Photo: SHAHEEN SATTAR (#12542) and KHAI HARBUT (#12382) make the final turn in the Boston Marathon and see the finish line for the first time.
“Seriously!” It’s one of the words she uses frequently for emphasis, at the end of sentence to cap off either her distain or delight. SHAHEEN SATTAR (pronounced Sha – HEEN, sat – TAR) has been the epitome of seriousness for the past five months. But let’s get something clear right now. She doesn’t like getting her picture taken. Nor does she like the pictures that are shot.
But, the gregarious distance runner loves children and taking care of them. She is also a blast to have on runs, or in general. The former cheerleader can take a joke and come right back with her own verbal assault, slicing and dicing an opponent with a sharp and pointed tongue quicker than a Thanksgiving carving knife using a minimum of syllables and leaving no blood.
She has one name recognition. Like Bono, Cher, Madonna, and other celebrities who don’t need a last name, Shaheen is known simply by her first name. No need for other monikers or trappings. She is straight forward, and to the point. What you see, is what you get.
Shaheen doesn’t know the meaning of the word intimidation. She’s not afraid of anyone. Not pretty women, fast guys, or faster cars. No one. She grew up a bit of a tom-boy she says, playing basketball and football. The very self-confident 24 year old (May 31, 1984, Dallas born and raised) is sure of herself, who she is, and is her own person. The nineteenth-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “No price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.” Shaheen must have this quote memorized.
She can be disappointed in her running performances if they are not what she demands of herself. After a race in March of 2008 she said, “I am disappointed in my time today, and HATE to be disappointed!!!!! I was almost 3 minutes off of what I should have been!”
After a bout of being sick and no running early in her training, she went out for her first run. She wrote, “Better, not great! Body was really achy yesterday and headache was bad. But, today woke up feeling much better. I have a cough and throat burns, but I am getting better! I did three this morning and felt like a big blob, legs heavy and wind was horrible!” Oh, and she absolutely hates the wind.
Another time, she rolled and badly sprained her ankle. From her coach’s log, “After I ran, my mom and I went on a walk and I rolled my left ankle. It’s the same one that I always have issues with. I have had it in a bucket of ice. It’s not as swollen as it was earlier. It’s feeling better than yesterday and the bruise is starting to come out so it is very purple and ugly looking. Still a bit swollen, but gone down so much. Painful still, but not as bad. That’s good! I will keep you posted and will most likely call later since I am not tired for an early run. I will see how it is in the morning and decide if I wanna try and run. Other than that everything has been great!” A few days later, “Yep! 11.19 miles! I feel good, iced the ankle when I got home because it was a bit sore, but my body felt great! So happy!! Woooohooooo!!!” Two weeks after spraining her ankle, she was asking for a new running schedule, “Send me the one where I am racing and winning!” That’s why she’s called the Warrior Princess.
The 2002 Bryan Adams graduate is a bit of a paradox. She’s gritty and soft, street and elegant, within minutes of each other, or at the same time. She has had her nails done every two weeks for the past five years. She loves the Cowboys and her little brother, Shahid’s (he’s 16) select baseball team, with undying loyalty and commitment to both. Loyalty is one of her strengths, probably learned or gained through helping her mother every morning get her younger siblings out the door to school in time for the bus. (She also has two sisters: Shama, 26, and Shifra, 12. Her dad is from Pakistan and her mother is from Wales.)
That same loyalty can be said of her working out. Not once has Shaheen ever been known to waiver, deviate from, or complain about a workout. A coach’s dream, (“I am open to whatever I need to do in order to improve,” she said after hiring her new coach in February of 2008. “I have a lot of work to do and I am happy to have you helping me!”), she comes ready to go to work every time, loyal to the task before her, and committed to her goal. It’s probably the only way one can overcome an obstacle, such as an SUV, coming head-on with nowhere to go.
On November 19, 2008, Shaheen was doing a training run. It was a quiet, early weekday morning before work, when an SUV jumped the sidewalk she was running on. Shaheen was running along a section of sidewalk that was bordered by a 6’ chain link fence. She had nowhere to go. “I tried turning away hoping he would just graze me. If I had more time, I would have moved to the right [into the street.]” The accident was written up in the December issue of The Phast Times News.
