Friday, March 28, 2014
Scholar Spotlight: Beyond the Finish Line with Darlene Palmer
A GSBA Scholar since 2010, we’ve seen Darlene Palmer overcome many obstacles. As a single-mother working to make ends meet while working towards her degree and facing numerous health challenges, Darlene has successfully managed to it all with grace and perseverance. Beyond perseverance, comes inspiration and drive. Darlene has spent the last year proving that she is strong, passionate and as fiery as they come.
Let’s go back to March 2011. Darlene had already received her first GSBA Scholarship and was doing well at Spokane Falls Community College. However, she soon found herself in an unthinkable position. Darlene had to undergo a complete knee reconstruction, which left her unable to walk for over 2 months. Determined to continue her education, she made it to Seattle for her scholarship interview in a wheelchair. Fortunately for Darlene, she was awarded a second GSBA Scholarship and began the process of rehabilitation. Finally after two long months of grueling physical therapy, she took her first steps. The pain she felt was excruciating, but she knew she needed to relearn to walk. She said, “I wanted to walk. I NEEDED to walk. I knew running would not be something I could try for at least 6 months, and really, I was perfectly fine with that. I just wanted to be functional again. I wanted to walk, step off a curb, climb stairs, stand in the shower, and be fully functional on my own.”
And that she did. Darlene stepped off that curb and walked, and walked, and walked… In fact, she’s addicted to walking. What started as 5Ks quickly turned into half marathons. Fast-forward to September 2013. On a whim, and with encouragement from her best friend, she signed up for her first half-marathon with only weeks to train. She knows it sounds crazy, she didn’t even have proper shoes but she did it, in Keen sandals. She walked. 13.1 miles and each step was a victory worth celebrating.
She continued to walk. Just 3 months after her first half and surgery to remove her gallbladder, she not only completed the Seattle Half Marathon in December, but also shaved an hour off of her previous time. The pride she felt was overwhelming. Through the pain of blisters, she pushed through and received her second half-marathon medal.
All this walking had her thinking about her upcoming birthday. She knew what she had to do—a third half-marathon. Darlene thought what a better way to celebrate her birthday than by signing up for the Phoenix Half Marathon. As she prepared for this race, just as in the times before she faced an obstacle. This time it was kidney stones. Again she endured pain and a hospital stay, but remained focused.
This race was different. For her, as a Hispanic, lesbian woman, it was political. Arizona has been known to have tough immigration laws and a government that nearly passed a legal LGBT discrimination bill. So as Darlene prepared for her birthday race, she declared, “I will do it as a minority in a state who can racially profile me and demand I prove my citizenship status. I will do it for people who are not able to walk out their door and feel safe from discrimination. I will do it without hiding any part of who I am, as that is what makes me great!”
And by now you know how the story goes. Darlene crushed the Phoenix Half Marathon and did so while wearing the Rainbow Flag. She said, “I will not be put back in the closet, but I will walk out and proud for all those in Arizona and elsewhere who were not able to be out.”
Darlene has set and exceeded her goals each time. She has already signed up for her next half and has big plans to continue on her path of physical fitness. Darlene is studying Human Development at Washington State University and will graduate with her bachelor’s degree in May 2015. In addition to school, she works as an in-home caretaker for those with dementia and Alzheimer’s and stays busy raising her 11-year old daughter and 9-year old stepdaughter.
To follow continue on this walking journey with Darlene, you can visit her blog of inspiration at http://halfmarathondar.blogspot.com/