Olympic Hopeful ‘‘Runs for a Reason’’

by Angela Bergman

Many who know Lori Stich know her as a talented young lawyer, a 1994 graduate of the Emory University School of Law, a member of the Young Lawyers Section, an associate at Miller, Johnson, Snell & Cummiskey in the litigation and employment sections, and a lawyer specializing in Worker’s Compensation and Appellate work. What many may not know is that Lori is also a talented athlete with a chance of making it to the 2000 Olympic Games in the Women’s Marathon.

Lori is currently the top-ranked American on the PRRO Circuit (Professional Road Racing Organization) and is ranked 11th in the world based on the accumulation of points in a series of long distance races. While Lori modestly said that the rankings are deceiving, based as much on consistency as on speed, her talent as a runner is clearly established.

Lori achieved a high point in her running career last December at the California International Marathon in Sacramento, where she ran a 2:48 marathon and qualified for the February Olympic tryouts. The Olympic committee had set the qualifying standard at 2:50, with a qualifying period of about two years. This meant that anyone who ran a sanctioned marathon in less than two hours and fifty minutes got to travel to the Carolinas Marathon and compete for a spot on the 2000 Olympic team.

With nearly 200 women qualifying for the race, and only three Olympic spots available, Lori is realistic about her chances of making the team. She believes it will take a time of 2:35 or faster to qualify; her own personal best, run at the Twin Cities Marathon in October, is 2:46. (This translates into about a mile every 61/2 minutes—a feat admirable in itself.) While she has improved her marathon time by 17 minutes over the last year and a half, and believes she is capable of breaking the 2:40 mark, she feels she has a way to go before reaching her full potential as a runner. As Lori described it, ‘‘The best analogy is to compare it to diving into a lake where you haven’t touched bottom yet; you don’t know whether you’re only a few inches from it, or whether there may be several more feet to go.’’

Lori is not one of those athletes who always knew her talent and pursued it from the very beginning. She joined the track team in junior high, with the encouragement of parents who thought it would make her eat better, with hopes of being a sprinter because ‘‘everyone knows those are the exciting events.’’ She said of her venture into distance running, ‘‘Sadly, I had no speed, so our coach did what coaches always do with people who aren’t fast: he threw me into the distance events.’’ She soon discovered a talent for the distance events, breaking the half-mile record at her very first meet, and beat the standing 2-mile record by 35 seconds at the school’s first invitational. ‘‘That early success,’’ Lori said, ‘‘got me hungry for more.’’

She continued her distance running career at Ripon College in Wisconsin, where she competed in the 5K and 10K races. She didn’t run her first marathon until after college. She did it then, she said, ‘‘just to say that I had done it.’’ Traveling to Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota, in June of 1991, Lori’s goal for her first marathon was only to finish. Finish she did, with a time of 3:07 and a qualification for the Boston Marathon. Torn between studying for her first final at the end of her first year of law school and a ‘‘chance of a lifetime’’ to run in Boston, Lori decided she would have ‘‘plenty of opportunities to take tests’’ and set out for Massachusetts. ‘‘Ever since then,’’ she said, ‘‘marathoning has been a great excuse to take fun weekend trips and meet new people.’’ To date, Lori has run a total of 37 marathons—most recently finishing 9th at the Women’s Marathon National Championships in Minneapolis on October 3.

What really puts Lori strides ahead of her competition is the fact that she uses her talent to help those who aren’t quite as lucky as she is. Lori was actively involved in the Young Lawyer’s ‘‘Race for Justice,’’ as both an organizer and a competitor. A part of the State Bar’s Annual Meeting, the event raised nearly $5000 dollars for the Access to Justice Fund. Of her trip to the Olympic trials, Lori said, ‘‘Although I don’t have a realistic shot of making the team, it is an honor just to go to the Trials. I wanted to make this significant experience in my life something significant in others’ lives as well, so I decided to ‘Run for a Reason.’’’

‘‘Run for a Reason’’ is the slogan Lori adopted for her personal fundraiser to benefit Habitat for Humanity. She has been taking pledges and donations with a goal of raising $10,000, the cost of the basic shell of a house. The house, which will be constructed in Mecosta County, the community in which Lori grew up, has been designated ‘‘The Marathon House.’’ Lori chose to support Habitat for Humanity because she believes it is particularly effective. ‘‘I like the concept behind Habitat for Humanity,’’ Lori explained, ‘‘because it’s not a give-away program. Families who receive houses must put in a certain number of hours of ‘sweat equity,’ and must also repay the cost of the house over time.’’

If you are interested in helping Lori in her efforts to build the ‘‘Marathon House,’’ there are several ways you can contribute. You can make a flat contribution or choose to make a pledge. The pledges can be based on just about anything; some of the more creative pledges she’s taken have been based on how many hours she sleeps in a night (a poor average of only 3-4), how many vegetables she eats, and how many days she goes without desserts. Pledges and contributions payable to Habitat for Humanity can be mailed to Lori at Miller, Johnson, Snell & Cummiskey, or to the Mecosta County Habitat, P.O. Box 369, Mecosta, MI 49332-0369, (616) 972-2100. If you have any questions, Lori would be happy to answer them.

Lori enjoys many aspects of long distance running—the fact that it is physically demanding and takes discipline to train and compete—but what truly attracts her to the sport is the people. She sees running as ‘‘an opportunity to meet new people, make new friends, and visit interesting places.’’ She also likes the mental challenge involved in marathoning. "Besides providing opportunities for socializing with friends on the run, distance running allows you to sort out your thoughts if you go alone. There have been times when I’ve been able to figure out a different angle on something that’s been stumping me at work, or plan how to tackle a large project.’’ "Long runs,’’ she said, "tend to clear your head and help you do things like that.’’

Lori is one of those rare people who truly capitalizes on her natural talent. We wish her luck in the Trials, luck in her fundraising endeavors, and truly hope to see her in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.

Angela Bergman is the assistant editor of the Michigan Bar Journal.