She was wearing bright clothes (how many of us do that?), and facing traffic along Shiloh Road, a Dallas residential neighborhood.There was good lighting, low traffic, and a smooth surface for her to lay out her day’s thoughts and plans, when TONY WEST, 43, fell asleep at the wheel. After hitting Shaheen, 5’ 3”, 112 lbs, head-on with the grill and headlight, then flinging her like a rag doll over the fence, her head came to rest in a garden six inches from cinder blocks that would have most assuredly killed her if the impact didn’t. What a horrible sight it must have been to watch her body flying that high through the air, over a fence, and probably landing with an ugly, shuddering thud, and then not seeing the body move. Along her trip over the fence, a fence prong tore out a fist sized chunk of flesh from her left leg that was still hanging on the fence the next morning. Thankfully, she remembers none of the impact.
When she came to, and saw the driver coming at her, she thought he was coming to attack her some more. She sat up, but immediately fell back in a heap unable to breathe. Her lung, much like a full balloon, had been punctured by the broken rib, leaving her no air. Her right leg had also been broken above the knee.
A little bit of poetic justice is that Shaheen has worked at Moore, Barrett, & Grant injury lawyers for over two years. She is the darling of the office. Everyone loves her. You have to feel sorry for Tony West.
Shaheen had registered for the upcoming 2008 Turkey Trot a week away, and the Dallas White Rock Marathon Half (PR of 1 hr., 32 minutes), which had sold out the week before. After that, she was scheduled to begin training for her second consecutive Boston Marathon. This was to be her 8th marathon. The others include three Dallas White Rock Marathons (’05, ‘06, ’07), the first of which was her first marathon ever. She finished in 4:33:34. Two years later, she was running over an hour faster.
Shaheen began running in 2003 at the suggestion of a boss at White Rock Athletic Club where she worked. Many of the members ran, so it was easy to just go one day. And go she went. She did her first race ever that year with little knowledge and even less training. Her first race was the Dallas White Rock Marathon Half Marathon on Dec. 14, 2003. Her finish time was 2:02:55. Not bad, given her circumstances. But more importantly, she fell in love. She loved running, the expression of oneself as part of the picture, rather than driving past it, and honored and talked about across a room full of family members as a “runner!” She fell deeply, madly, in love.
Then came the hate part of the running relationship: track workouts. The first time she did a track workout was February 26, 2008. One of the other girls at the workout, TNT-Tuesday Night Track, explained the workout and “that a quarter mile is one time around the track, and so forth.” She knows it’s good for her, but hates any distance under five miles. “What’s the point?!” she says.
Everything was suddenly up in the air after the accident. Everything. But, Shaheen is nothing if not a fighter with grit and determination. Among her closest running partners, she is known as “The Warrior Princess.” Of those seven marathons, her fourth was Nashville in April of 2007. She DNF’d when she got to Mile 21 and was taken off the course by an ambulance. She remembers the humiliation of not leaving by her own power. She remembered all too clearly, having to be taken care of, having to explain, and the looks of people when they passed by her lying on a gurney and then a wheel chair. She remembered and was determined this was NOT going to happen again.
After the accident, she started walking the hospital hallways as soon as she could, albeit slowly and with a walker, but the girl was doing it. Visitors admired the heartbreaking scene, and how she kept her promise to not only run again, but to keep her date with the Boston Marathon five months later. One of Dallas’ fastest runners, CLINT BELL commented, “I did not think she would be able to run the 2009 DRC White Rock Half Marathon a year later, much less Boston ‘09. She was determined to get back running as quickly as possible. There was no relaxing in her determination.”
She was continually reminded of the accident with every breath and body movement. A bed had to be put together on the first floor in the living room of her home when Shaheen was released. She could not only climb not stairs, but she had to stay on her back when she slept.
When asked what hurt, “Breathing!” she answered. “Leg was a bit painful. But my back and breathing overpowered the leg! I am only able to sleep on my back and I can’t lay all the way flat because it hurts too much! It’s so uncomfortable.”
A walk around her neighborhood bent, over with a cane, left her out of breath, sore, and so tired, she slept most of the next day.
