Jetola Blair is a world-class marathon runner. It’s something she stumbled upon by accident, after looking for a way to honor a friend who died of leukemia. Blair wanted to do something to honor her memory and “nothing seemed right.” Someone suggested she run a half marathon for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
“I didn’t want to run, but I’d raised money and I felt like a fraud because with the pace I was training, I wasn’t going to be able to participate. So I upped my training. The next thing you know, I signed up to do the Houston Half Marathon,” she said.
From there, Blair set out to conquer marathons all over the world, and she looked forward to hitting her ten-year milestone at the Boston Marathon. Then, she tripped on a sidewalk while in New York preparing for the New York Marathon this past November. That left her ankle broken in three places. She was unable to walk, let alone run. Doctors told her to give up the dream of the Boston Marathon, which took place last month. But Blair had never been a quitter and wasn’t about to start now. She shared her story with the Defender.
Defender: What did your recovery and rehab plan entail?
Jetola Blair: I came home and I had surgery to repair my foot. They inserted a titanium plate with seven pins. I had to learn to walk again. I credit my physical therapist because he understood what I was going through mentally. He helped me break through the mental barriers, pushing me at every session. And it hurt. There were days when I sat in the car afterward and just cried because it was so painful. But we were working as a team because when I first met with him, he said, ‘What’s your goal?’ I said, ‘I want to run the Boston Marathon.’ He chuckled at first because he thought I was joking. And then he realized I was serious. And he said, ‘Well, let’s figure out how to make that happen.’ I went to therapy several times a week. My therapist was very caring and understanding, and he listened to me. So I’ve always felt like the treatment was a partnership, he wasn’t just telling me what to do. We decided together what I was going to do. I’d come back and give him feedback, how it felt, what worked, what didn’t work. And then he progressed from there.
Defender: You recently completed the Boston Marathon, exceeding doctor’s expectations. What motivated you?
Blair: When I crossed the finish line, I was like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe I actually did it.’ But this particular Boston marathon was really important to me because it would’ve been my 10th consecutive. And that’s a big deal because when you hit your 10th consecutive race, your status changes to legacy status and you get to register early and no longer have to worry about the cutoff. And the reason Boston has a cutoff is because the number of places are fixed. It’s 30,000. That’s not going to change. If 60,000 people apply, it’s 30,000 spots. Everybody worries about that, and I no longer have to.
Defender: You started out walking and thought you’d never like running. How did that change?
Blair: My coach said, “How about you try to run one minute out of each mile you walk.” That’s how it started until I realized that I liked the running portion of it. There’s so many aspects to running. The mental part of it, the solitude. I have written books in my head, I’ve solved all the problems of the world or just that time to be and not be obligated to anybody or have to do anything to just be. There’s a physical part of it, it makes you feel good. I like cupcakes, and running allows me to eat more cupcakes than the average person. The other part is the social aspect that I enjoy. I live and run in Houston, but there’s this whole network all over the world.
Defender: What’s your next goal?
Blair: There are six races that have received this designation as the world majors – New York, Boston and Chicago, Berlin, London, and Tokyo. When you complete those six, you get this big beautiful medal and you’re listed forever as a six-star finisher. So personally, I have five stars. Tokyo would’ve been my fifth star last month, but because of the injury I had to defer. But God willing, I’ll be able to do it next year and finally get my sixth year.
Defender: What words of encouragement do you offer to other runners?
Blair: Perseverance and just setting your eyes on a goal are key. And this can apply to anyone looking for inspiration. Don’t listen to anybody who’s giving you negative advice. No matter how big and scary it is, go for it. Even if you are scared, try because you just might make it. And even if you don’t make it the first time, try again and again. Because that’s what life is about. Everything won’t always fall into place the first time, but if you just keep that spirit of perseverance, that’s the joy right here.