Abbie’s list: Battles against MS power Steamboat runner for 179 miles
June 5, 2017
Abbie Solberg finished her run May 29, but people interested can still donate, plus read her social media updates posted during her leg of the race at her Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/msruntheusabbiesolberg.
There was just one name on the list to start, and that first name was the one that inspired nearly everything Abbie Solberg did for the last six months — Tracie Stier-Johnson.
Solberg got to known Stier-Johnson via social media about 10 years ago, and it was Stier-Johnson's fight with multiple sclerosis that inspired Solberg to start a list in the first place and to take part in the MS Run in the US fundraiser, an 18-leg, coast-to-coast relay designed to raise money to aid MS research and build awareness of the disease.
"I watched her — a single mom of four, I watched her go from being just as active as I am to some days not being able to get out of bed," Solberg said.
So, she signed up to run.
The MS Run in the US starts in Los Angeles and stretches more than 3,000 miles to New York City. Solberg's section wasn't the longest, though it was on the longer side of the 18 legs — running from Steamboat Springs, up and over Rabbit Ears Pass, south along Colorado Highway 9 to Kremmling, and then through Silverthorne, ending in Denver.
Her 14,000 feet of climbing was the most for any segment of the event, and as she worked her way up the steepest sections through rain and, of course snow, she checked her list of those afflicted with MS to remind herself how she got there, running up a road in a spring snowstorm.
The list started with Stier-Johnson, but it grew quickly.
Solberg has been a runner since she moved to Steamboat Springs in 2001, initially with Steamboat Springs Running Series races, and eventually with bigger events. She got a step more serious in 2014 and ran the New York City Marathon, then quickly ran seven more in the next 18 months. Still, she'd never taken on anything quite like her leg of the MS Run.
She made the decision to participate late last year and began the process of raising the $10,000 donation required for each runner.
As she began to reach out to build that donation, she was stunned by how relevant her cause was to so many.
Co-workers donated in honor of parents who'd fought MS. Friends donated for siblings diagnosed with the disease.
Solberg's list swelled, from one to two to 10 to 20.
"I went from knowing one person to having all these personal stories, and it made me feel more connected to the cause as I went on," she said.
Her fundraising momentum slowed at about $5,000, so she got more aggressive. She began baking treats and sitting out all day in front of Steamboat grocery stores and Walmart, offering up the baked goods in exchange for donations.
Those who stopped usually went away with a cookie but left behind some money and a story, and frequently, another name.
She eclipsed $10,000 as the relay started in California in early April, and her list continued to grow.
She bought four pair of shoes for the journey from Backcountry.com. A customer service representative reached out after the order to make sure everything was going OK.
He asked what the equipment was for, and Solberg told him. Soon, he was crying on the phone. His sister-in-law had been diagnosed with MS. The whole family and the company became supporters.
They added a name — Victoria Garcia-Lastra Martorell.
Solberg added another the night before she left, when she got into a conversation at the grocery store on a last-minute food run. She met a man whose friend — Billy Clifford — suffered from MS.
The man was there to cheer as she started running the next day.
She added still one more, too, on the day she left, May 22. It was the same day as her son Finley's graduation from kindergarten, so Solberg called to check in with his teacher about the schedule for the ceremony, planning to leave as soon as it was over, change clothes and jump into the run.
The teacher's sister died from MS — Trish Welty.
Solberg trained by running 28 miles six days a week and 16 miles on her day off, all for sixth months, often on the treadmill starting at 4 a.m.
She started with one name, and by the time she actually started to put that training to use, she had 53.
And she leaned on them.
The road took some getting used to. Solberg would run every day, never far out of sight of members of her support team, who were driving a car for frequent check-ins and an RV for spending the night.
Run on one side of the road for too long and you almost start to lean that direction, Solberg said, as if one leg is suddenly shorter than the other. She compensated with tape, padding her shoe to even her stride.
She slogged through every kind of weather, both baking in the sun and post-holing up to her knees through fresh snow.
It caught up to her as she began the ascent up Loveland Pass, at 11,991 feet above sea level, the highest point of the entire relay's 3,000 miles.
"I was struggling, and I pulled out my list and thought, 'OK,' this is why I'm doing this. These are the people I'm doing this for," she said. "When I got to the top, I didn't know whether I should laugh or cry. I was doing both. I pulled out the list and thought, 'I brought these people with me.'"
She didn't stop adding, either.
Her crew pulled into an RV park in Kremmling. The owner had seen them on the road and inquired about their trip. His friend suffered from MS. He comped their stay and added a name — Michael Hart.
She stayed active on social media through the build-up to her run, then throughout it, as well, and continued to attract followers from around Steamboat, Colorado and even the world.
One woman from Denver contacted her as she ran. Her mother in law has MS — Pam Carlson.
Both showed up to meet Solberg after she reached Denver.
The father of another friend, wheelchair-bound by MS, was waiting in Denver's City Park when Solberg finally approached to end her seven-day quest.
"I got to the corner outside City Park, and just before crossing the street, I had a full-on ugly cry," she said. "It just hit me what all of it was really about."
It was about the people on a list.
"It changed my heart," she said. "I even had names even outside the U.S. It's amazing."
Solberg started preparing for the run with one name on her list.
She had 53 by the time she started running.
There were 73 by the time she finished.