By Elizabeth Jenkins
I had the absolute privilege of speaking with Diane Van Deren this past weekend. The following blog post was derived from our conversation.
Talking with diane on the phone is like talking to your best friend, your mom, or your sister. I felt like we were friends from years back within seconds. Her warm and caring personality can be felt miles away through the receiver of a phone. We laughed at the mutual benefit we share of having close neighbors, or in my case a roommate, in the medical field and the “perks” it comes with. Free stitches for life!
It’s obvious numbers and time are a little fuzzy for Diane as she tries to remember exactly when she began her relationship with The North Face. We decide 10 or 11 years sounds like a great number to settle on.
Before The North Face, before her famous life-giving surgery, before everything we hear about Diane today, she was a professional tennis player. Diane left high school early to play. She was even good friends with the Agassi family, Rita in particular, Andre’s older sister.
As she entered her college years, things started to change when she began having seizures.
“I would feel almost like a premonition that I was going to have one, so I would hurry and get my shoes on and just go run,” she said. “I was running from the seizure. I was running from the fear of having one.”
She battled the unpredictable seizures for 10 years before having an operation which left her seizure free, but not without a price. Diane has a hard time conceptualizing time and managing it. She survives with the help of notes and reminders, helping to keep her focused on her daily tasks. She loves her time running because she doesn’t have to think about time, she can just run.
“I have a hard time with time. I live so much in the moment. I don’t look at my watch all the time. Being a pro athlete, I have trained my mind to get in the zone. When I’m racing, I just don’t think. I lose some concept of time. I just go. I get so caught up in what I’m doing,” She said. “ I know my pace by listening to my footsteps. Time management is a struggle for me as a result of my brain injury.”
The attention Diane has received recently has portrayed a slightly inaccurate picture of her ability to run long distances. The operation didn’t give her “super-human endurance”, or take away any of the pain she feels while she runs.
“The only thing the surgery did was take away my seizures,” she said. “I wasn’t left with super-human endurance, I work for that.”
In talking to Diane, it is clear she is incredibly tough. She feels pain, but she has earned a great mental capacity to handle it.
“If you only knew the pain,” she said. “My endurance comes from training hard. There are no shortcuts in what I do. I train a lot on tired legs.”
Diane teaches success is about having a goal and letting nothing stop you. “I’m really committed when I have a goal . Some of that endurance comes from what I’ve been through. It’s made my skin thicker. I know how to push a little harder.”
Diane is training to break the record for running North Carolina’s 1,000-mile Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Starting at Clingmans Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, she will need to reach the trail’s end at the Outer Banks in less than 24 days, averaging more than 38 miles a day, to break the record. Diane loves being able to use her love of running to help others and show them that against all odds, anything is possible.
One of Diane’s favorite mantras is “Yesterday was history. Tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift. That’s why we call it the present.”
Diane cherishes her opportunity to share her story and love of running. “We use our sport to raise money, it’s about helping others,” she said. Her injury has taught her to be grateful for life and she loves sharing that with people.
“Being a pro athlete is great, but I can do so much more than run,” she said. “My goal is to give others hope. If you believe in yourself and you have passion and drive, you can get through the hard times. It’s more than winning the course records. It’s about sharing what I’ve been through and helping people to say “I can” or “I can try”.”
Diane is coming to speak at Salt Lake Running co. on Tuesday April 24th at 7:00 p.m. All Attendees need to secure tickets by visiting www.thenorthface.com/speakerseries. General Admission tickets are sold out, reserved seating is $8, and VIP seating is $20 and includes a post-lecture reception with delicious food and a meet and greet with Diane. All money raised will go directly to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.