“Not going to make it today,” she wrote a friend who asked to meet her for a walk. “I had a horrible night with pain and woke up this morning feeling very sick to my stomach. I think its something to do with my pain med. I had to take more than usual yesterday and it’s messing with my tummy. Don’t think I am going to make it out. I feel so crappy!”
Yup, that happens when you kiss something that outweighs you more than 10 times.
Concerned about weight gain, she didn’t eat any of the baked goods (brownies, cookies, cakes, and pies) brought to her by well-meaning relatives and friends, instead, sticking to a self-imposed strict diet. “I don’t want to get fat,” she said. She immediately gave them away. She wanted to get back to running, to make a comeback quickly, in the worst way. Though she wasn’t able to run the Turkey Trot, Shaheen strapped on a leg brace, grabbed some crutches and asked her mom to take her to the race. She at least wanted to be able to watch the race and her friends.
On December 9, she was given the go-ahead to start running, after it was determined she couldn’t possibly do anymore damage to her rib or leg, both of which were still broken. Hugs to welcome her back on her feet had to be very gentle. For 24 minutes and 41 seconds, Shaheen walked and ran 2.3 miles. It was painful for her, and to anyone else watching because you just knew how important it was for this girl to get her running back. At 3:30 pm the day she first ran, it was 46 degrees with a 25 mph sustained wind. But it was beautiful to her, enough to almost make her cry. She was loving life as people cheered her on from computers. “Ha! You go, girl!”
Running means independence, freedom, and community to her. It means becoming part of her outside environment, time alone to think, and an avenue to meet other like-minded people. “Running is my passion,” she says with the tilt of her head. “This might sound stupid, but it’s my life! I LOVE to run and I love all the challenges that come with running!”
Channel 8 WFAA interviewed her at White Rock Lake, quoting her as saying all she wanted for Christmas was to be able to run again. One of her goal races had been the Dallas White Rock Marathon Half on December 14. Was it possible?… Would she?… A collective gasp was let out when, after clearing it with her doctors, Shaheen decided she would run the 13.1 mile race 3 ½ weeks after riding on the bumper of an SUV that nearly took her life.
For the first 10 miles she ran a 9:26 pace per mile. That would have her finishing in 2 hours, and 3 minutes. The girl was made of iron! She finished with a time of 2:06:08, or a 9:37 pace. Along the way, she stole hearts and emotions from those who knew or heard of her story. She wasn’t worried about her time (PR 1:32 that she was planning on breaking before the accident). Instead it was all about being out there with friends, doing what she loves best. The love of her life: Running. The finish line was a heart tugging moment as cameras were everywhere to capture her joy, exhaustion, and pain. It meant so much to her. She just couldn’t breathe enough to enjoy it all.
None of this was lost on running friend MARK OLETAJU. “I’m convinced that Shaheen is a member of our Special Forces! She has to be a Green Beret or Navy Seal. To run a 2:06 half marathon three weeks after suffering a broken leg and punctured lung sounds like a war story from Korea!” Clint Bell said, “I feel like I have been hit by a car after racing a half marathon. I can’t image running a half marathon after being hit by a car.”
A war hero, no. A warrior? Certainly. The nickname she was given was ringing true. She began her training for the Boston Marathon in earnest even without the ability to fully breathe or exercise at full capacity. However, Shaheen was getting used to the axiom that nothing comes easy.
During a Christmas Lights Run, she was game enough to allow the other runners to make comments about her running in front to block the rest of the runners from any cars. She gladly took the kidding in stride. She started doing hill repeats on December 23.
After doing one set of repeats at 4:30 in the morning on a particularly nasty hill in Mesquite, she was disappointed she didn’t do all the hill repeats that were asked. It was 37 degrees and raining. “I feel very tired. Didn’t sleep well at all. Doesn’t help that I’m feeling sick! I’ve had a low grade fever all day. I want to go back out tonight and do my last four hills.” Warrior, indeed! Tenacity and perseverance will get you to any finish line, every finish line.
