‘They’re Waiting for Me to Die’: A 72-Year-Old Runner Will Not Let This Race Go | Big Indy News
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‘They’re Waiting for Me to Die’: A 72-Year-Old Runner Will Not Let This Race Go

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LEADVILLE, Colo. — In the crisp predawn hours last August, 71-year-old Marge Hickman slipped the brace off her sprained ankle and eased to the starting line of the Leadville Trail 100-mile race. Part of her said go home. The race wasn’t what it used to be. She didn’t feel wanted anyway. She loved this race. She hated this race. She revolved her entire life around this race.

She would finish this race, she told herself. She buttressed herself with her positive phrases. L.N.D. (leave no doubt). One direction: forward. Let go; let God. When the shotgun finally boomed, Hickman, a five-foot, 100-pound runner, plodded nervously into the thin, chilled air of the Rocky Mountains. If she could finish, she would be the oldest woman to ever do so.

Hickman is a well-known figure at the Leadville 100, a brutal, high-altitude race that weaves through the mountains with an elevation gain of 15,744 feet. She is masochistically obsessed with the race, according to friends, who point to two surgeries on her shoulders; two procedures for Plantar fasciitis, which causes heel pain; and a plate inserted into her wrist.

She has finished the race 14 times, but not in over a decade. She sheepishly admits as much but is adamant that she is still kicking butt and, in her words, “taking names.” Her training log — an average of 80 miles a week — and an array of ultramarathon results back up her claims. “I learned to let go of ageism a long time ago,” she said, adding, “Without that race on my calendar, I don’t know what I’d do or who I’d be.”

Ultrarunning has long provided a powerful draw for true eccentrics. They include Bob Wise, who suffered brain trauma in a car crash but discovered that longer races provided a respite from the noise in his head. Despite his drooping posture and a penchant for running into trees, he competed in numerous six- and seven-day races and race-walked 903 miles in the first certified 1,000-mile race.

Then there’s the Scottish runner Arthur John Howie, who once held three world records: running 360 miles nonstop, a 1,300-mile race in 16 days 19 hours and the speed record across Canada in 72 days 10 hours. His preferred fuel? Copious amounts of beer.

Jameelah Abdul-Rahim Mujaahid, a single mother of five, started running ultras on the weekends, after a day job as a district manager for four Burger Kings and night shifts at the Waffle House. At 54 years old, she has completed over 200 ultramarathons.

For Hickman, exercise needed to be extreme to offset lifelong bouts of anxiety and depression. In her 20s, she said, she fled Pittsburgh and a childhood marred by insecurity and neglect for the mountains of Colorado. The snow-capped peaks hunched against the horizon and the rush of clear mountain streams became symbols of her transformation from a timid child, made to wear glasses by her parents in an attempt to make her smarter, into a self-possessed athlete.

When the doors of her gym opened at 6, she would run on the carpeted track. “Then an aerobics class,” she said. “At lunch, I’d take an hour and a half and run five miles. I’d do a quick wipe up, put the jeans back on and some perfume and head back to work. After I got off, I was back for racquetball.”

But it was in a running shop in Denver in 1984 where destiny seemed to find her. She met Jim Butera, a bearded hippie who ran obscure races called “ultras,” sold running shoes and professed extreme running as a way of life. “I thought he was the best thing since canned corn,” Hickman said. When he showed her a flier for his latest idea, a 100-mile race in the mountains of Colorado — a race across the sky — it sounded impossible. She was hooked.

Her Leadville initiation in August of that year was a jarring portent of the relationship she would have with the race for the rest of her life. After face-planting on a root near Mile 13, she pushed on with blood oozing from her knees and face and a twisted ankle rapidly swelling. Eighty-seven miles later, tears began to flow as she limped over the last hill and saw the finish line.

The same year her love affair with Leadville began, her first marriage ended. “Because of my exercise addiction,” Hickman admitted.

The next year, she won the women’s division and placed 11th overall. She returned like a homing pigeon for the next 27 years — finishing 13 more times — making her the most prolific female runner in Leadville’s storied history.

In 1997, she wed again, this time to a runner on an iconic peak of the course during her beloved race. The couple moved to the city of Leadville in 2004, and she further enmeshed herself in the ever-expanding series of Leadville races.

But in 2010, the series was sold to Life Time Fitness. What had felt like a cozy affair among like-minded trail bums became a Disneyland of the mountains. Prices climbed, a gift shop was added and the field ballooned from 625 participants in 2011 to 943 by 2013.

Hickman turned contemptuous after Butera died in 2012 and the race came and went without mention of the former race director. By that time, the race had long been led by Ken Chlouber and Merilee Maupin. Chlouber has been widely credited with popularizing the race. In her book on the history of the Leadville 100, Hickman made her views crystal clear: The race was the brainchild of Butera alone. She and Chlouber have been at odds since, and in 2019, her brazenness got her banned.

