Posted on Mon, Apr. 29, 2002
By ED VYEDA
Overcomes near-fatal injury to claim victory in first try at Big
Julie Anne White doesn’t have the stomach for triathlons
anymore. It’s no joke. In 1993 she was competing in the Ironman
in Hawaii and her large intestine ruptured, nearly killing her.
“I was told I would never be able to compete again,” said
White, a veteran professional triathlete. “Doctors told me to
give up.” Those doctors should have seen her Sunday, winning
the women’s championship of the 17th annual Big Sur International
Marathon. “The words ‘never’ and ‘can’t’ don’t exist to
me,” said the 40-year-old from England, who collected $2,500
for the win. White came up from Vista, near San Diego, to run
the Big Sur event for the first time. Sunday, the words
“relentless,” as in the demands of the 26.2-mile course, and
“painful,” as in the cramping in White’s calves and lower back,
came to mind. But it wasn’t enough to keep her from getting
the first victory of her relatively new marathon career, in
2 hours, 51 minutes and 10 seconds, nearly five minutes ahead
of the women’s field. Ida Mitten, 41, of British Columbia,
was second in 2:56:01 and collecting $1,000. Monterey’s Jackie
Chen, 39, was the leading local in the race with a third-place
finish in 3:03:11. She won $500.
“It’s always in the back of your mind, that someone is catching
up to you,” White said. “You never think you’ve got it.”
At the 23-mile mark, White got cramps in both calves and
her lower back. By the time she finished, she was a bit shaken
and wobbly, both as a result of dehydration.
“I have less than half of my large intestine,” White said
of the condition that is a result of the 1993 Ironman. “I don’t
have the capacity to hold in liquids.”
White has had to give up competing in triathlons because
of her condition, but has made the transition to marathons the
past five years. For the former Ironman series champion, it’s
been a long road back to the winner’s circle. Three surgeries
and five months after her near-fatal attack, White went for
her first run, with husband Dan, and three of their adopted
dogs in March of 1994. It took 30 minutes to “run” a mile.
“I was not at all discouraged,” said White, an unabashed
optimist. “I was very inspired by it.”
On Sunday, her winning pace was 6:31 per mile. White
led from start to finish and thought she could have done better
if it had been a closer race with Mitten. “It’s hard when there
is nobody else with you,” she said.
Mitten was out of contention virtually from her first step.
Suffering from a strained left hamstring, hurt 10 days ago,
she was bumped at the starting line and stumbled on her left
leg. The hamstring cramped immediately, but Mitten kept going.
“I was taking a chance,” she said. “I came. I tried. I feel
like I went out in style.”
While White is just looking forward to more marathon competition,
Mitten is retiring, with Big Sur her last event.
“I want to be able to walk when I’m 70,” said Mitten, a
former competitive cross-country skier who began competing in
marathons seven years ago, just after the birth of her son.
She has a lifetime best of 2:38 and has been a top-20 finisher
in most of the major marathons, including a 13th at Boston,
but has spent the past couple of years doing ultra-marathons.
The hamstring injury made it painful for Mitten to run downhill,
which meant finishing, rather than winning, was going to be
her challenge. “I wish I would have been able to compete
with Julie Ann,” Mitten said. “I feel bad I was not able to
race her. But that’s the best I can do today.” White didn’t
think she was at her best, either, but is grateful merely to
be able to compete.
“I have always had a lot of respect for marathon runners,”
she said. White may have a small stomach compared other
Big Sur champions, but Sunday she showed she may have the biggest