Ashley Kumlien runs the distance for MS
Running a marathon is a once-in-a-lifetime dream for most runners. But for Wisconsin native Ashley Kumlien, a marathon is—literally—an everyday event. Ashley ran 20 to 30 miles almost every day for six months—all the way across the United States. But merely becoming the 15th woman to complete this feat wasn’t enough for her.
Ashley’s real goal is to raise money and awareness for the fight against MS.
Her mother, Jill, was diagnosed with MS before Ashley, 26, the third of four children, was born. “Our family has been dealing with MS my whole life. We’ve learned to live with and work around it,” she said. “In some things my mother is independent—she can walk around the house using the wall for support; she can shower by herself, but she needs help getting in and out; she can feed herself, but we have to cut food up. My parents have stressed we should be grateful for the abilities she has.”
Ashley was always a runner, participating in cross-country in high school. After college, she worked on a cruise ship and saw a lot of Europe, “but I realized I hadn’t seen a lot of what the U.S. has to offer.” It occurred to her that she would see more of the country if she ran rather than drove, and then that “if I could do it for my mom, it would be really special.” To support her run, shefounded a nonprofit called MS Run the US, Inc., and spent last year getting sponsorships and building the Web site. She also began running ultra-marathons to build her endurance.
Along with her fiancé Andrew Date, Ashley set off from San Francisco in March 2010 and arrived on the steps of City Hall in New York City on September 28, 3,200 miles later. Her family, including her mother, with Montel Williams and Dr. Nicholas LaRocca, vice president of Healthcare Delivery and Policy Research for the Society, were there to welcome her.
“I applaud Ashley for founding MS Run the US in honor of her mother—and on behalf of myself and everyone else who is impacted by this insidious disease, I am proud to be associated with such a courageous and inspiring young woman,” commented Williams, who has MS himself and is the founder of the Montel Williams MS Foundation.
Along her route, Ashley generally ran 10 to 15 miles in the morning, took a break, then pounded off another 10 to 15 in the evening. During those six months, she went through nine pairs of running shoes, and even though she packs away 3,500 calories a day, she lost 10 pounds since setting off.
The biggest challenge? “Being on the road for this long without having your own space,” she said, having lived in a borrowed RV during the run. Surprisingly, she says Iowa was the toughest state to run through. “Iowa is a hilly, hilly state, like a roller coaster. It was hot and there wasn’t a lot of shade.”
“I’m out here to raise awareness, fund-raise and connect with people,” she emphasized. “We met people affected by MS and it was rewarding to give them a sense of hope, that there are people doing big things to help them. It makes me feel good about the communities we’re going through.” MS Run the US has already raised more than $36,ooo.
Rather than retire from running, Ashley plans to do another crossing in 2012, with more runners, communities and MS Society chapters involved. “We made a lot of friends along the way and we want to run through certain communities we connected with,” she said.
But her mother was always the focus. “My mom’s strongest message is to do as much as she can for as long as she can,” Ashley said. “Don’t give up. Hang onto hope for as long as you can. Count your blessings and see what you do still have. MS can be a depressing disease, but we want people to know we care about them.”