“I first met Shaheen at the Christmas Lights Run,” said JOHN TRIMBLE. “She is a very sweet and outgoing person that doesn’t meet a stranger. The best way I can describe running with Shaheen is to use the word ‘encouraging.’ She is selfless, much more concerned with you accomplishing your goal then her performing at her best. When I wanted to give up, she encouraged me to go on, not only by her words, but also by her actions – by refusing to go on without me! I learned that she had been hit by an SUV a month earlier, and I was amazed that she was running three miles so well. I truly never believed that she would be able to do Boston, a mere four months later. But I obviously did not know Shaheen and her mental toughness! Now, I personally believe that she will blow her personal goal out of the water!”
JAMIE PENNINGTON agrees. “Shaheen is someone that is great to run with. She runs far and consistently. She is a distance runner, carrying a big jug of water on her long runs. Running with Shaheen is like running with an alarm clock. She gets up early. In fact, I don’t believe how early she gets up. She is an inspiration. …I can’t believe she is running Boston. She has already PR’ed, before the race has even started.” Then he adds, “Never admit to her that you have eaten McDonald’s breakfast buffet.” Oops!
Running partner ASHLEY POWELL has run many miles with Shaheen. She says Shaheen is determined. “She expects to meet her goals, whether they are distance or splits on the track. She doesn’t set too high of expectations for herself, which i respect, and still allows herself to have fun. She set a goal to run Boston this year, to PR in Boston. I would say she is qualified to run her best race ever with everything she has put into it. I remember she was refusing hospital food because she wanted to make sure to eat the right stuff opposed to gaining weight and compromising her chances of a great time. Go, Shaheen!”
But, if getting hit by a car wasn’t enough, on Monday, December 29, she was hit with eggs from a passing car of teenagers laughing, while she was running. Though shaken at her already apparent vulnerability, she finished her run in pain, despite one of the eggs hitting her in the same place her rib had broken and collapsed her lung from the Nov. 19 collision. People having fun at her expense would certainly leave a more indelible mark than the eggs. This would be grist for her running mill where the images of those boys would be ground down to dust to be blown away with the next passing breeze.
The girl had guts to continue her dream. The problem was her friends were afraid those guts were going to be spread across the pavement.
She lives a quiet life at home watching her one favorite program, CSI. The rest of her social life includes reading, though she still loves sports. Lately, she’s gone through Dean Karnaze’s “Running Man,” University of Colorado’s “Running with the Buffalo’s,” and just started “Duel in the Sun” about Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley’s epic 1982 race in Boston.
Her first race back was planned to be a low key out of town race where she would be allowed to run her race after a back off week. The race was the very tough East Texas 25K (15.5 miles) Trail Run in Tyler on February 14. She was excited about it, but the very real danger of her falling existed and worried all who knew. Nevertheless, The Warrior Princess came through with flying colors, winning first overall, actually placing among the men. Her mom came along and cheered her on. It was a great relief, as well as validation to Shaheen, that she was coming back. She initially wanted to do the 50K race that was run concurrently, but was happy after getting her trophy and taking some pictures.
The next day, she said, “My legs are so sore walking up and down stairs. Especially down the stairs. Is that to be expected? I am concerned because I haven’t hurt like this after a run in a long time.” Yes, this was to be expected. She was pushing her body to not only come back, but to be better, stronger, and faster than it was before the accident.
She was at a point where she was doing countless, seamless miles at White Rock Lake. Runs during the week and then on the weekend. She had gone around that lake so many times that if a leaf fell, she knew it. Endless miles, forgotten miles, thoughtful miles, and miles where she turned off her brain and just ran. “My mind wonders and that’s what I love best, getting to just think about what’s going on in my life.” But she loves the running community at the lake. “I think it’s great. We are all like family, and I love it!” Even her mom saw through the parade of visitors to her bedside, the surrogate family Shaheen had endeared herself to without knowing it.
Next up was to join the mainstream. The Cowtown Marathon 10K was planned. Her previous PR at this distance had been 45:45 set a year before in March 2008 while peaking for her first Boston Marathon. Again, she didn’t disappoint, setting a new PR of 45:03. She felt great, renewed with confidence, able to run with a pack of men who guided off her voracious ability on the hills. She left all of them behind on the final assault into downtown. She couldn’t wait to tell someone. It was another great day. She was back!
