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Episode 68: Herriman High Teacher Shares Incredible Story of Defying the Odds

Jessi Morton-Langehaug is a passionate educator, athlete, ultra-marathon runner, and parent.

On this episode of the Supercast, the Herriman High School teacher talks about inspiring students by sharing her personal story. Jessi went undiagnosed with Lyme disease for ten years and was told she would never run or compete in another ultra-marathon again because her body was too damaged.

Hear how Jessi defied the odds, not only competing again but recently winning the Moab 240 with the 4th fastest time in history.

Jessi’s story is one of hope and inspiration as we begin the new year.


Audio Transcription

Superintendent:
Hello, and welcome to the Supercast. I'm your host, Superintendent Anthony Godfrey. Jessi Morton-Langehaug is a passionate educator, athlete, ultra-marathon runner and parent. On this episode of the Supercast, the Herriman High School teacher talks about inspiring students by sharing her personal story with them. Jesse went undiagnosed with Lyme disease for 10 years and was told she would never run or compete again because her body was too damaged. Hear how Jesse defied the odds, not only competing again but recently winning the Moab 240. That's right, 240 miles with the fourth-fastest time in history. Jesse's story is one of hope and inspiration as we begin the new year. Jesse, I'm just going to ask you to kind of list off some of the amazing things that you're up to. Let's start with teaching.

Jessi:
I teach chemistry, AP chemistry, honors chemistry, regular chemistry, and yoga at Herriman High School. And a hobby is I love to run. I like ultra-marathon the most, but I've run the Boston Marathon three times. I've done Chicago. I've done New York. I ran my first marathon four months after my daughter was born. She's now six and a half. And I've just kept going further and further since then and just finished a Moab240 three weeks ago.

Superintendent:
Yeah. This is a long list of accomplishments in a very short amount of time, but I'm going to start with chemistry and yoga. That is perhaps a combination I'm going to use in the future. When I'm talking about difficult teachers to replace, it used to be French and math as the combination, but I think chemistry and yoga is going to take over as the new example of a difficult position to replace. Why chemistry and yoga?

Jessi:
Well, chemistry because really, chemistry is the fundamental science of everything. So like biology, if you break it all down, it all has to do with chemistry. And then yoga, it's just become a passion of mine. I started practicing yoga and then went to yoga teacher training and then spent three years in India and in three summers, my students actually were the ones that knew that I had gone to India. I would talk about meditation with them and things like that. And they asked me to bring yoga to Jordan School District. They said if we would go around to get enough signatures, will you write the program or get it to Jordan School District or get it to the high school catalog to teach here? And so I said yes, go get signatures. We'll see what I can do. So they did. I went to the District and presented yoga and they got it on the catalog and now we have yoga. So, I'm kind of a "Jack of all trades".

Superintendent:
Well, that's very impressive. And it's exciting that the students were the ones that were behind adding yoga to your schedule.

Jessi:
Yeah. I give them the credit. Absolutely.

Superintendent:
Well, you've had a wide variety of experiences and like I said, a wide range of expertise. I want to talk a little bit about the running nap. You said that you started just after your daughter was born, just a few months after. So you've been running for about six years. Is that right?

Jessi:
Well, I ran cross-country in high school. But then I got Lyme Disease and it wreaked havoc on my system. So I stopped running for a lot of years. Then I would do like little runs here and there. I got more into cycling. It was easier on my joints. I got more into yoga because it was a lot gentler on my body. Then I kinda was always told I wouldn't be able to have children and so when I was pregnant and I had my daughter, I started running. I got up to 10 miles and I thought, if I could do 10 miles, I just think I'm going to do a marathon. If I can have a child, I can run a marathon.

And the Boston Marathon bombing also happened during that time. And it like ignited something in me. I'd never wanted to run a marathon before that. This sort of runner in me, like runners united just created this emotional thing inside of me that made me want to run the Boston Marathon. And so I started. I was running with my daughter, when I was pregnant and then she was born in January and I ran my first one. I believe it was like June 14th.

