Pasadena Community Services Officer Overcomes Brain, Heart Surgeries, Runs in 51 Marathons

Published : Thursday, March 14, 2019 | 4:54 AM

Sarah Presley runs her first marathon, at left, in 2005. At center, Presley first ran in the Los Angeles Marathon in 2015. Right, Presley seen in the Marines Run, 2017. Courtesy photos

Sarah Presley is on the way to completing her lofty goal of running 51 marathons across the United States. But for Presley, a brain aneurysm and heart operation survivor, the marathons are not just for fun. For Presley, the races are salvation.

Presley, 35, who is a Community Services Officer for the Pasadena Police, has had a remarkable comeback from a near-death experience. In 2012, she suffered a life-crippling brain aneurysm and was rushed into emergency surgery. While in the hospital she was diagnosed with a genetic heart ailment called aortic coarctation.

But two surgeries later, she now has one thing on her mind: Running a marathon in each of the 50 states and Washington, D.C.  So far, she’s got 16 states plus D.C. under her belt. And she will be among the proud runners in the Los Angeles Marathon next week, but the race doesn’t count towards her 50-state goal because she already completed a California race before the incident, as she put it, in which her “head exploded.”

“Shortly after my head explosion as well as heart surgery, at first my emotions were up and down,” Presley said. “At first it was OK, I had a game plan. The next moment I was in a ball crying. I found that returning to running and planning races, it didn’t just help me heal physically but also helped me heal emotionally and mentally.

“I’m the type who I always need something to be looking forward to,” Presley said. “I’m a very goal driven person. I went from, back in 2005, not being a runner whatsoever to ‘I’m gonna run a marathon.’ And then halfway through training on my second marathon I decided ‘I’m going to run a full marathon in every state.’”

Her very first Marathon was the San Diego Rock N Roll Marathon in 2005. How many states does Presley have so far?

“Not too many,” she said. “I have 16 states plus D.C. The goal is 50 states plus DC., so 51 marathons.”

But while 16 marathons sounds challenging, none of the races were as difficult as her first steps after surgery.

“They told me ‘We can either get you a bedpan or you can call a nurse for help to come use the restroom it’s up to you but you’re gonna get better faster if you get up and use the restroom,’” Presley recalled. “At the time simply crossing the room to go to the bathroom was like running a marathon. But by telling me I’m going to get better faster by doing that, for me, those were the magic words.”

“Initially it was really hard,” Presley said. “My entire body did not want to move. My head was swimming. But by crossing to the restroom was I felt a sense of victory. Each time it got easier.”

Then there was the stair-climbing, which she practiced with her physical therapist before tackling the three flights to her own apartment. But within weeks, she mastered that too.

The running isn’t something new for Presley. She had nine marathons to her credit before the brain aneurysm. So naturally it is a passionate hobby to which she was happy to return.

At the LA Marathon next week, Presley will be meeting up with another brain aneurysm survivor Kathy Nguyen, who is originally from West Covina and now lives in Delaware. For Nguyen, the LA Marathon is something to conquer because when she was recuperating from her own brain surgery in 2015, it was during the time of the LA Marathon. That’s when she, too, decided to run the race.

In the meantime, Presley said her experience has taught her many things.

“My big thing is never stop pushing forward wherever you’re at,” she said. “When I was in the hospital the hardest thing was to use the restroom. Once I was home the hardest thing was to walk down the stairs and out to the mailbox. That would wipe me out. Wherever you’re at, find a way to push yourself to move forward and never look back.”

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