Good friend LUCY SILVAS was also at the Cowtown race. “I have been really motivated by Shaheen. I want to be there cheering for her! I’m so proud of her. She’s definitely an inspiration, a hero! I’ve told her that.”
Shaheen began doing the long track sessions required of real marathon training: one-mile and half-mile repeats. This is Shaheen at her worst. Give her the choice of doing a 20 mile run at 4 am or a track workout of 6 x 800 meters, and she’ll take the long run every time. “Love the long stuff,” she says. Even though she was peaking at 77 miles per week, she didn’t balk at the track workouts. Her attitude said it all. “Go ahead, give it to me. Throw it at me. I don’t care. What do you have? Give it to me. I’ll take it.” And she did, without a word.
The girl was driven with a single focus. Looking down the lanes of the track with the other 15-20 runners lining up with her at a TNT-Tuesday Night Track workout, Shaheen saw the final turn of the Boston Marathon onto Commonwealth Avenue. She saw the finish line banners, and Public Library off to the side. Squinting into the sun, she saw herself sprinting to a sub 3 hour, 30 minute finishing time. It was HER finish line.
Once she finished that race, once across the blue and gold finish line emblazened on the road, she was going to OWN that finish line.
“No price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.”
Standing on the track waiting for the start to begin yet another tortuous repeat, she didn’t care if she was standing next to world record holder Paula Radcliff, or no one. She was running this one for herself. This one was for her, for her come back from hell, from wondering if she really had died that morning before seeing the driver coming to attack her, from lying for months on her back in the most public room of the house. This was for the time she may have thought she had wasted, time recovering from a driver’s lack of attention.
Running one more interval with either a tear or a drop of sweet, sweet sweat was all the same to her. She would remember that driver’s headlights coming closer and closer and closer, until she didn’t remember anymore. She remembered Mile 21 at the Nashville Marathon in 2007, and the adolescents throwing eggs at her as she ran an easy five miler on Dec 29th. She was going to validate and put her stamp on this race like no other race before. “Boston…..it’s been a goal of mine for the past year and I have worked so hard to finally get the opportunity to run it!”
The miles run were inspired by just doing them, she says. “I just do it.”
Vengeance? You bet. Attitude. Yes, sir! But all done with elegance, grace, simplicity, and beauty, the same way she levels her one-liners back at someone looking to have fun at her expense. The Boston Marathon was NOT going to go by her, she was not going to take this lying down in a flower bed inches from a murderous cinder block, unable to breathe, only to have EMT personnel strip her like a banana in the cold and dark and dirt to get to her injuries. Shaheen was going to stand and fight for this one race with tears of passion in her eyes and in her heart. She wanted nothing left at the finish line, to be emptied out like one of the many water jugs she drank every day in place of something sugary or sweet to bolster her monk-like discipline. She would run with the memories of the East Texas Trail Run, the Cowtown 10K, and other races where she had already fought huge odds and won, even if they were just personal victories, such as the 2007 Chicago Marathon, one of the hottest races ever run among the world class races, where temperatures reached into the mid-90’s. The worst part of the Chicago race was the lack of water, and then the race being shut down. Shaheen finished anyway, undeterred, despite the police waving batons at her, with a very respectable 3:47:21. She learned the hard way: Sometimes to win means you just have to finish. She would remember every race ever run at some point during the 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Boston. This one was personal. Warrior Princess, be damned!
Music played in her head as loudly and majestically as the words “Boston Marathon” sound rolling off the tongue, carrying her through the Newton Hills. She could see the four-mile stretch of Mount Olympus and Kilimanjaro combined, laid out in front of her, cruelly put between Miles 17 and 21. “I knew they were coming, so I chilled out at Mile 16.” But her training that included running the three Loving Hills fast, over and over, had been so thorough, so complete, the notorious Newton hills, that includes “Heartbreak Hill” (named for its nastiness both in placement and grade, it’s the final and steepest ascent on the course, peaking at Mile 21.), became speed bumps, scenery along the way, She gained strength and speed as she strode ever closer to the Holy Grail for runners. She had studied and memorized these hills and felt good seeing them. “I felt better going up the hills than on the flats. I was glad for the change.” She maintained a sub-8:00 pace for all three hills and four miles. She passed the stumbling hordes that were grinding away on the hills, letting it chip away pieces of their endurance they would never see again. Shaheen said she felt stronger. The Princess Warrior was ready for battle…and winning.