Superintendent:
Okay. Again, you just jam packed a whole bunch of things into that short little conversation, because most people, in my experience, me included, don't say I just reached this 10 mile goal. If I can do that, I can for sure do more than double that. And I can for sure do it after I just had a child, but no one thought that I could have and overcoming Lyme disease. I mean, there's a lot of things that you've overcome in your life. Many people probably don't understand Lyme disease. And I understand that years went undiagnosed for a long time. So can you just tell me about that obstacle first?

Jessi:
Sure. Um, so it went undiagnosed for probably about 10 years. And I never had a bite. I just started to have a lot of digestive issues, the weight loss, the arthritic pains, the chattering in the mind, the constant headaches. It kind of felt like I was hit by a truck all the time. And it was just a struggle just to go from A to B. And then I got to the point where I was kind of feeling like this isn't living. I didn't feel good. I felt like I didn't want to go on. And that's when I found yoga and yoga brought me to India and their approach was different. Their approach was, you spent so many years breaking down, breaking down, breaking down, trying to kill all of this.Now we need to build your system back up. So there were herbs and treatments to open up the energy channels in the body, replace it with herbs to build the systems, rebuild the organs, get you strong again.

Superintendent:
So tell us about coming back to running after all of that.

Jessi:
Running has always been what I love. So even in high school, I was top of the Cross Country team and I started running in middle school and it's just always been a stress relief. It's mental happiness. It's my love, running is my level of self. And before I was diagnosed with Lyme's they said my body is so damaged, you'll never be able to run a marathon. I used to drive down the street and see people running and be so sad because that's all I wanted to do. So when I had my daughter and I started running and then when I ran my first marathon, my first marathon was a big joke. I was on par to get a bike and I just didn't take the electrolytes that I needed to. And I bonked really bad. I made it to the finish line, but it was not a pretty finish, but I learned a lot. And I know that this is going to come back.

Superintendent:
The technical term for hitting the wall.

Jessi:
Hitting the wall biking. Yeah. And I know it'll come back to this, but I am an educator and I am really real. At least I want to be with my students. And like I tell them all the time, don't be afraid of failure. Failure makes you better. And I learn way more from my failures than I ever did any of my successes.

Superintendent:
So true.

Jessi:
I learned so much from my first marathon because I realized, even though I'm a chemistry teacher, you know what you learn in a classroom, you don't necessarily take out of the classroom. And I knew about electrolytes, but for some reason I thinking, I'll get enough, I'll get an off on the course, so I didn't. And so, like that first marathon, I bumped it really bad. And that was my first marathon, over four hours. And then I learned a ton from it, you know? And then I went to Boston, I think the following year. From my first ultra marathon, my first hundred miler, I made some really, really, really big mistakes. And I went back the following year. So that same one shaved five hours off of my time and got third place, female.

Superintendent:
Five hours off your time?

Jessi:
I tell my students all the time, failure is good. You fail and you learn. So this last summer, I had some of my issues. My Lymes kind of came back. And in June, I almost hung up my racing shoes. I ran the Wasatch course on my own. I had some pacers and a wonderful crew, but it was just me because it was canceled this year. So I ran it anyway and I didn't throw up. I always throw up the last 33 miles of that race and I didn't throw up. It gave me the confidence that maybe Moab will go well. Moab was really, really hot this year. And I got behind on my hydration because I read the water chart wrong and I didn't have enough water. So I got behind and I started to get really sick on that first day.

Superintendent:
So you weren't in the race where you set a record. Is a record perhaps for you the only record that counts? But to me, fourth overall of all time, that's pretty freaking awesome.

Jessi:
Thank you. I got really sick that first day and I problem solved it and I didn't let it destroy my race. I said, I'm going to slow down. I'm going to walk. I'm going to try to get this under control. When I made it into my first crew station at mile 72, I wasn't going to sleep, but I slept for half an hour. And then I woke up and I threw up everything and I felt great. I didn't have any other issues for the rest of the race. I think what changed as I made that decision, I'm not going to keep pushing, I'm going to sleep for 30 minutes. I'm going to tell my body if you feel bad, I'm going to rest.

