Survival of the Fittest: Stephanie Freeman Chases Boston - Fitness Week


By Nicole Stinson

Photo courtesy of Stephanie McDuffie Freeman.

Imagine waking up and being told that you may never walk again. Being placed in a wheelchair and then falling flat on your face as you tried your hardest to get up and stand.

These are the first memories of Stephanie McDuffie Freeman after waking from a two-month long coma following a car accident at age 14. Twenty years have passed, and now Stephanie Freeman plans to run the Boston Marathon.

The accident gave her head and lung injuries with the former affecting her ability to walk. Physically, Freeman explains to BTR, she could have been able to walk, but it was as if her brain had forgotten how to send the signals to her legs.

“I knew how to walk but I couldn’t,” she says. “I remember coming to and sitting in the wheelchair and realizing that I wanted to get up and then I couldn’t get up.”

Though the she’s made incredible progress, certain residual elements of the injuries still affect Freeman’s body today.

“I still have problems with my running, I limp on my left side and it is weaker than my right side,” she tells BTR.

Initially, the effects of the accident were hard to endure, particularly as a child. It took two months of rehabilitation before Freeman was able to regain movement in her legs.

The inspiration to start running, however, came a few years later from a friend.

“I’d always been pretty active [before the accident], but I never ran,” she tells BTR. “I reached out to a friend of mine and she said that I needed to start running.”

After getting through the hospital, and then being physically incapable of running for so many years, Freeman welcomed the challenge. Soon after starting to run, she began entering marathons, her first being the Jacksonville Bank in 2006. She also competed in the Museum of Aviation Foundation’s Marathon and the Soldier Marathon. Freeman returned to the Jacksonville Bank’s 2012 race.

“Boston has been my dream since the time I crossed the finish line of my first marathon,” she says. “I knew I wanted it.”

Photo courtesy of Stephanie McDuffie Freeeman.

Though her journey embodies a range of inspiring elements, Stephanie Freeman has faced additional hardships. Going through a divorce, she moved back to her home county of Wilcox, and was too busy to participate in a marathon for two years after Jacksonville Bank.

She’s also had to recover from newer injuries that resulted from her training.

“Last year I had a herniated disk that I ran on and so I didn’t run after that,” she says.

Nevertheless, she uses her memories and goals to encourage herself, no matter what bodily problems or life changes face her.

“Any time I feel like giving up, I pull immediately from my memory of that accident, of being in the wheelchair,” she says. “All I have been thinking about is Boston.”

Hosting the world’s oldest annual marathon, this year’s will be Boston’s 118th. The event takes place on Patriot’s Day – this year, April 21st – and welcomes both amateur and professional runners. Stephanie Freeman will be competing with three-time Olympians Shalane Flanagan, Dathan Ritzenhein, and Meb Keflezighi.

For inspiration, Freeman set up a campaign and blog Stephanie Chasing Boston with an accompanying Facebook page. On these platforms she posts updates on the marathons she competes in, her training schedule, inspirational quotes or articles that she has found on the internet, as well as her personal thoughts.

She made some notable points in an October 2013 blog post:

“The finish line is a symbolic place for every runner. In my years of running I have experienced many emotions at a finish line. The intense feelings I feel range from happy to emotional. There is something about witnessing passion, determination and a deep will for more than just the ego driven success that brings me joy.”

With only a few months to go until the Boston Marathon, Stephanie follows a strict training schedule with weekly goals.

“I have a set amount of miles that I need to run per week,” she tells BTR. “My day consists of a morning run to start the day then I go to the gym and work out.”

That weekly amount, according to local media outlet Cordelle Dispatch, is about 52 miles in regular training but this is gradually reduced before a race to preserve energy and rest.

Outside of preparing for the milestone competition, Stephanie also works as a personal trainer, a motivational speaker and is a devoted mother.

“I have a witty, smart 7 year-old son. I do not put him out there to the world often but he is the most important thing in my life,” she writes on her blog.

She has also given talks at fundraising events and participated in a variety of charity events, hoping to encourage others to persist through challenges.

“My mission in life is to inspire any runner, athlete, or anyone to never give up on their dreams, by showing them someone who lived two months of life in a coma and was told would never walk again and then I did.”

A firm believer in dreaming big, Stephanie tells BTR that Boston will not be the finishing line for her.

“I plan to continue my running with another marathon or so by year’s end,” she says. “I have New York, Chicago, and many, many more on my bucket list.”