AMR Love Week: Pam Wakeman


One badass mother runner if I've ever known one.
The definition of a badass mother runner--even if the final "r" is missing. (I'd been saving this visor because of its defect, which I kind of loved, but knew Pam was the perfect recipient.)


Revisiting this post from February 2014 during Kara Goucher week since we just ran into Pam–and a bunch of other inspiring #motherrunners—last night; read through her (amazing) story, and then read the update at the very bottom. Love that running—and this community–brings us BRFs exactly when we need them. 


Call me a cynic, but it seems like the holidays are more about the finding and buying the things that represents the holiday, rather than celebrating the feelings of the holiday. (I mean, when Cadburry eggs are on the endcaps of the Valentine's Day display at Target, how can you not feel cynical?) So we wanted to devote this week—which, we realize, is devoted to a holiday that exists only for commercial gain—to AMR Love. We're going to tell a handful of stories about mother runners who need a boost; in return, we hope you send them positive vibes, inspiration, rah-rahs, spirit, compassion, and flat-out XOXOs. Although there will be opportunities to donate to special charities, that certainly isn't necessary or expected. 

July 2013: I give a talk at Training Peaks—10 Truths for Mother Runners—and while I have a robust audience via the Internet, there are only two people in the Boulder office watching me. One of them is Pam Adams, who I had the pleasure of running before the talk; she is preparing for Ironman Tahoe, and during our 30 minute run, we talk about her upcoming race, how she started running at age 40, and her recent move to Colorado from Ohio. During my talk with more "ums" than I care to admit, I am so grateful for her smling, interested face, and we become Facebook friends.

Pam slaying yet another hill in Tahoe. (Note the layer tied around her waist: she was layered up for the cold race.)
Pam slaying yet another hill in Tahoe.

Setpember 2013: Pam takes on IM Tahoe, her first race of that distance. The day before the race, as she was out scouting the bike course from her car, it was snowing. Hard. "I wondered if they would cancel," she says with a laugh, "I kind of was hoping they would." It rains all night, and that morning, the race is on. The steam coming off the lake makes it impossible to sight during the 2.4-mile swim; the chilly, 112-mile  bike ride takes more effort than she anticipates; so when she gets to 26.2-mile run, the sun is going down, making the "high" temps nosedive. "At the turn around point, I thought finishing the race was unfathomable," she says, "I didn't think I could do it." Thanks to a friend who jumps in to help her, she crosss the line in 16 hours, 44 minutes—16 minutes shy of the cut-off time. "My finish line picture is terrible," she says, "I was crying and have my hands over my face."

December 1, 2013: Pam runs a local 5K—her first race since Tahoe—and then heads to her basement's storage space, which requires a ladder to access; she's hosting her running club's holiday party next weekend, and wants to have her house be festive. As she's descending the ladder with a metal tree, the ladder slips and the "trunk" of the tree—a 3-foot iron spike—shoots through her chest on the left side, intersects her superior vena cava (a majory cardiac vein), and comes out her right side.

Her oldest child of three, Jack, 16, calls 911, and while they're waiting for the ambulance, their neighbor, a pediatrician, comes by to soothe Pam and hopefully keep her from going into shock. "'Lisa, am I going to die?' I asked her," she recounts, "Because I want to say goodbye to my kids." Despite knowing how dire the situation is, Lisa reassures her she's going to be fine.

Her surgeon's hand next to the pieces of the metal tree they cut off before operating.
Her surgeon's hand next to the pieces of the metal tree they cut off before operating.

After using dremel saw to cut off the visible parts of the tree so Pam could be loaded into a CAT scan, surgeons set off on a five-hour complicated, innovative surgery to remove the rest of it. Her superb physical fitness is a real factor in her survival. "My heart kept beating as they removed the spear," she says, "The doctors were amazed at that."

Despite getting through the surgery, Pam isn't in the clear. Her spear situation is hopeful, but she's allergic to the blood thinners she is given, and develops life-threatening blood clots in her lungs, among other complications.

pam hospital bed
How Pam spent her 2013 holiday season.

December 11, 2013: Pam moves to a post-op floor, which is a great sign—especially because it's her birthday—but she suffers a collapsed lung and her usually bright spirit is far from it. She isn't sleeping well (or at all, really), and although the delusions she experienced in the ICU were on their way out, reconciling where she was three months ago, and where she is now, during the holidays, is ridiculously hard. Her husband, Doug, brings her IM medal to hang from her IV. "Nobody who came into my room let me forget I am an Ironman," she tells me.

"All the time I was training for Ironman Tahoe, I thought I was training for a race," she says, "Ultimately, I was training for this."
"All the time I was training for Ironman Tahoe, I thought I was training for a race," she says, "Ultimately, I was training for this."

December 23, 2013: "I knew I turned a corner on the Monday before Christmas," she remembers, "I finally felt like everything was going to be ok." Her bloodwork still isn't at the level it needs to be for her to be released, but only three weeks after she nearly speared herself to death, she's feeling like she's got some rumble remaining in her. "All the time I was training for Ironman Tahoe, I thought I was training for a race," she says, "Ultimately, I was training for this."

December 24, 2013: After fighting hard for her release, Pam is allowed to go home for Christmas. ("My doctor was going to the Bahamas," she says, "I was like, 'You get to go to a beach, and you're going to leave me here in this bed?'")

February 4, 2014: A week after she is cleared to run, Pam and I sit down for coffee. She tells me she was walking on the treadmill in January, and I think my face must have given away my disbelief: so soon? "If I don't do it now," she says, "I'm afraid I'll never get back to the way it was."

A charity run for Pam, put on by her Ohio pals.
A charity run for Pam, put on by her Ohio pals.