Superintendent:
So the thing that's remarkable to me as I listened to overcoming the illness and overcoming obstacles, even within the day. In a race is that you're always thinking about what does this obstacle mean? How can I solve it and how can I get around it and just keep moving? And I do think that's a great lesson for your students. You're the embodiment of just continuing to try, even when things don't go your way.

Jessi:
Oh, absolutely. 100 percent. I'm not a good teacher because I'm awesome in my content. I know my stuff, but I value relationships and I share a lot of my life experiences, especially with my yoga kids. I tell them if you become more flexible, awesome. If you become stronger, awesome. But what I really care about is that you have more tools in your toolbox for when life gets hard, because it will, and you can pull stuff from that. I want to teach them to learn, to have a relationship with themselves, to gain some mental strength because that's what's going to help when life gets tough.

Superintendent:
When you finish this race, you're running along at a 10 minute mile clip, is that correct?

Jessi:
There might have been some sections at the end that I was definitely pushing. I wasn't able to hold that pace for the whole race, obviously. But I was super impressed with how my body was able to continue to push some pretty fast miles when I came into the eighth station at 37 miles. They said, wow, good job. You're the first female. And I though, yeah, it's 37 miles in. There was a long race to go. I don't even tell me that at mile 200 miles. So the whole time I was thinking I don't want to know what place I'm in because I was doing my race and I told my crew that this is my race. There were definite lows, but I had a lot of fun and I know people that's crazy.

Superintendent:
Like how can you have fun running 240 miles?

Jessi:
I had a lot of fun. I was cracking jokes with my crew. I was like singing, belting out loud with my music. I had a lot of fun. I had some lows. I felt like crying at the very end. I felt like swearing a few times. There were some bad times, but I always knew that at the bottom of a low, there was always going to be a high because that's life. When I say ultra marathons are like life, and for anyone listening,  if you are in a really bad place or if life isn't going super well, it will get better. You know? So I just always knew that if I was in a really bad place that eventually it was going to turn around.

Superintendent:
Well, it's good advice. It's obvious that you have a lot of hope and just that you're able to say it's going to get better and you're able to see past that difficult time, which is something that we're all trying to do right now. And I do think that important component of not just saying it is going to get better, but also I have a hand in trying to do that and I need to think about a lot of different ways I can attack the problem. I just, I really admire that. And I'm so glad that your students are in your class and able to get that message.

Jessi:
Thank you.

Superintendent:
You also wrote a book? Tell us about the book that you wrote.

Jessi:
It was in my head for a while. When I run, it's kind of my meditation time, when I just sort of let thoughts flow.

Superintendent:
Do you run with a little notebook in your hand and a pencil?

Jessi:
I should run with a notebook and a pencil. I would sort of write in my head as I was running. I'm a pretty private person. or I used to be, especially in terms of my health. I didn't tell people that I had Lyme disease, just because I always kind of viewed or people would see me and think I was a weak individual. So I didn't ever tell people. I didn't want people to look at me differently. So writing took a lot of courage. I wasn't quite sure if I was ready to put it all out there. And then one day I just sat down at my laptop and I started writing. I would just write all day long. Chapter one, after the prologue, took so much out of me that I needed to go for a run, just to kind of get off of this table. I had felt like I had just run an ultra marathon. I was so tired because of all this stuff I had been holding onto for so long. I just put on paper. It was just like this heaviness, you know? I just kind of felt like I just kind of felt like it was time. And I always say, if I can help one person then I've done my job. I know that there's been a few of my students that have read it and they've reached out to me to say, I looked up to you before and now, but I just respect you and you've taught me a lot. I've had other people write to me and say that I've helped them.

Superintendent:
Obviously, you have some great accomplishments in your life, but there are a lot of great accomplishments to come. And I'm just thrilled that our students here at Herriman get to know you and get to know the attitude that you've brought to life.

Jessi:
Thank you.

Superintendent:
Thank you very much for spending time with us.  Thanks for joining us on the Supercast. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. And remember, education is the most important thing you'll do today. We'll see you out there.

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