Chlouber did not respond to requests for comment.

Hickman was reinstated for the 2021 race, after pressure from runners, including Gary Corbitt, son of the ultrarunning legend Ted Corbitt. She had another shot to cross the line.

Hickman was exactly where she wanted to be when she reached the halfway point. She had completed 13 hours and still had over 16 hours to finish. She felt stronger than she had in years. In any other major 100-miler, barring injury, she would have been home free.

But not at Leadville. New rules enacted weeks before the race now gave her only four hours to get to the next aid station. According to race officials, the changes were made to ease congestion. In effect, Hickman, and slower runners like her, were eliminated even though they most likely would have been able to finish before the 30-hour cutoff time.

She sat limp in a chair at Mile 50 while a volunteer cut her wristband, effectively disqualifying her from the race. In a daze, Hickman didn’t seem to notice. She stared at the clock, befuddled over what went wrong, emotion rumbling in her gut.

Initially, Hickman took a conspiratorial stance and referred to the fact that she is the most decorated Leadville veteran not inducted into the Leadville Hall of Fame. “They say they’re waiting for me to retire,” she said. “I say they’re waiting for me to die.”

Public declarations of closure followed. She was done with Leadville. She had enough. She was spent; her heart was no longer in it.

She signed up for the 2022 race five weeks later. Those who know her said it was inevitable. “Leadville’s been half my life,” Hickman joked sarcastically, a jumble of glee and heaviness in her voice. “It’s in your face — the hand of the mountains just comes out and gets you by the heart and sucks you in.”

In the third week of August, she will line up at Leadville again, determined to write her own ending.

“Yeah, I like to read books and stuff, but I’m a doer,” Hickman, now 72, added as she applied makeup over a black eye from a recent fall. “My plan is to run on. If they cut my wrist band, I’m just going to keep going. I’m going to finish my race.”

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Knicks vs. Bulls prediction: NBA picks, odds

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The NBA’s longest win streak is finally over after the Knicks suffered their first loss in nine games on Wednesday. Expect New York to start a new streak Friday against a team it dominated the last time they faced off.

The Knicks were playing like the best team in basketball during their lengthy win streak, posting the league’s best net rating (+17.3) with six double-digit victories in that eight-game run. That included a 23-point beat-down of the Bulls exactly a week ago, when New York drained 17 3s and saw three players score at least 22 points in an easy win.

Knicks vs. Bulls (7:30 p.m. Eastern) prediction: Knicks -5.5 (Caesars Sportsbook)

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That game marked the worst offensive showing of the season for Chicago (91 points), which has struggled with chemistry and spacing issues all year long. The Bulls rank dead last in 3-point attempts per game (28.8) and third-worst in offensive rebounding rate (23.6%), which leaves very few easy scoring chances for one of the NBA’s worst offenses.

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It’s the opposite story for the Knicks, who boast three legitimate shot-creators and also rank among the league leaders in points in the paint. Julius Randle (31 points) relentlessly attacked this Chicago defense in their first meeting before allowing RJ Barrett (27 points) to lead the way in the second affair — his fourth of five straight games with at least 22 points. 

I don’t see this Knicks attack slowing down against one of the league’s most inconsistent defenses. And until Zach LaVine returns to his All-Star form, I’m skeptical of the Bulls’ offense showing up on Friday, too.

Knicks vs. Bulls pick: Knicks -5.5 (Caesars Sportsbook)

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Devils vs. Bruins prediction: Bet on New Jersey to end slide on NHL Friday

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After starting the season 21-4-1, it looked like the New Jersey Devils were going to run away with the Metropolitan Division as one of the very best teams in the NHL.

Not only were the Devils cruising, but their underlying metrics were elite. New Jersey was the best 5-on-5 team through the first quarter of the season.

Three weeks and one six-game losing streak later, and the Devils have fallen back to earth and are now two points behind the Carolina Hurricanes in the Metropolitan Division. 

The Devils were able to get off the schneid with a win over Florida on Wednesday, but the task doesn’t get any easier with the league-leading Boston Bruins in town.

New Jersey is a slight +102 home underdog against Boston starting at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN+ and the NHL Network.  

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Tomas Tatar #90 of the New Jersey Devils
Tomas Tatar #90 of the New Jersey Devils
NHLI via Getty Images

Bruins vs. Devils prediction

Even though the Devils have struggled to get results over their last 10 contests, their underlying numbers don’t suggest there’s all that much wrong with how they’re playing. New Jersey isn’t posting the pace-setting numbers it did through Thanksgiving, but it’s still skating to the fifth-best expected goals rate and high-danger scoring chance rate in the league over its last 10 contests.  

