Running Through Mongolia

runningthroughmonHorse racing, wrestling, and archery are the big sports in Mongolia. Not so with running. But that doesn’t stop Pennsylvanian Kerry Yankowy from carrying on with it. “I’m a rare bird in Mongolia,” says Yankowy, 40, who is presently learning the country’s language and will be teaching English with the Global Friends Foundation in the Mongolian capital of Ulan Bator. “But running helps me get into the culture, and it makes the day-to-day adjustments a little easier to deal with.”

Yankowy, who has worked for the Mongol Embassy in Canada, does many workouts along the Celeb River, a popular gathering place for the residents of Ulan Bator. “I love watching the people there,” he says. “They go about the business of their lives, and don’t pay much attention to me. Occasionally some kids run along for a bit, which gives me a chance to practice their language.”

Besides teaching English, Yankowy hopes to start a teaching-methods program while he’s in Mongolia. He also hopes to drum up interest in running. “I’d like to organize a short race or relay for the kids,” says Yankowy. “I think they’d be interested.”

Katie Harrison was in the beginning of her early morning 9-miler last September when she was struck by a car. The driver never stopped. Harrison, 22, was knocked out by the impact, but soon regained consciousness and flagged down help. “I don’t remember anything about the accident,” she says. Six days later, doctors had to amputate her left leg below the knee.

A senior at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., Harrison received a temporary prosthesis and had to use crutches at first. “I managed to stay in school, but I was devastated for those first few months,” says Harrison. “Before the accident, I always thought of myself as physically tough. I was strong and could run fast,” says Harrison, who’d run a 5-K in 21:35. “I wanted to feel strong again.”

A few days before her graduation this past June, Harrison returned to the spot where she was hit, and promised herself she’d finish the rest of that 9-mile run one day. “I wanted to do it right then and there,” says Harrison. “But I wasn’t ready.”

Now fitted with a running prosthesis, Harrison is back in training. She started running on a treadmill, then took to the track near her home in Berkeley Heights, N.J. “I’m thrilled I can run again,” says Harrison, who’s up to 3 miles. “I’m concentrating on trying to run smoothly. It’s a challenge, but I’ll give myself some time. I’m going to finish that 9-miler yet.”

Cinda Brooks, a game warden with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, decided in 1993 to put her professional skills to use in the biathlon, an event that combines running and shooting. Good move. This past June, Brooks won her fifth-straight World Police and Fire Games Biathlon Championship in Indianapolis. Brooks, 41, says it isn’t just hard work and training that make her good, though both certainly help. “It’s my ability to stay calm in high-stress situations that puts me over the top,” says Brooks.

The biathlon championship, held every 2 years, requires competitors to run a mile, then shoot 12 rounds at a target with a pistol, then repeat this sequence two more times. After the running segment, Brooks must settle down enough to hold her gun steady. “I wear a heart-rate monitor and walk until my pulse drops to 145,” says Brooks, who runs the mile in about 7 minutes.

Missed targets add to a competitor’s score, so accuracy is key to finishing with a fast time. “The best runners don’t always win, and neither do the best shooters,” she says. “It’s the combination of the two that you need.”

Brooks holds a master’s degree in nursing, and teaches wellness and fitness to cadets at the parks department. “I want to teach as many women as I can about health, and get more women involved in the biathlon,” says Brooks. She also hopes to win her sixth title at the next World Championships in Barcelona in 2003. Until then, she’ll just have to stay calm.

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