March 16, 2010

Enjoying life's winding path


— By

Staff Writer

For the first time in four years, Emily LeVan will spend the first Saturday in August doing something other than running from Crescent Beach to Fort Williams Park and collecting $1,000 for winning the Maine women's division of the TD Banknorth Beach to Beacon 10K Road Race.

Instead, she plans on feeding two cows, two pigs and 65 chickens on her new farm in Vermont, then working a 12-hour nursing shift in the emergency room of the Central Vermont Medical Center in Barre, just outside of Montpelier.

''I'm sad to miss it,'' LeVan said. ''It's certainly a fun race that had become a regular part of my schedule. But I'm also excited about the things that are going on here.''

An All-American field hockey player at Bowdoin who grew up in Oklahoma and settled in Wiscasset with her husband, Brad Johnson, LeVan burst onto the local running scene with a record-setting victory in the 2002 Maine Marathon (2 hours, 47 minutes, 38 seconds). She went on to twice become the top American woman at the Boston Marathon and in April ran in the Olympic Marathon Trials, finishing 67th.

During her Trials training, LeVan also was raising money for the Maine Children's Cancer Program. Her daughter, Maddie, was diagnosed last November at age 3 with a form of childhood leukemia. Together, they hoped to raise $52,400 through an effort they called Two Trials that detailed Emily's training and Maddie's treatment.

Instead of their goal -- twice the marathon distance of 26.2 miles -- they wound up raising $77,384.

''We certainly exceeded our expectations by quite a bit,'' LeVan said. ''We came pretty darn close to three marathons.''

LeVan, 35, spoke by phone from her new home in Randolph Center, Vt. In February, she and Johnson purchased nine acres that included two barns and plenty of pasture.

''Our gardens are kind of lame, because we moved here in the first part of June,'' LeVan said. ''We have this vision for next year of having a much more extensive garden and having many more animals as well. We'll see how it goes.''

She and Johnson, who had hiked the Appalachian Trail together in 2001, increasingly found themselves drawn toward the mountains. They had been looking for a place in Western Maine or Vermont for a while, and actually discovered the farm they wound up buying the weekend before Maddie was first hospitalized.

''It was pretty easy for me to find a job,'' LeVan said. ''All we needed was someplace that was relatively close to a hospital. We were most constrained by where Maddie could get her treatment.''

Maddie's oncologist in Maine, Dr. Eric Larsen, is a recreational runner who came to Maine after spending 15 years at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Hanover, N.H., less than an hour from their new home in Vermont.

Larsen told LeVan and Johnson about Dartmouth's program and predicted a comfortable and confident transition for Maddie.

''It's going smoothly,'' LeVan said. ''Maddie's pretty adaptable. We've had two visits over there and both have gone well. At this point we have a pretty good feel for what's going on and what's going to happen.''

Chemotherapy began claiming clumps of Maddie's hair the week of the Trials, and LeVan shaved off the rest of it the day they returned home from Boston. Three weeks of intensive treatment followed, but in early June Maddie began an 18-month maintenance program just as the family was packing for the move.

''She had a tough stretch leading up to the Trials and the next month,'' LeVan said, ''but since that time she's done really well. Her hair has grown back. Right now, she kind of looks like a little boy with a short crew cut, but she talks about wanting ponytails and braids, all that stuff. Her energy level is great. She hasn't hit any roadblocks.''

Maddie's treatment is scheduled to end in January 2010, around the time of her 6th birthday. For now anyway, a favorite activity is mooing at cows from a neighboring organic dairy farm and helping her parents feed Benny, the Jersey bull calf, and Jerry, a young cow acquired since the move.

(When you already have a bovine named Ben, and you move to Vermont, the only acceptable name for his partner is Jerry.)

As for LeVan's running career, she is luxuriating in this break -- however long it turns out to be -- from serious training.

''After the Trials, I was really tired, mentally and physically,'' she said. ''There was a lot going on in that six- or seven-month stretch. So I've been really enjoying the last few months of not training. I run when I want. I think I really needed that break.''

She has considered running a race in the fall, perhaps even the Maine Half Marathon in October. But as of now, her only planned return to Maine is for the Common Ground Fair in September.

What is certain, is that her time in Maine will long be remembered. Not only in running circles, but by the families involved with the Maine Children's Cancer Program.

''It was an amazing experience,'' she said of her blogging and fundraising effort. ''I had no idea what I was getting into. It turned out to be so much work, but it was such a rewarding experience in so many ways. I was so impressed by how people responded to it. To have this vision, create this thing, and have so many people jump on board and want to be a part of it. Running in the trials was very rewarding personally, but the fundraiser, I feel like that really made a lasting impact for kids and their families for the future.''

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:

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Additional Photos

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John Ewing/Staff Photographer: Tuesday, January 22, 2008....Emily LeVan and her daughter, Maddie Johnson ,4, at their home in Wiscasset. Maddie was found to have a form of leukemia last November. LeVan is tying her three-month training cycle for the upcoming Olympic marathon trials in Boston to a fundraising effort for the Maine Children's Cancer Program, on behalf of Maddie.

click image to enlarge

Derek Davis/Staff Photographer: Emily LeVan of Wiscasset runs in the Olympic Marathon Trials, Sunday, April 20, 2008, in Boston.


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