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Northern Stage development manager marks 100 marathon runs

  • Sue Kessler, of White River Junction, Vt., takes a snowy run in downtown White River Junction, on Monday, Jan. 6, 2019. Kessler has run in 100 marathons, raising $73,000 for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Sue Kessler, of White River Junction, Vt., has run in 100 marathons, in part raising $73,000 for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Kessler was about to take a snowy run in White River Junction, on Monday, Jan. 6, 2019. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Sue Kessler runs her first marathon in 1996 in Chicago. courtsey photo

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 1/6/2020 10:26:18 PM
Modified: 1/6/2020 10:25:47 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — After Sue Kessler completed her first marathon, she found a keepsake to commemorate the occasion. It was 1996 in Chicago.

“I came across the finish line and there was a little stone right there, and I picked it up and I held it in my hand,” White River Junction’s Kessler said during a recent interview. “And I’m like, ‘Having this in my hand will make me remember what this felt like.’ ”

Running marathons gradually became routine for Kessler, who now has 100 small rocks to show for her efforts. She reached the milestone on Dec. 7 in Memphis, Tenn. — one month before turning 50 years old.

“A few years ago, I was running and I was doing the math,” Kessler said. “I had run, I don’t know, probably 70- or 60-something marathons at that point and I said, ‘Well, shoot, if I do five a year’ — which I’ve done many a year at times — ‘if I do five a year, I’ll get to 100 right at the end of 2019. It would be a nice round number.’ That’s where my head went.”

The Maryland native ran a marathon in all 50 states culminating in Las Vegas a month prior to her 40th birthday. Then she decided to run a race in each Canadian province. Small stones from Bermuda and London are also among her collection.

A 26.2-mile grind through Wyoming’s Medicine Bow National Forest was arguably Kessler’s hardest, and certainly slowest, marathon to date.

“I’ve had times when my knees hurt or my back hurt, or my whatever, my feet hurt, but those don’t compare to when you can’t get your breath,” she said. “I was struggling with the altitude, really, ultimately, and you know, I just made it work. I plowed through. … It was five hours and something; it was awful.”

Kessler’s personal record is 3:42.42, logged in 2007 at a Marshall University race that qualified her for the Boston Marathon.

“I try to be around four hours,” she said. “I haven’t broken four in a couple years. The last two have been brutal. … When I sign up for a race and they say, ‘what’s your estimated finish time?’ I always write 3:59.59, even though at this point that’s really ambitious.”

Kessler, who moved to the Upper Valley in 2018 from her longtime home in Chicago to become the development manager for Northern Stage, decided to add a fundraising component to her running after learning more about St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. She became a St. Jude Hero in 2016 by agreeing to raise funds for the organization, and she has since secured $75,000 in donations. St. Jude presented Kessler with its annual Hero Among Us award in December following her 100th marathon.

As part of the award, Kessler was gifted a glass pyramid containing 100 rocks that were collected from the racecourse in Memphis.

“It’s one of the nicest, most thoughtful things anyone has ever given me,” she said.

George Tchakanakis first met Kessler in 2005 when both were working at Gibson’s Steakhouse in Chicago — the former as a waiter, the latter as a cocktail waitress.

“When she told me she was on a journey of running a marathon in all 50 states, quite frankly, I didn’t believe her,” Tchakanakis said from his home in Chicago. “I thought you had to be like an elite or sponsored or endorsed athlete.”

Tchakanakis was inspired and within a year and a half shared a common goal with someone he now describes as “my best marathon-running friend.”

His 17th marathon was in Las Vegas, coinciding with Kessler’s 50th. When Tchakanakis ran his 50th race in Nashville, Tenn., Kessler was also in the field, making her debut as a St. Jude Hero.

The 52-year-old Tchakanakis, who completed his 91st marathon a month ago in Memphis, used words such as approachable, curious and always smiling to describe Kessler. He also brought up her streak running and the resilience it requires.

For the last 20 consecutive years, Kessler has run at least 1 mile every single day. Maintaining the streak, which began on January 1, 2000, has required, among other qualities, creativity.

“Once I ran around Wrigley Field,” she said. “I had brought my running shoes and clothes and I was at a Cubs game and I was like, ‘Listen, if I have another beer … I better run now before the next beer.’ So I suited up and went running around the stands of Wrigley Field.

“People thought I was nuts, but it was really fun. And actually, I did that once at Comiskey Park, too, just because I hadn’t had time and then I was at a ball game and I was like, ‘Listen guys, it’s just a mile. I’ll be right back.’ ”

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