💥Trail Gangsta of the Month (Aug '21): Diane Dawson Immethun, Third Grade Teacher & Cancer Survivor 💥

Name: Diane Dawson Immethun

Age: 59

Hometown: Flagstaf, Arizona

Current Residence: Flagstaff

Occupation: Third Grade Teacher


1. How did you first get into running/trail running?

When I was a youngster, my dad started taking me for weekend backpacking trips in the Grand Canyon or playing in the Red Rock country of Sedona. Wherever we went, I always tried to be the first back to the Rim or to the car.

Being of shorter legs than my dad, I had to run to win. I don’t think I thought the effort was difficult – lots of joy in being fleet-footed in the dirt, winning the race, and feeling strong. It stuck! I still love a Canyon run, but I mostly take to the mountain trails to get my miles.

2. You’re a 3rd grade teacher. Do you see any parallels between training for a race and teaching a classroom of youngsters?

I teach my students the principles of grit, confidence, perseverance, and joy. That’s a lot to take in when you’re 8, but when learning becomes challenging, I see them dig in, do the work, and celebrate the rewards of accomplishment.

Every day that I run, I seek to fulfill those principles. Whether learning a new skill or training, we all need to stick with the hard stuff, know we can do it, and celebrate all the things - BIG or small.

3. You "won" a trip to Everest Basecamp?! Tell us more!

First off, my students were the catalyst behind my going to Everest Basecamp. We’d been watching a team attempting to be the first climbers to summit K2 in winter and we were hooked by the tenacity of the mountaineers. I entered a drawing to try and win a trip to EBC with one of those climbers, Dr. Jon Kedrowski. I didn’t win the raffle, but the kids encouraged me to try and get a discount and go anyway. It worked! We were all surprised. I had one month to prepare. Eek!

Being among those giant mountains was profound. I frequently had tears brimming because of the immensity and beauty of it all. The Sherpas, Lhakpa and Gelje, Jon, and my fellow trekkers were among the kindest, silliest, and encouraging humans I’ve ever come across. Every day was a heart-filling, soul-lifting, mind-altering, experience. It was a challenge for sure. My legs were strong, my mind was strong, but elevation is no joke. Once we got over 15,000 feet, I moved like a slug. My teammates and I called it the Di-Di-shuffle. Despite grit and strength, my body didn’t acclimatize too well. I made it within a half-mile of camp and had to turn around. I have rarely backed away from a challenge, but I had to.

Given a more leisurely pace, or time to train at altitude, I might have made it, so I have considered a repeat somewhere down the road – but NOT TO THE TOP of the world. I’ll leave that to the experts!! I did let loose on the downhill and ran a little at 15,000 just so I could say I ran in the Himalayas. Ha! Ha! (-:

4. You’re a cancer survivor. What advice would you give to those currently battling cancer or who have a family member with cancer?

Cancer is one of those life-circumstances that can stop you in your tracks or not. Each person’s body, mind, spirit, and family go through their own unique roadmap. However, I believe this advice is applicable to most - Pay attention to YOU. Listen to the doctor and have another person with you to help remember and translate medical advice. Get massages. A lot. Let people help, but equally know when to say no thanks if you feel frayed or need your space. Get outside daily and take a slow walk if that’s the best you can do. If you feel fear, speak up. There are so many resources for you or your family as you write your own survival story.

5. How did you start/return to running after recovering from cancer radiation and continuing to take harsh medications?

The five years of medication made my joints ache, and I was ridiculously fatigued, so it took a long time to start running full-time again. One thing I wouldn’t let go of was my Legacy Standing at the Soulstice Mountain Run. I had to skip one year but still went to the race and volunteered at the upper water station. I managed to walk-run four Soulstices before I really got back to running more regularly.

Going back to the Grand Canyon helped me realize I wasn’t broken – just healing. In April 2020, I joined up with a Calendar Club Team – run a mile on April 1, 2 miles on April 2, 3 miles… You get the picture. Because of Calendar Club, I ran my first ultra – alone (Covid lockdown). Then, finally, I felt like I’d made the corner back from cancer.

6. What’s your favorite race and/or running memory?

As a Girls on the Run coach or team liaison, the celebratory 5K is literally one of the most satisfying events. Just thinking about the girls crossing that finish line brings a big fat smile to face. However, Soulstice is my favorite race. I love the community of runners, the trails, the fact that it benefits Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northern Arizona, and the race director, Neil Weintraub who always encourages me to get out there.

Being that I’m not a competitive runner, my best racing memories are placing twice in the Soulstice long course race and not even being aware until my name was called. :)

7. What events/adventures do you have planned next?

The Flagstaff Summer Racing Series is my focus for now; Machine Solutions 10K, Dave McKay half marathon, Gaspin in the Aspen 15K, Flagstaff Half Marathon, and of course, Soulstice. Now that the weather is shifting, it’s time to get my monthly Grand Canyon adventures underway.

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