Running back to Bermuda
As Rose O'Sullivan raced around the island last weekend, she searched for glimpses of its past.
She was last here in 1974 while on honeymoon with her husband Mike.
“We often talked about coming back, but it was never the right time,” said Mrs O'Sullivan. “We stayed in Flatts at what was called the Coral Reef Hotel. We loved it. It wasn't as busy as it is now. It was wonderful.”
As much as the newlyweds enjoyed that first trip, it almost ended disastrously.
“We pulled in on our scooters at a beach and Mike swam out about 100 yards and was getting tired,” said Mrs O'Sullivan, who stayed at the Hamilton Princess & Beach Club on this visit.
Unable to swim, she'd stayed onshore where she stood waving to her husband, oblivious to his plight.
Continued Mr O'Sullivan: “At the very end, I was about four feet away from shore when I was able to just touch the sand. But at that point, if [I hadn't been able to walk], I don't know if I could have made it and I knew she couldn't help me.”
Their recent trip was also eventful. Mrs O'Sullivan, 68, competed in the The Royal Gazette Bermuda Triangle Marathon Challenge, completing the Butterfield Front Street Challenge in 10:23, the BF&M Bermuda 10K Race and Walk in 1:27:41 and the PwC Bermuda Marathon in 6:05:43.
“If I can just cross the finish line feeling good and not in agony, that's good,” said Mrs O'Sullivan who has a 30 per cent tear in her right Achilles and a damaged meniscus that she attributes to racquetball. “Whether I do six hours or four hours, it's still a marathon. I'm so grateful to God.
“I don't take any of it for granted. I'd be a very depressed lady if I couldn't run.”
Both originally from Ireland, she and her husband met in New York having moved to the United States when immigration laws were less strict.
They had five children, which limited their ability to travel after Bermuda.
“Holidays then were more about returning to Ireland with the children,” said Mrs O'Sullivan, who would spend entire summers there with her family.
Her husband's work as a contractor kept him busy as did the other businesses he was involved with. She focused on her children. “I loved being a mom. That was my career. By the time I was 47 or 48, my youngest was close to leaving the nest. I had no college degree and couldn't see embarking on a great career [with my only experience] being a mom. Depression set in for a bit.”
Ultimately, it led her to start running. She started practising with a single circuit around a school track because she was too embarrassed to have people see her run in her Greenwich, Connecticut neighbourhood.
“Before I knew it, I could do three miles. I then joined a running club and they pulled me along. I kept going back and trying my best.”
She set her sights on a marathon, but kept the goal secret.
“I didn't tell anyone,” she said. “I thought they would say, ‘You're crazy. You're 48. You'll never run.'”
Despite her own doubts Mrs O'Sullivan completed her first half marathon in 1998. She tackled the New York Marathon the following year.
It gave her the confidence to do more. She simultaneously achieved two of her goals in March of 2018 when she became the first Irish-born woman to run a marathon in each of the 50 US states.
“Initially, my goal was one marathon. Then I decided that five would be a good number, one for each of my children. Well one could say that I got a little carried away, maybe a little obsessive even. I began researching and booking marathons all over the US, Canada and the world.
“At the Bataan Death March Memorial Marathon in White Sands, New Mexico, I achieved my goal of a marathon in each of the 50 states. This brought my number of completed full marathons to 100. Having my husband Mike, our children, their spouses and our grandchildren there to cheer me across the finish line was the highlight of all my marathons combined.”
Although proud of her accomplishments, she doesn't post them on social media for everyone to see.
“I do it for myself,” she said. “It doesn't totally define me.”
Travel has been a bonus. Mrs O'Sullivan, who has run in five continents, recalls races along The Great Wall of China, in Antarctica and the original marathon in Greece as highlights.
“I usually choose a base or location to try to incorporate travel, which I love,” she said. “In April I'm going to London and in September, Berlin. I hope to do the six major marathons with Abbott World Marathon Majors and am hoping next year to go to Tokyo.
“So I have all these little goals, 50 states, seven continents, world marathons and then other fascinating cities, as long as God keeps me healthy.”