Story written by volunteer Steve Schlesinger:
“Every time I bent over to tie my shoe I felt like I was underwater” Laura Schlerf recalls. She saw her 50s rapidly approaching and the weight that she had been carrying around for years starting to affect her quality of life. Laura, a longtime resident of Chino and a well-respected senior teacher at Butterfield Ranch Elementary School in Chino Hills, CA started to worry. Her older siblings began experiencing serious health issues around this time. She knew what the battle of excess weight and genetics ultimately meant. She vividly recalls her father’s battles with heart disease and eventually losing him to a stroke. She couldn’t do that to her own children. As a mother of 21-year-old twins (a son and daughter) and a 24-year-old daughter, she recalled what it meant to her to lose her father when she was in her 20s. “I felt it was time to be a bit selfish. I was always doing things for others but I needed to take care of me. I knew I was no good to anybody if I’m dead,” she told herself. She has a passion for life, for teaching, for family and friends and for her church ministries (St. Margaret Mary in Chino, CA). Her life wasn't slowing down and she decided she needed a body that could keep up with it.
"I wanted to get into better shape so I started a walking campaign. I got up early and walked for 30 minutes each morning, over time I went further on these brief walks. I kept pushing myself. One day I saw a light pole ahead of me and tried running to it," she said. As her walks progressed she kept pushing herself to run from one light pole to the next. "One day I went to the local high school and ran one lap without stopping. I felt like I came in first place in a marathon. I was screaming with joy and others were cheering as well." Together with her running partner, Larry Haynes, they eventually improved. They kept running and improved enough to complete 5K runs. "We would have been happy to do 5K runs for the rest of our lives. They are everywhere and happen all the time." But then she happened to hear about the Inland Empire Running Club. "They meet at Buttermilk something, or Ranch dressing something, I forget," a friend told her. "Do you mean Butterfield Ranch? I am a teacher at that elementary school,” Laura mentioned. It turned out that the group meets every Saturday morning at her school's parking lot.
The Inland Empire Running Club has the ability to do the unthinkable. They help out of shape people, people who couldn't run a mile to save their lives and train them to run the LA Marathon. That’s 26.2 miles of running! Of course these are people who have rationalized their position in life. "I can't do it." "It will never happen." With the group’s support Laura progressed from 5K runs (3.1 miles) to half marathons (13.1 miles) and finally to full marathons.
Ten years ago I recall Mrs. Schlerf as the very jovial first grade teacher of one of my twin daughters. My daughter adored her, and so did the other kids and their parents. She has an infectious smile with a set of bright blue eyes. She has an enthusiastic spirit that made the transition to public school easy for my daughter. If someone suggested that years later Mrs. Schlerf would be running marathons I would have not believed it. So you can imagine my amazement to see her with a group of runners in her red shirt, standing in front as a leader of the group, and now 50 pounds lighter than I recalled. After not seeing her for the past eight years she actually looks younger. Overall she just seems abundantly happier.
The year Laura turned 50 she completed three half marathons and the LA Marathon. Recently something surprising happened, the club asked her to be a pace coach. "I'm not a coach. The first year I ran a marathon I did it in six hours and 19 minutes. The next year I was in better shape but hit the wall at mile 17 so I only improved by 10 minutes. I do run but I run slowly. I told them that they can fire me, I won't be offended." But it wasn't about her being in better shape than other runners, it was about her infectious personality that inspires others to try harder. They can relate to her because she has been in their shoes.
The American Heart Association’s (AHA) Life's Simple 7 recommends seven simple steps to improve one’s cardiovascular health. The AHA believes that even small, simple steps can make a huge difference when it comes to heart and brain health.
One of Life’s Simple 7 is "Get Active" and the first thing Mrs. Schlerf did was to make the time and start with something as easy as walking. With the exercise program she lost 50 pounds. "Lose Weight" is another step. Combining an exercise plan with eating better (a third of Life’s Simple 7) improves one’s chances of feeling good and staying healthy. Being active, maintaining a healthy weight and a healthy diet help keep cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar numbers in check, which also make up Life’s Simple 7. Stop smoking is the last but equally important step in Life’s Simple 7. These steps are important because heart disease and strokes kill one out of every three women.
Diet and exercise worked for Laura. “I used to stop by the drive-through and get a burger all the time. Now I can’t recall the last time I’ve done that.” She never had any intention to run marathons. Her goal was to get into better shape to prolong life. As the weight came off she ate better and felt better. Her blood pressure improved and her attitude toward life improved. When it came to exercise she sometimes pushed herself a bit too far and had to stop, but that gave her a target to strive for the next time. “My kids thought this was a phase I was going through. They came to the first LA Marathon and held up signs. The next year they were surprised I was doing it again. This isn’t a phase, it’s a change of life.” Laura speaks passionately about the Inland Empire Running Club, “I didn’t want to be around negative people nor complainers. The people in the group have such positive attitudes. I’ve only been with them a few years but it feels like I’ve known them longer. I can tell some of these people will be lifelong friends.”
Along her journey Laura found new goals. "If I can't run the LA Marathon in under six hours this year I don't know what to do,” said Laura. "Try again next year?" I replied. Her partner Larry laughed because to Laura there is never a destination, just new goals that seem like one light pole too far.
This article was written in support of the American Heart Association Inland Empire Division. Please like the AHA Inland Empire Division on Facebook. Thank you also to the Inland Empire Running Club #IERunningClub and the good people of Chino Hills for keeping an eye out for the running club every Saturday morning. Thanks also to Butterfield Ranch Elementary School of Chino Hills.