On April 28, 2019, at 7 a.m. the Eugene Marathon began and 1,482 runners took off. Among them was Kim Brislawn, a 57-year-old woman from White Salmon who, despite the Ulcerative Colitis and Osteoporosis that afflicted her, completed the race in 3:52:26, won her age group and qualified for the Boston Marathon in 2020. The accomplishment is significant, but the story behind it dates back a lifetime and illustrates how a simple love for running can evolve into a channel for friendship, health and happiness.
Running is second nature to Brislawn, and has been since she was a child.
“As a kid, my mom would get after me because I would run everywhere,” said Brislawn. “I just liked to run. I did track in high school and after high school, I kept running to stay fit. I’d go along for a bit and not run and then get back into it.”
Brislawn worked as a high voltage electrician for most of her life, a physically demanding job that required her health to be maintained to a high degree. As she got older, she gained weight and lost some of the strength necessary to continue performing. She had gained 25 pounds and knew that a change was in order, for both her work and health.
“I was finding that I couldn’t do my job anymore because I didn’t have the fitness to keep going,” said Brislawn. “So in 2010, I joined a gym in Lake Stevens, Wash., and got a trainer. The owner of the gym told me I should go to the Lake Stevens Aquafest for fun. I went, it was my first 5K and it was fun, and that got the ball rolling.”
While the running bug was a familiar passion, the competitive side had eluded Brislawn for some time, and she welcomed it back. Her Aquafest 5K was followed a month later by the Iron Girl Seattle 5K, wherein she placed third in her age group. With her training routines down and her fitness coming up, Brislawn took running to a new level by signing up for the 2011 Portland Marathon.
“I signed up for a marathon … the big one,” laughed Brislawn. “I trained for nine months, starting gradually from 5K to 10K to half marathon to the race. It was amazing, I qualified for Boston and that was like, holy smokes. Two years later I went to Boston in 2013.”
The 2013 Boston Marathon was the year of the bombing that killed three people and injured hundreds. Brislawn had completed the marathon and was still present at the event when the bombs went off.
“I had finished about 15 minutes prior to the bombs going off,” said Brislawn. “I was about a block away. It was chaotic, I heard and felt the bombs, saw the smoke. You turn the corner and see all these ambulances flying by and volunteers telling you to get out of there. It was my last marathon until Eugene.”
Just as the survivors of the Boston Marathon bombings did, as the thousands of runners who witnessed the events that day and as the millions of people scarred by the attack that terrorized the sport they loved did, Brislawn kept running. She competed in small races and maintained her training regime, focusing on a love for the sport rather than a need to be the best. Her friends and the communities she engaged with helped shape her approach to running that kept it a worthwhile activity.
“Everyone around me was so supportive,” said Brislawn. “It was easy to keep going in that respect because of the encouragement. I’d just set my sight on the next goal and go for it. Anytime I go out and try to be competitive, I either get hurt or get humbled. When I treat it like it’s fun and have a good time, it just works well and I get fortunate.”
Regardless of her outlook, injuries came for Brislawn. She suffered a meniscus tear in her right knee in late 2014 and a stress fracture in her left foot in early 2015. The rest of 2015 and most of 2016 brought clear skies for Brislawn, but late 2016 and early 2017 saw similar injuries occur: She tore her left meniscus and had a stress fracture in her right foot. Her Ulcerative Colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease, presented a constant threat to her training and competing as well, as its symptoms and side effects were both exhausting and complicated.
“There was a two-year period where I was more broken than fixed,” said Brislawn. “Ulcerative Colitis leaves you extremely fatigued. I used to try and push through but that only made it worse.”
While initially strict about her medical treatment for UC, Brislawn stopped taking the drug treatments years ago. She shifted her focus to proper diet and probiotics, factors that can influence the severity of UC symptoms. Unfortunately, the disease left her with osteoporosis, a condition in which bones become weak and brittle. Through both afflictions, Brislawn maintained a steadfast spirit and kept her legs churning.
“My doctors are happy I run and strength train; they say, ‘Keep running, just keep running,’” said Brislawn. “They say it keeps me from deteriorating; sometimes I feel I’m just running for my life. I’ll ask myself why I’m doing this, but when everything is clicking and everything is good, that’s what makes it worthwhile.”
As her injuries healed, other areas of Brislawn’s life were changing. In March of 2018 she decided to retire from her job as an electrician and work part-time as a shoe fitter for Shortt Supply, an outdoor sports store in Hood River. As her job brought the running world back to her and her injuries healed, Brislawn embraced the sport once more and soared through 2018 with a series of events. She won her age group in the Kollas Cranmar Odell to Hood River run in July, finished second in her age group in the Bridge of the Gods Half Marathon in August and took first in her age group in the Columbia Gorge Half Marathon in October.
“The real shock came at the Columbia Gorge Half when I got a new personal best (1:44:14) despite being older and having gone through injuries,” said Brislawn. “As you age you should be getting slower but here I was getting faster. I’m not sure what the cause of that is, but it’s fun and I’m having a good time.”
With a handful of races behind her, Brislawn returned to the marathon stage when she joined the mass of runners in Eugene on April 28, 2019. She won her age group, qualified for Boston and returned to that pinnacle that she once knew. As for attending Boston, no decision has been made, but hopes are high. For now, it is the simple joy of running and the people who support her that keep Brislawn going.
“My husband Michael is my biggest fan and I can count on him being there to cheer me on at the big races,” said Brislawn. “It’s great to see him during the races, it makes them so much fun. As long as I can keep having a good time, I’ll keep running. It brings me peace. Granted, there are days it’s not as fun, but in the end it’s all good.”