Pamela Gray Verhulst
Hometown: LaCrosse, WI
Occupation: Director of Health & Wellness//Associate Faculty at University of Phoenix-Wellness, Nutrition, Health//Assistant Men’s and Women’s Track Coach – NCAA Ripon College//and Doctoral Learner – Sports Management/Leadership at United States Sports Academy

Pamela Gray Verhulst has numerous accomplishments; not only in her running career, but she has also overcome health setbacks, such as being diagnosed with AAA Aneurysm. Running has provided her with so much in her life that she continues to give back to the sport in multiple ways, from coaching Olympic hopefuls and college students, to offering health and wellness education to others.

 Verhulst says there is a plethora of things she enjoys about running. Of the long list, she “would say the most enjoyment comes from the freedom (she has) while running.”

“When you are out on a 20 or 25 mile run, in the middle of nowhere…in the middle of wilderness, you look around and thank God for the gift of being able to do this.”  She has been gifted the opportunity to run over 195,000 miles, and counting.

In her early years, she used to “freak out” about pre-race rituals. With so many miles and races under her belt, Pamela has trained herself to focus on warming-up before the race and make sure she eats the right foods to optimize her energy.

The amount of preparation and training she does for a particular race is crucial in determining how well she finishes. Verhulst loves running on trails; the more hills the better. “I love training in new places; around long roads where no one else goes or has been, or along long miles of water bases–lakes or oceans.  Basically, anywhere out in the middle of nowhere is my favorite,” said Verhulst. She mostly runs by herself or with her husband, Len (read his story here). However, she also occasionally runs with the athletes she trains at her facility or with her teammates at Team Aquaphor, which is made up of 199 members from across the country.

An unexpected hurdle arose when Verhulst was diagnosed with an AAA Aneurysm. This news was a shock to both Pamela and her radiologist, who discovered it during a routine MRI on her back. Verhulst lived a healthy lifestyle, had no predisposed family history for this disease, and she was far under the average age to be diagnosed. Living in Midland, TX at the time, she scheduled an appointment with a surgeon in Houston. The surgeon assured her that the surgery was only to repair and she would be able to run again soon after. Pamela was back to running just three months after the surgery.

“I have had doubts and slight warnings from my surgeon and geneticist that my ‘intensity’ should back off from running; but here I am running and racing some of the best times you can see at age 50 for a local and regional top masters athlete. I am generally on the podium in each race I run, and still am the overall winner.”

Verhulst has handled the diagnosis and surgery with grace and has come back an even stronger runner than before. She has gained vast amounts of knowledge from her experiences and hopes to share it with others. After the surgery, it was as if someone had hit the reset button on her body; reducing her blood pressure and increasing blood flow.  “I seem to go harder and harder the longer I run.”

One of Verhulst’s favorite memories is achieving her personal best of 36:02 for a 10K in Bellin, Green Bay.  “I was second to Joan Benoit, 1984 Gold Medalist First Women’s Marathon Olympics, who also won the trials that year. Of course, she holds our American Record in the Women’s Marathon (given back to her),” said Verhulst. “I have seen her off and on since then, and we chat about those times. It was amazing to be standing on a podium next to Joan Benoit, who qualified again in this 2012 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials.”

Pamela has completed two Olympic Trials in her career–1988 and 1992. She remembers how hard she had to work to achieve that level. Training became a way of life for her and everything she did was surrounded by running. Every decision she made had an impact on her training.

Verhulst will be running the Aramco Houston Half Marathon next weekend. Both Verhulst and her husband are officials for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials and they are looking forward to this historic event. She has not personally coached any of the athletes who will be competing in the trials, but she is acquainted with multiple runners and has followed their careers. Her trip to Houston will also include a follow-up visit with her doctor from the surgery in 2006.

Come race day, she is looking forward to the camaraderie of all the runners and the excitement of the event that she is grateful to be a part of. Her husband will be racing as well and she looks forward to seeing him at the finish line.

For those that are still early on in their running journey, “you have to stay dedicated and committed,” recommends Verhulst. “You have to make running a priority.  No one can do your miles for you; only YOU can do that.  You might have to rearrange schedules, family, friends, meals, and all the above to make it a priority, but this is first. The life around you will change with your running success.”

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