CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. - Last April, more than 5,600 athletes ran the Boston Marathon unaware that two bombs would detonate, killing three people and injuring more than 260 others – some so severely that they would never run again.
For many, that experience would convince them to never run a marathon again, but not for Navy Lt. Traci Vander Molen, Emergency Trauma Nurse, 1st Marine Logistics Group Headquarters. This tragic event evoked such emotion in her that it became the driving force behind her decision to take part in the 26.2-mile trek.
“When people do things like that bombing, it makes me angry. It makes me want to run harder and faster,” said the 31-year old Orange City, Iowa, native. “It’s about us persevering and not letting horrible acts like that, that are meant to terrorize us, cause us to shy away from [something we love].”
While serving aboard the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit at the time of the bombing, Traci was already training for her second marathon in South Dakota that she runs with her sister, Tonya Vander Molen. Tonya spoke with her sister shortly after the bombing and planted the seed in Traci’s mind to participate in this year’s Boston Marathon.
“When the bombing happened, my younger sister challenged me to not only qualify, but to go and run it,” recalled Traci. “Once she said that, it was on.”
Tonya, felt it was important for her sister to be able to say she ran the Boston Marathon the year after the bombing. Being very competitive she knew Traci wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to pay tribute to the city of Boston, the marathon organizers and participants, and all the supporters.
“She's extremely dedicated and she's been training since she qualified in June. She's also very competitive, so I think being surrounded by so many talented runners will make her move a lot faster, said Tonya, who has always admired her sister’s abilities. “I'm so proud. I'm taking off work on Monday morning to have a little viewing party of the live coverage. She's been running since we were little kids, and Boston is kind of the ultimate goal for amateur runners. When else can a nurse run against Olympians?”
Throughout her deployment, Traci continued to run almost daily in preparation for her qualifying marathon. She dedicated all of her down time on the boat to training, eventually pushing herself past her own expectations.
“When I crossed the finish line and saw my time, I was very surprised that I actually qualified,” said Traci. “It was very hard. It really does take a lot of work.”
Traci came in at 3:31:00, beating the required 1:35:00-run time for her age group to qualify for the Boston Marathon.
It may seem like this petite, fit woman has the natural ability to run at that kind of pace, but years of persistent practice have turned her into the runner she is today. This sport turned passion long before she joined the military. Throughout high school, she found peace in running cross country.
“There was just something extra special about going out and logging all those miles. It was nice to run out in the countryside of Iowa,” said Traci. “There’s just something very freeing about running like that.”
It wasn’t long after she began cross country that her true talent for running long distance became evident. She attributes a lot of her success to coming from a very active family.
“Doing well in cross country was always important to her,” said Ken Vander Molen, her father. “She’d get in the car and we’d take her 10 miles outside of town in the Iowa farmland and just dump her on the side of the road, and she would run all the way home.”
Whenever Ken would attend his daughter’s cross country meets, he would always yell to her “fortes fortuna adiuvat,” during the race, which in Latin, translates to “fortune favors the bold.” These words of encouragement always helped Traci during her races and he hopes they will serve as motivation during the Boston Marathon.
“She gives anything she does 110 percent,” said Ken. “She’s a tough kid. I can’t wait to see how she does. She’s going to make herself proud – I’m already proud of her.”
Now, less than a week out from race day, Traci is still pounding pavement to prepare, and with every step, she is determined to demonstrate her personal perseverance alongside her fellow runners.
“I think the day of the marathon it’s going to be almost a celebration of how people get through something like [the bombing],” she said. “It fuels our fire and our drive to run.”