The Madison Marathon is the perfect event for Lisa Diane Helmuth (50) of Middleton, WI—it combines running and Madison, two things that have been part of some of the happiest and some of the saddest times of Lisa’s life. For Lisa, “there is nothing quite like the feeling of running in Madison”.
Lisa shared what makes the Madison Marathon so special for her, how running has helped her through some of the most challenging moments of her life, and what—or maybe more aptly who—keeps motivating her to succeed.
Focal Flame Photography (FFP): How many Madison Marathons have you run?
Lisa Diane Helmuth (LDH): This is my third or fourth half-marathon Madison race.
FFP: How many total marathons or half marathons have you run?
LDH: This will be my 7th half marathon…2016 will be my first full marathon!
FFP: Do you participate in other similar events?
LDH: I usually sign up for at least one or two half marathons per summer and participate in as many fun runs as possible throughout the warmer weather. I pick races that have a positive impact on the world through fundraising or awareness for families / kids dealing with illness or hardship.
Some of my favorites are Battle of the Badges 5K (Middleton Police/Fire/EMS charity), Badger Children’s Cancer Network (5K) Superhero Run, Gilda’s Run (10K), Make-A-Wish Foundation (10K), and Middleton Good Neighborfest (5K).
I signed up for the Surf City Half Marathon in California in February to force myself to keep running in Wisconsin’s freezing winter this year!
FFP: With so many races to choose from, why do you participate in the Madison Marathon?
LDH: Madison is my home—it’s where I married, had children, lost two children (one miscarriage), and where my heart will always remain. I love the crazy artsy unique nature of the city and its neighborhoods, yet this place still retains a rural backdrop, clean air, a casual lifestyle amidst the excitement of a larger metropolitan area. The seat of our state government resides here…and I am grateful to work [to protect] our rivers, lakes, wetlands, springs, and wild places.
Editor’s Note: Lisa works for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
FFP: Do you do anything to make your races more meaningful?
LDH: Preparing for long-distance races involves a special mindset—meditative introspection on what and why I’m about to embark on such a physically and mentally exhausting journey. I am not a fast runner; just very determined. Long distance races give me the mind-space that I need to feel deeply and completely about life.
FFP: Why is running so important to you?
LDH: I’ve been running since I was 12. Running has helped me through more personal challenges than I can name. Most recently, in 2012, my youngest son’s diagnosis with stage four adrenal cancer provided the impetus needed to return to long-distance running, which is where I feel my inner-self blossom, where I find peace, and where I can feel myself come alive. It is thinking about what running means to me, and what it gives me, that helps me prepare for my 2 to 3 hour “date” with a half marathon…and in 2016, the 4-6 hours for my first marathon.
FFP: What do you want people to know about your son James and/or the James Helmuth Memorial Trust?
LDH: When we first created James’ Benefit Fund/Memorial Trust, which provides funds for academics and athletics for kids in need, it was to help make something good from such incredible tragedy. I now realize that perpetuating charitable activities through his fund not only helps others, but it helps our family keep James’ memory alive with us and with the community. I have come to realize that one of my greatest fears is that one day no one will know of or remember our James. The quintessential struggle of humanity—the quest for immortality.
Through James’ Benefit Fund, we are definitely making a difference. If James can see us or “knows”, I want him to feel proud of his family. In the past three years, we have raised and funded nearly $20,000 in short and long-term projects, including relief efforts for families with children that are victims of fire, Music & Arts for All (which joins teenage musicians with homebound/facility-bound seniors through weekly music performances), funding of kids in need in athletics (football, basketball), and our holding our annual Basketball Buddies Skills Clinic, which pairs athletes in college and high school with middle school and primary grades for a 1 hour skills clinic! It’s wonderful! We had over 80 participants in each of the first two years of the event! The Middleton Basketball Club and Dane County Youth Football League have both been particularly helpful.
FFP: Are there any personal accomplishments you are particularly proud of?
LDH: This past summer I received my black belt in martial arts at Infinity Martial Arts in Middleton after 6 years of training. I had put off training for two years to care for my son, James, who died of adrenal cancer at the age of 10. During his year of treatment, I reacquainted myself with my lifelong friend, running. While I’d been running since I was 12 years old, after having kids I’d slowed down quite a bit. Now, at 50, I’m rededicating myself to health and fitness…in part to honor my sons, James and Jack. Receiving my black belt was a gift and an honor for James’ memory—and to show my wonderful 15-year-old son Jack to never give up. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and eventually you will find your way.
FFP: Is there anything else about your journey as a runner that you would like to share?
LDH: Just that I keep going…I’m slower and older than when I was 12 (!) and don’t always feel great, but I can always count on running, my life-long friend, to be there when I need what it gives me. I will run until I can no longer run—I’ll be running until I’m done here on Earth.
This article is part of a series featuring athletes who are participating in a Madison Marathon event in 2015. Focal Flame Photography is honored to serve as official photographers for the Madison Marathon. All runners will receive free FocalShare™ digital race photos courtesy of the event organizers. The Fall Madison Marathon events will occur on November 8, 2015 on the streets of Wisconsin's capitol city. For more information or to register, visit Madison Marathon.
- by Erin Patterson