A quirk of Shaheen when she races is she never looks at her watch. She wears a Garmin on her left wrist every time she runs, training or racing, that tells her time, distance, pace, and heart rate. Not bad information to have. But it can be a distraction when you want to focus on the task at hand. So she had no idea her pace was actually increasing as she ran the toughest 26.2 miles of all the world class marathons, that includes London, Chicago, New York, and Dallas. All those numbers; 2:01, 16.7, 7:33, 148. Shake them off and get down the road! There is a dragon out there that needs to be slain! Shaheen would be one of the very, very few who would run the 2nd half of the race faster than the first half (called, a “negative split”) at a marathon. But to do it at THE Boston Marathon elevates her to god-like status. (Local icon and Queen of the Roads, Frances McKissick is also among the exclusive club of the very few to have run such a feat.)
Making the final turn on to Commonwealth Avenue, after the course has done it’s best to extract honor, pride, and sensibility (Why would any want to run for 26.2 miles?), and inflict mental anguish and physical pain, the city opens up with warmth and grandeur. It is here one realizes why they ran for 26 miles, because of the last two tenths of beauty. Shaheen afforded herself a delicacy she normally wouldn’t do until after crossing the finish line. She looked at her watch. This was the first time over the past three hours she got a glimpse of what she had been doing, that all of her friends were watching as if sitting on clouds above the course, watching her proceed with a surgeon’s calculated cuts of time out of the brutal course. Shaheen saw “3:17.” Three hours, and seventeen minutes. She still had no idea that she had gotten faster and faster during previous miles from Hopkinton. But she did suddenly realize she was going to set a personal record (PR). Looking up at the finish line banners flapping in the breeze off the ocean behind downtown Boston’s stately buildings, Shaheen decided she was going to try to come in under 3:20. She moved to the side of the course, out of the main stream of runners, and bolted, sprinting hard, fast, wildly. She was running the fastest she had run all day. But there was a reason. Will and desire. Will and desire.
She had become fully aware of these words, having lived them out for the past five months. For five months she had seen this finish line in her mind’s eye, but never saw this time on her watch. She also knew the famous quote, “Pain is temporary. But your finishing time lasts forever.” If ever there was a time to lay it all out, to do your absolute best, to drain every last drop of will and desire from the depths of your soul, this was it, the final 200 meters of the Boston Marathon finish line.
So she ran, passing even more people, using her stubbornness and determination, remembering those that said she couldn’t or wouldn’t be able to run after the accident. People who said, “You’re not going to make it, little girl.” People who shook their pretty little heads and said, “Tsk, tsk, tsk. Isn’t that a shame? She’s just a girl.” Ha! She didn’t have time for their pity. Nay sayers all, she thought. “I WILL do this!” With less than 400 meters to go to a destination she had been planning and dreaming about for five months (or 600 days to her), the same distance she had to be told was around the high school track of her first speed workout session just over a year before, The Warrior Princess went to work.
Arms and legs in a blur, she was passing clumps of runners now, hundreds, all in different phases of agony, most still able to lift an arm and wave at the crowds and photographers. Some couldn’t lift their arm, but would smile or give a thumbs-up hoping there was someone in the crowd they knew. Shaheen didn’t wave at to the gallery. That would take precious time and energy. Besides, on the other side of that finish line in full view now, there would be plenty of time to wave and “play nice.”
Some of the runners could no longer run, and still others had stopped only steps from the finish line tied up in knots of muscle bulging cramps, or throwing up. The massive congestion of people and individual scenarios resemble a scene from “Gone With the Wind.” Bodies and more bodies, some moving, some not, all centered here on this third Monday in April when runners from around the world focus their attention right here.