I listen to her whole story, not sure whether to cry or laugh; she has a dry, awesome sense of  humor. Most of all, I love her thoughts on community. "We moved here because I wanted to be outside and to train; I kind of wanted to live in a bubble. Then this happened, and I couldn't believe how people pulled together, both locally and across the country, from different times in my life. Everybody I ever met, but haven't seen for years seems to have reached out to me and told me how they felt about me," she says, "I didn't know I had that kind of support."

Yep. We agree.
Yep. We agree.

She's dressed to go to the gym, and I ask her what's up for her next. "I want to run the Bolder Boulder in May, and maybe a marathon in the fall," she says. Again, I have no poker face. Thinking about 26.2 after barely getting out of the ICU? "I can't not do something," she tells me, no hint of hesitation in her voice, "There has to be a strong ending to this story."

September 10, 2018: Pam shows up at the Kara Goucher podcast party, and reintroduces herself to me after the podcast. She's moved to Longmont, and hasn't been running much. "3.5 miles is my longest run," she tells me almost apologetically. No wonder: she has three kids (two in college nearby), is now a single mom, and now lives in Longmont, a newer town for her. Plus, she's got a full time, demanding job at a software tech company.

The speed bumps of life, as we all know too well, can get in the way of the best intentions.

But she's got news to share. "I just randomly met a new running friend tonight," she says, "I'm meeting her at 5:50 am tomorrow morning. I know she'll be waiting for me."

50 responses to “AMR Love Week: Pam Wakeman

  1. Love the Ironman Medal on the IV cart. What an inspiration you are and so glad you’ve met a new running friend. You never know who you are inspiring. Way to go Pam!

  2. I remember Pam’s story and this recap is truly inspiring. This story reminds me that we can do hard things. So happy she is well and happy with a new running friend.

  3. You are amazing and brought me to tears at 6am……. life is full of so many seasons and I hope your new running friend brings much light. Thanks for making us all stop for a minute to be thankful for where we are. You are the best.

  4. oh my gosh!!! we never think about how being healthy and active can help us when something like this happens…..I am so glad to hear Pam is well and thanks for the reminder!

  5. The picture of the finisher medal around the IV stand did me in! Keep fighting Pam! We are running the Bolder Boulder – can’t wait to see you there and cheer you on!!!!

  6. Tammie! Yes, I hit the jackpot getting that surgeon, don’t you think? Still boggles the mind that a week before my accident I was riding the trail and came across this hospital in the middle of open space and a week later I was there in a bed!

  7. The word inspiring in relation to this story is tantamount to calling the Ironman a stroll. You just knocked my inner and outer wimps into the shame corner. If you can come back from that trauma, I can finally tackle that 5k (I’m scared to come in last). Thank you for sharing this story. I bow in the long shadow of your greatness 🙂

  8. Wow, what an incredible story! You have an amazing spirit, Pam, one I know will carry you through the rest of this journey with flying colors. Rock on, Iron woman!

  9. Definitely sending some love your way. I’m training for my first Ironman this year, and your story has certainly given me a new perspective. What an amazing, strong woman!

  10. Pam you are amazing! Through the tears and then into inspiration, you’re story is moving in many ways, sending you love and hugs! Hope to see you at the BB, I’ll bring extra cowbell for you, good luck!

  11. Wow! Was not expecting a story like this! Amazing strength. And I love what she says, “there has to be a strong ending to this story.”

  12. Awesome story! Here is a great big hug Pam from another beginner that is over 40! You and your story give me great inspiration. You are badass indeed!

  13. This brought tears to my eyes. Pam, you are a true inspiration. I loved that your husband brought in your IronMother Medal to place in full view to remind you what a fighter you are.

  14. O gosh, I almost deleted this email before reading it. I cannot believe her amazing story! What a book this would make. Pam, you are incredible! I can’t wait for an update on you and your next Ironman!!!

  15. I’m not sure there are words to describe the awe I am in over this woman and her story right now. Just…wow. And she’s a cutie patootie to boot! 😉 Thanks for allowing your story to be shared as an inspiration to the rest of us.

  16. I don’t have enough (or the right) words to express how wonderful and amazing and inspirational this story is. Thank you so much for sharing it with us!!!

  17. One of the things I love about this Mother Runner tribe is the support and love.

    Thank you for sharing your story. Remember on those days when the struggle is a
    Challenge that you have a community of women who are behind you, loving on you, as only this community can!

  18. I got tears in my eyes reading your quote about how you thought you were training for a race, but ultimately, you were training for this. You are awesome!

  19. Wow! I am moved to tears. You are most certainly the Ultimate IronMother! Thank you for sharing this story. We all can run a little stronger knowing or not knowing what we are capable of or what is in store for us. XOXOXOXO

  20. O-M-G…that is all I got after reading this. What a woman Pam is. What she has not only taught her children (and all of us) but also lived it out for them. What a strong lady. I sat here and cried through the whole thing. Blessed to know the running community is so very strong! We runners are a different breed! There is certainly a different fire in our bellies!

    Thank you for sharing this story!

  21. Holy Mother Runner of Mercy! Pam, you are remarkable. As I face minor set backs in my training and life I sure hope I can think back on your story and remember how to keep moving forward. Thank you for sharing with us. Great write up, Dimity!

  22. Sending warm wishes your way for Valentine’s Day whether you’re walking on your treadmill, running outside or taking a nap.

  23. Pam, you don’t know me, but I know you. I work in the OR where you had surgery. I wasn’t in the room for your operation, but I know the people who were. We marveled at your story of survival and I never knew you were an IronMan Mother. You define badass for sure. I hope to see you at Bolder Boulder (there will only be 10,000 other people there), so that I can give you a hug and see “the woman who lived!” You are amazing!

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