brain surgeons in the world, I chose to do better. And post brain surgery in 2017 & vision surgery in 2018, I have run three 100k’s, two 100 milers and one 150-miler.
One of our main ideologies is “Better is not an accident. Stronger is not a gift. Faster is not a coincidence. It’s a choice.” How does this resonate with your story on a personal level?
Jenn: This resonates with me so very much. I am just a regular Jenn. I didn’t even start running until I was 30. It is a choice to run one more mile when your legs are fried. It is a choice to get up at 4am when everyone else is sleeping. And for me, when I was severely visually impaired post brain surgery, signing up for mountain ultras, it was a choice. I did not have to do those things and I certainly had valid excuses to say why I wasn’t doing them. But I made a CHOICE. My choice to be stronger than my ‘day-before” self. My choice to be faster than my ‘month before’ self. No, it was not easy. At Zion 100k I thought I would fall off one of the steep climbs on the side of a mesa and die. But I made a choice to put one foot in front of the other. LIFE is the gift. Stronger, better, faster – those are out on the path for you to go find and nobody can go get them for you.
What goals do you have this year (or larger goals you have in your life)?
Jenn: In my running, I have a goal to finish the ultras I have signed up for which include upcoming 50k, 50-miler, 100 k (x2), and 100-miler. In December, I plan to sign up for my first 72 hour run, hoping to best the 151 miles I completed in a 48-hour event. In life, I own a hospice and work as a nurse, so I hope to continue to provide the most dignified care possible to those who are dying. My personal goals include completing a book about my journey and finding opportunities for motivational talks.
What would you tell people who are just getting into running for the first time or are facing any type of difficulties in their life, be it personal, professional, etc.?
Jenn: For those who are getting into running for the first time – I would share the following. I remember training for my first 5k in 2004 very clearly. I remember thinking that 3 miles was going to kill me and I finished dead last at the trail 5k that winter. Just a few years later I was qualifying for the Boston Marathon. You only think you know where your limits lie. The body follows the mind. Do not worry about what others are doing. Stay focused on your journey and the next mile you need to run. There are no limits to what you can accomplish outside of the ones you place in front of yourself. Step over that line and draw a new one. As for hardships – remember that it is much easier to be amazing when there are no hurdles! Think of the 100m dash and the 100m hurdles. Never consider that maybe it would just be easier to run the 100m dash without any hurdles. ADAPT. Adaptation in life and in sport pay back in spades. Maybe the race conditions, literally or figuratively, will be perfect. But if you have “trained” in the rain, with the rocky terrain and someone flinging mud at you along the way, imagine how incredible you’ll feel when “race day” comes along and you don’t worry about the hurdles.
We have to know! What is your favorite Topo shoe and why?
Jenn: My go-to shoe is the Ultraventure. For me, it is the ultimate mountain shoe. They have amazing ground feel, balanced with just the right amount of cushioning. They perform equally well in wet and dry conditions. They are so light, have the Vibram® XS Trek outsole and those awesome gaiter adapters! I ran 151 miles in December of 2018 without a shoe change, in rain and mud and they felt amazing the whole way! Topo caught my eye as a company several years ago because of their inclusivity. They have not strayed from that. Being a regular Jenn, I have admired their “everyone is included” marketing approach very much. Their shoes have so much longevity and for me, that’s pretty awesome because I run a lot of miles. Learning to run again as a visually impaired runner post brain surgery and needing the balance of ground feel with ultra-running capability, their shoes and their company have been there every step of the way 🙂 I am so lucky to have my feet and my soul supported by Topo!!!