Shaheen was focusing, intently. Stomach cramps that had tried to undermine her back at Mile 24 were being fought back furiously, bravely swinging her arms and legs like she had so many times before, for miles and miles, for consecutive hours, for consecutive days. Yes, she was tired. Isn’t everyone after running 26 miles? But she pressed her body into the air in front of her, gaining a closer view of the finish line. She could see it, she could see the volunteers, she could see the blue and gold painted banner on the ground. A couple more strides.
The finish line called out her name, screaming to her, “Come home! Come home, Shaheen!” Salvation was just beyond the finish line; food, water, comfort all waited just for her once she crossed the ultimate runner’s finish line. Surreal in its mass of bodies, the area behind the finish line clocks and painted banner was bathed in voices from those bodies and from loud speakers. A collage of colors all moving, signs and arrows, miles of chain link fences corralling runners from spectators, and volunteers handing out things: medals, blankets, food, asking questions, shouting commands and directions.
Rushing toward the finish line, she wanted to honor her family, friends, and coach, with her time, her performance…her best! But most of all, herself, “Shaheen Sattar.” She wanted this moment to belong…to her!
She wanted to own this finish line. Five months ago, friends sat alongside her hospital bed, holding her hand, watching her in the grips of pain. Five months ago. Now, five months later, there she is, doing negative splits, building speed toward the finish line, racing 26.2 miles in the world’s most famous marathon, on course to set a PR by over 11 minutes.
A left arm swung with a clenched fist, and a right leg strained forward, the one that had been broken on the grill of the SUV. Her right arm, covering the scars on her torso from the punctured lung and broken rib, plunged deeply in the beast of the race. Her left leg, the one that had three pounds of flesh ripped out of it by the chain link fence, followed.
And then, it was over.
Her foot had landed on the computer mat and clicked her official time as 3 hrs., 19 min., and 48 seconds, an hour and 11 minutes faster than her first ever marathon in Dallas in 2005, over 20 minutes faster than her last marathon in 2008, and her fastest marathon ever by over 11 minutes, or 25 seconds per mile faster for 26 miles, than she had ever run before. The first half of her race was done in 1:40:43 (a 7:41 pace), while running the second and more difficult portion in 1:39:05 (a 7:33 pace).
“Anyone who pulls off negative splits in a MARATHON is just AWESOME in my book!” said running partner, JEN SMITH. Overall Crosson Dannis Series Champion, WENDY RAGLE, said, “I wanna be like Shaheen!”
Immediately, the pain came crashing in. It cried out at first, then screamed out for attention, angry at being neglected by Shaheen’s mind, her focus so intent on the act of running, not allowing her body equal voice. Running a race is not a democracy if you want to do your best, but a dictatorship. Shaheen was taking no prisoners, and no baggage.
As soon as she stopped, her feet, hamstrings, quadriceps, hips, knees, and ankles hurt. There were belly cramps, a parched throat, and pounding in her head, pain as if it were being poured over her exposed limbs like water, only soaking in. The computer timing chip she wore around her ankle had cut into her skin. Not only was she bleeding, but the skin was bruised. How long it had been like that, she wasn’t sure, but seemed to remember pain at the start. “There was nothing I could do about it. I certainly wasn’t going to stop. That would have taken too much time.”
She began crying, not from the pain, though it was considerable. But she cried for joy, exhilaration. She cried tears that came out of a place she thought was dried up from the sweet and precious sweat she had left over the last 26 miles. She cried because she couldn’t believe what she had done, that she actually DID it, smashing her own perceptions as well as others who had written her off months earlier. She did it. It was validation to the sacrifices of time, early alarm clocks, no desserts, and being dedicated to the goal she had set. It was true, the tears said to her, standing among the throngs of moans and whoops of celebration. Her tears were for herself, a release of tension and work she had asked of her body she wouldn’t wish on a friend. Her tears came like rain, washing away the road grit from her cheeks that were smiling as her eyes cried.
She tried to keep moving, but people, people, and more people, all with their own pains, were everywhere, staggering, brushing up, and bumping into her sore and battered body. People were yelling, some for assistance, some were volunteers handing out medals, foil blankets, food, water, and directions. But not yet. She couldn’t get sucked down the funnel of people along the chain link fence, …chain link fence…, because she would never make it back to this spot today. She paused, turned back to the finish line, and waited.
