This Goal-Getter Doesn’t Let ANYTHING Get in Her Way
While fleeing her home and neighborhood during the California wildfires last fall, Shelly Howe describes getting out of her family’s car as they were stuck in a bottleneck of evacuees. She wanted to run back and see her home and then return to their vehicle. She was a runner after all, and the cars were moving so slowly.
“I jump out to the corner and it’s totally engulfed in flames,” says the Santa Rosa resident of her house. “It looked like a rolling wave of fire going down the street.”
Luckily October 9, 2017, didn’t end in more devastation, and Shelly made it back with her husband and children and out of the area in time. She says the fire consumed 1,300 houses in one hour. “The fires picked up cars and threw them upside-down,” she says, describing the swath of fire that ran through her neighborhood of Coffey Park.
Thousands of homes were affected by the fire, and now Shelly’s is one of more than 1,200 that are empty lots. When she returned after the fire, she says the only things there were ash, bent metal and broken glass—plus a tiny patch of grass where the sprinkler was left on.
She wrote out her feelings from that day on Instagram, “Where do you start when you need to start from zero? We got out with only our lives and the clothes we have on. Our whole life, cars, home, everything gone to ash.”
The fire took with it more than just her possessions. “It’s not the things – it’s the process of accumulating them. Part of life is enjoying those things, and we don’t have that anymore.”
She didn’t run for three months afterward.
But come 2018, she knew she needed to get back to it. She had qualified for the Boston Marathon last year, and she wasn’t going to miss the race in April.
Shelly started running seven or eight years ago—she says she couldn’t even run around the block then. She decided to go all-in with both running and triathlon and at some point set a three-fold goal: finish 10 half marathons, qualify for and run the Boston Marathon and complete 3 full Ironmans. (Um, #wowza!)
After the fire, Shelly didn’t stop blazing toward these goals. She even found that her training brought some healing. But it wasn’t easy.
“You just get through it,” she says. “I just need some normalcy.”
Having already finished two Ironmans, Shelly says she had run marathons in those events, but she wasn’t running fast enough to qualify for Boston. Last year she focused more on running and upping her speed and punched her ticket to Boston at the Napa Valley Marathon in March.
She had been running six or seven days a week around Coffey Park. “When you train that much,” she says, “you know every neighbor and their schedules.”
She attempted to run this year in new places—away from her devastated neighborhood—but she says it was hard. “I had a hard time getting back to it. It was a lot of hours in my own head,” she says. She ran with some friends, but she wasn’t able to stick to a legit training schedule, so she decided to return to Coffey Park.
“Going back to Coffey Park helped,” she says. “It was more healing to me to go back to my burned-out neighborhood, park in front of my burned-out house and run from there. It was healthier to go back to what I knew.”
This March, Shelly finished her 10th half marathon. In April, she ran the Boston Marathon—dedicating the race to her Santa Rosa neighbors. Then in May—yes, you guessed it!—she finished her third full Ironman. She had signed up before the fire to do all three within eight weeks. #goalgetter!
She didn’t do this alone though. Not only does she celebrate the generosity and support within the running and triathlon communities—including Fellow Flowers—for rallying around her with a donated bike and all kinds of other gear. She says she especially appreciated everything that was broken in. “It gave things a little bit of a soul,” she says.
Shelly also has a new perspective on what an endurance event takes. She used to think it was mostly physical, but now she says it’s 80 percent mental. Clearly there’s a correlation to what it takes to rebuild after the fire.
She’s hopeful that her house will be rebuilt this year and she’ll be home by Christmas. Till then, she’ll continue to train, race and build fresh memories. Her 18th wedding anniversary is this month, and she and her husband are going to dress in wedding attire and take new photos.
On July fourth, she’ll return to the Kenwood Foot Race 10K, where she is in the habit of running a PR (personal record) and finishing fourth in her age group. “Fourth on the fourth!” This will be her sixth year. She also expects to do some trail running events and Olympic-distance triathlons this summer.
Thinking about completing this hard-core season so early in the year prompts Shelley to say, “Now there’s this weight lifted.”
Before the fire, Shelly would wear a turquoise flower for “bravery.” It’s not surprising that since then she’s switched to the silver lining flower for “hope.” Her Fellow Flowers connections have helped her through this difficult time in countless ways. Just as her perseverance and amazingly buoyant spirit inspires everyone around her.
She says, “This makes you realize how much we can all help each other.”
See the entire message behind the silver lining flower here.
Written by Nicki Miller / @nickiontherun