Less than six months before the biggest race of her life, Emily LeVan could no more run than fly. She was constantly at the hospital, remedies and treatments taking precedence over running and training. Even when the Oklahoma native wasn't at the hospital, she often had neither the energy nor the desire to run.
The health problems weren't hers. They were her daughter's. LeVan's little girl was diagnosed last fall with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. It's a disease that's every bit as awful as it sounds. If untreated, it can be fatal in only a few weeks. "You just feel like your entire world has been pulled out from underneath you,” LeVan said of the diagnosis. Maddie, after all, is 4 years old. How was LeVan supposed to keep training for the U.S. Olympic marathon trials? She couldn't leave her daughter while doing 10- or 15-mile runs and logging hundreds of miles every month. She couldn't imagine how she could help Maddie get better and still find time to train. Maddie's trial had to come before hers. Indeed, it has been the priority, but early this morning in Boston, LeVan will toe the line for the start of the Olympic trials. She will try to turn a long-time dream into a fairy-tale reality. The Casady School alum returned to running after missing about a month of vital training time. She didn't do it despite Maddie's leukemia. She did so because of it. They have two trials.
‘A mental game'Emily LeVan laughs when she talks about the things Maddie loves — dolls, dresses, dancing. Those are interests LeVan never had as a kid. Her passion was sports, and she played everything. Field hockey and track became her specialties at Casady, and she continued playing field hockey at Bowdoin College in Maine. After college, LeVan thought doing a marathon would be a fun challenge. "Marathoning is such a mental game, so much more than any other sport I've ever done,” she said. "You have to be able to maintain this focus on a daily basis over three or four months as you're training.” LeVan flourished under the pressure. In her first marathon, she ran a time that qualified her for the granddaddy of them all, the Boston Marathon. Then a few years later, she qualified for the 2004 Olympic trials. A year before the trials, though, she learned she was pregnant. She would only have three months to train before the race. That wasn't enough time. "Oh,” LeVan joked with husband, Brad Johnson, "there's always 2008.” Nine months after giving birth to Maddie, LeVan ran a marathon. She felt good about her time and even better about her body. The 2008 Olympic trials didn't seem so far-fetched.
‘Worst nightmare'As autumn turned to winter last year on the Maine coast, LeVan ramped up her training. Only about six months remained until the trials, and everything was on schedule.
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Marathoner Emily LeVan poses with her daughter Maddie near the finish line of the Olympic trial and Boston Marathon in Boston. Associated press