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Father, daughter dentists complete goal of 50 marathons in 50 states

August 24, 2018

By David Burger

Photo of Drs. Yoneii and Sturdivant at the race
The end: Drs. Jerry Yoneji (left) and Heather Sturdivant celebrate the completion of their quest to run 50 marathons in 50 states at the finish line of the Mayor's Midnight Sun Marathon in Anchorage, Alaska, in June.
Dr. Heather Sturdivant and her father, retired dentist Dr. Jerry Yoneji, faced challenges when running marathons together.

It wasn't shin splints, or broken blisters, or anything like that.

The biggest challenge, Dr. Sturdivant said, was linking the states together, so that they could do as many back-to-back as possible.

"Once we did New Hampshire and Maine on Saturday and Sunday, and then the next weekend we completed Connecticut and Rhode Island," said Dr. Sturdivant, who practices dentistry in Littleton, Colorado.

The duo had been trying to complete a marathon in each of the 50 states, and in June, the two completed the arduous quest, running and completing the Mayor's Midnight Sun Marathon in Anchorage, Alaska.

All told, the 50 marathons covered more than 1,310 miles.

"I am actually sad that it is over," Dr. Sturdivant said. "I really enjoyed spending the time with my dad and seeing the United States."

Dr. Yoneji practiced in Great Falls, Montana, until retiring in 2015. He said he ran a marathon for the first time in 1992, and once his daughter began running cross-country and track in high school and continued through dental school, he started thinking about the quest.

He had already been an adventurous marathoner.

"My wife saw an article about a marathon in China on the Great Wall," Dr. Yoneji said. "We signed up, but because of the SARS epidemic we elected to go to run the Vienna City Marathon instead. We did go to China and complete The Great Wall Marathon in 2004. We then learned of runners trying to complete marathons on all seven continents so I said, 'Why not?'"

Photo of Drs. Yoneii and Sturdivant crossing the finish line
Togetherness: Drs. Jerry Yoneji (left) and Heather Sturdivant cross the finish line at the Leadville Trail Marathon in Colorado in 2013.
In 2005, Dr. Sturdivant and her sister Julie joined Dr. Yoneji and his wife Jenny in Tanzania and ran the Kilimanjaro Marathon, and it was the first marathon for those three.  

While Dr. Sturdivant was in dental school, Dr. Yoneji completed running marathons on all seven continents in 2008. "I was looking for another challenge and running in all 50 states sounded like a good idea," he said. "Being able to travel to all the states and actually run 26 miles in each, you really get to see some interesting and beautiful things."

Dr. Sturdivant jumped at the idea. "It is a great way to see each other more often," she said. "It sounded like a fun goal and something that we could do together."

Over the years, the families would gear vacations around marathon destinations. "Luckily our families were on board with our pursuit," Dr. Yoneji said. "I think the most marathons we ran in a year was 10."

Most of the time the two try and stay together unless they think that Dr. Sturdivant has the opportunity to place in the top three in the women's division. "Heather is much faster than I," the father said. "The standing agreement was she could run her own race if she wanted to. A couple of times about a mile into the race I would see Heather reach into her pouch for her head phones, and I knew she would soon take off. She ended up winning races in Georgia, Missouri and Iowa as well as placing in several others."

Being side by side was what they savored the most. "During all of this we have seen each at our best and worst and have been able to help each other through some hard spots in some races," Dr. Yoneji said. "The time together has been truly special."

Dr. Yoneji doesn't have any immediate plans for another quest, but his daughter does. She has two continents to go to complete a marathon in each one: Asia and Antarctica.

Like father, like daughter.