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Realizing a personal victory

Kathie (Schaap '89) Hale started her Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim run at the Grand Canyon's South Rim at 2:30 a.m. Photo: Courtesy of Kathie (Schaap '89) Hale
Kathie (Schaap ’89) Hale started her Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim run at the Grand Canyon’s South Rim at 2:30 a.m. Photo: Courtesy of Kathie (Schaap ’89) Hale

When Kathie (Schaap ’89) Hale met her husband Rich 23 years ago, she was only a casual runner.

“The farthest I had ever run was 3 miles,” she said. “But he was doing these 50-mile epic adventures. That was one of the things that drew me to him.”

Since meeting, the couple has been running and hiking on trips all over the world, from Mount Whitney in California, to Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Along the way, Hale completed a personal goal of running a 50K before her 50th birthday.

When the pandemic began and Hale started working from home, it allowed her more time to run. She joined a running group and made fast friends, one of whom said she was considering the Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim (R2R2R).

The R2R2R is a grueling, 48-mile run in the Grand Canyon with an elevation gain and loss of more than 11,000 feet. Runners begin on the canyon’s South Rim, continue down to Phantom Ranch at the Colorado River, cross the canyon floor, run up the other side to the North Rim, then turn around and go back to the South Rim. The run usually is completed in 24 hours or less.

“I was thinking: I’m in a different place in my life; I have more time; I’m in better shape than I’ve ever been,” Hale said. 

So began months of training and planning. The running group helped her prepare physically, with a coach and training plan that told her how many miles to run each day, increasing over several months. She also focused on nutrition; refueling was crucial, and she needed to consume 200-250 calories an hour to make it through.

Hale had to carry everything while running — including clothing for temperature fluctuations from the mid-50s to 105, plus food and supplies — in one backpack. For food, she took turkey sandwiches, chips, nuts, berries, ginger cookies for nausea, and gels. Water could be refilled at stops along the route.

When the big day finally arrived, the group started together at 2:30 a.m. They ran down the canyon in the dark and reached the river as the sun was starting to rise.

“It was so pretty,” Hale said. “You’re down in this canyon; the river is starting to turn blue; the sky is starting to lighten up.”

They took a break 12 miles in at Phantom Ranch to get water and have a bite to eat. One group member who was running with broken ribs decided to turn back. When the rest of the runners continued, Hale was struck by the views.

“I’ve never been on the North Rim,” she said. “It’s this beautiful red rock with vibrant green sitting on top of it, and there are waterfalls.”

The temperature increased on the way down, and Hale decided to fall back and run at her own pace. She caught up with the others at Phantom Ranch, where Hale’s husband greeted them with ice cold lemonade.

The group then split up, with Hale and her husband taking the same route back. She got slower and slower on the trek up the South Rim. At one point her husband took her pack and eliminated anything nonessential. Five miles from the rim, she stopped to take a short nap. It was dark and she wasn’t feeling well, but Hale realized she needed to get going, so they started walking.

Her body rejected everything she ate or drank, and she threw up each time. She was exhausted and started sleepwalking, but kept pushing. Her husband stayed at her elbow, reminding her to stay on the mountain side of the trail so she didn’t fall off the cliff while sleepwalking. The last 5 miles took five hours, but she finished the trek in just under 23 hours.

Hale had booked an upper room at a hotel on the rim, so she mustered up the strength to climb the stairs. She doesn’t remember going inside.

“You know how you pull off your one shoe with the other foot? I worked so hard to get that shoe off,” she said. “I bent down to take off the other shoe and I ended up in a puddle on the floor of the hotel and I took another nap.”

Her husband brought her a pillow, and because it was cold and she was so dirty, covered her with a towel. Eventually she was able to shower and sleep.

The only reward was the accomplishment itself — and bragging rights, of course. But Hale’s co-workers at UCLA Health gave her a custom-made medal that includes an artist’s rendering of the canyon and the trails she took. They mailed it to her and had her open it at their monthly Zoom meeting.

“It just about put me in tears,” Hale said. “It’s just so incredibly touching that they actually did that, and it’s engraved on the back with my name and the date.” — Linda Martinez