Those numbers should help ease any sense of panic that New Jersey could continue to fall back further into the pack as we head toward the New Year. 

So if New Jersey is still tilting the ice in the right direction, what is the issue for the Devils? 

For one thing, the Devs are struggling to find the back of the net like they did when they were rolling. New Jersey has scored just nine goals in its last five games, and four of those tallies came in a 4-2 victory over Florida on Wednesday. Over their last 10 games, the Devils rank 25th in the NHL with a 6.56% shooting percentage. 

Additionally, the Devils are not getting the goaltending needed to stabilize them. New Jersey’s netminders were always thought to be the team’s biggest weakness, and that has started to show lately as the Devils rank 23rd in the NHL in 5-on-5 save percentage over the last 10 games.

Hampus Lindholm #27 of the Boston Bruins
Hampus Lindholm #27 of the Boston Bruins
NHLI via Getty Images

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The Bruins, meanwhile, continue to roll. Boston is 7-1-2 over its last 10 contests and ranks third in the league over that span in expected goals rate and fourth in high-danger chance percentage. The Bruins pace the NHL with a +54 goal differential, which is 25 goals better than the team in second (Toronto). 

But as impressive as Boston has been over its first 31 games of the season, the Bruins are playing on a back-to-back on Friday, while the Devils were off on Thursday night. 

The Bruins are the better team in a vacuum, but this is a good buy-low spot on the Devils, who are still playing solid hockey but are just not getting the results.

Devils vs. Bruins pick

New Jersey Devils +102 (FanDuel)

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At the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, a Female Crew of Two

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Kathy Veel has come a long way since 1989, when she first sailed in the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race with an all-female crew on the Belles Long Ranger.

“It started off with four of us women — we figured, let’s give it a shot,” said Veel, 70, a retired teacher who lives in Bullaburra, about 60 miles west of Sydney, Australia. “We didn’t have a boat. We didn’t have any money. It was a real start from scratch. No one took us seriously.”

Not anymore. Veel is now back for her third Sydney Hobart, which starts on Monday, this time also breaking ground. She will be part of the only all-female crew competing in the race’s two-handed division on the Currawong, at 30 feet long the second smallest boat in the fleet. She will be sailing with Bridget Canham, 62, of Sydney, a veteran of several Sydney Hobart races.

Veel said that in 1989, there were doubts the crew of women could handle the grueling conditions of the race.

“We were kind of a token gesture,” she said. “There were a lot of people who didn’t think we were up to it. They would ask, what we were going to do when it’s blowing 30 knots and the boat is swamped? We’ll be doing pretty much what they’ll be doing — putting up sails and racing the boat.”

Their goal was to simply finish the race, which they did. “It opened the door for us,” Veel said.

“Women in sailing have come so far,” she said. “Most boats these days have got women on them. And that’s great.”

Canham, a retired nurse who volunteers as an emergency boat pilot, said sailing had indeed changed.

“Sailing is more of an integrated sport now,” she said. “Now, it’s just by coincidence that we are just two women on a boat. We’re just sailors. We don’t think of ourselves as anything different.”

The two-handed division, where a boat is raced by two sailors — as opposed to a large crew ranging from 6 to 25 — is now in its second year at the Sydney Hobart. For Veel and Canham, the draw of two-handed racing is access.

“Having a fully crewed racing yacht was way outside of my resources,” Veel said. “I’m retired. But now that they have the two-handed, we can do the race. It gives people the opportunity to sail in the race who aren’t on a fully crewed yacht.” Yearly maintenance on two-handed boats might be $10,000, while much larger yachts require millions of dollars to maintain.

Canham also said the sailors in the two-handed division were a tightknit group. “The two-handed community is just so supportive; it’s like we are all on the same team,” she said.

Veel and Canham generally split duties on the boat, taking turns on the sails and at the wheel, with Canham focusing on sails and Veel on navigation and race tactics.

“Bridget knows the wind and is good at getting the best out of the boat,” Veel said. “She’ll have every sail tweaked and tuned. She never takes her eye off the ball. She’s also extremely gutsy and strong-minded and determined.”

Veel and Canham have prepared for the event by sailing in four other races this year. Over that time, they realized the boat, a Currawong 30, built in 1974 with beaten 20-year-old sails, needed upgrades, but they’ve accepted its limits.

“We’ve been able to test out our boat in these previous races, but it really has felt that 90 percent of this race has been just getting to the start line,” Veel said. “We’ve just been focused on getting the boat ready. Now that we are there, and there are no more obstacles between us and the race, that’s when I’m starting to wonder what have I got myself into. Now it’s real.”

Canham heads into the race committed, but knows their limitations.

“No one is expecting us to do anything,” she said. “But I don’t think they realize just how determined we are.”

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