KHAI HARBUT, an accomplished Ironman triathlete, was doing his first Boston Marathon. He had trained hard and was also ready to do well. He had started in front of Shaheen, in a faster wave. She saw him and MICHAEL SMITH along the course, waved, and kept going. Before the race started, Khai predicted, “Shaheen will do great. We’re worried about keeping up with HER.” Khai caught back up to Shaheen at Mile 25, just before making the last two turns to the finish line. “It was good to see Shaheen running so strong. She was really picking up the pace from Mile 25, on.”
She waited for him as he PR’d and posted an unbelievable 5 minute negative split, with a 3:21:04. She was happy for him, hugged him, and then got lost in the crowd looking for her sister waiting for her. “The best part of running so hard was that euphoric hug Shaheen and I gave each other at the finish,” said Khai.
It was over. With a metallic blanket taped around her for warmth, following all the other metallic runners as if aliens on a trek through Boston, she found her sister, Shama, and got back to their hotel room for a shower and a change of clothes.
Only a couple of hours later, she was back outside, walking around (“I didn’t want to sit in the hotel.”), standing near the finish line, watching others finish as she had just done. She cheered them on, with waves, yells, and claps of her hands. She was happy for them. She knew exactly what they were feeling.
“She must feel accomplished today,” said friend JANALOU FRAGAPANE, “to have met and surpassed her goal. Such an amazing journey from the horrific accident in November until the pinnacle of PR-ing at Boston! Her determination, her grit, her stamina, through every cold morning, every wet workout, every 3-4 am wake-up call, every hill, every mile repeat, she must feel accomplished. She is a very talented runner and women don’t usually reach their peak until their 30’s or so…”
During Shaheen’s arrival two days prior, when she was checking into her hotel, she saw the Chicago Bulls basketball team unloading from their bus for a game against the Boston Celtics. She admired the player’s strength and athleticism, but was not impressed, certainly not intimidated, even though some of the players were 2 feet taller than her. She walked on. Now, after the race, while out and about, getting something to eat, she saw the Chicago Bulls, again. This time, they were loading into their bus after losing to the Celtics 115 to 118. “Huh,” she said talking on the cell phone. “Déjà vu,” she mumbled under her breath, and walked past the mighty players. Their bigness, toughness, and meanness may have reminded her of the Newton Hills that became Shaheen’s Waterloo, a decisive battle of a larger war, where The Warrior Princess was victorious.
John Trimble jokingly says, “She’s not human, there is nothing about her that is human! She needs a hobby.”
“Hobbies?” she replies. “Ummm, that would be, eating, sleeping, and shopping.”
She was chomping to get out and run two days later. The only reason she didn’t was because she knew someone would report back to her coach. Only days after the race, she went for a walk. All the way around White Rock Lake’s 9 mile trail! “Because I’ve never done it before,” she said. It took her 2 hrs, and 1 minute. (Of course, she had to time herself! She wore her Garmin.) Even before finishing her original goal of doing this marathon, she had already set her sights on doing a 50K this summer, then the London marathon next year. “Now it is time to ‘actively’ recover,” Janalou offered. “On the bike and swim, as Coach would say, and let the body repair.”
Shaheen already made it very clear, she did NOT like the picture on the cover of her heading toward the finish line. In fact, she hated them all, except for the one on Page 6. Think she’ll let me take another picture that she likes?
Probably not. “Seriously!”
SHAHEEN’S BOSTON STATS
Dist Time Pace Per 5K Predicted Time/Pace
5K 24:26 7:53 3:26:32 (7:53)
10K 48:13 7:40 3:23:45 (7:47)
15K 1:11:55 7:39 3:22:36 (7:44)
20K 1:35:36 7:38 3:22:00 (7:43)
25K 1:58:51 7:30 3:20:54 (7:40)
30K 2:22:26 7:36 3:20:38 (7:39)
35K 2:46:32 7:46 3:21:04 (7:40)
40K 3:09:53 7:32 3:20:36 (7:39)
Finish Time 3:19:48 (7:38 pace)
1st ½ 1:40:43 (7:41.3 pace)
2nd ½ 1:39:05 (7:33.8 pace)