It was mid-January and cross-country running coach Annie Ridgely was exhausted. She was pulling a sled from a waistbelt, her running slowed to a walk, the wind howled and she was bone-tired. Homeschooling her three children while keeping an eye on her toddler had forced her to start doing her 20-mile training runs in the middle of the pitch black nights.
Slow step after slow step, head bent in total discouragement, she said she asked herself the question that so many people ask themselves as they put in the relentless training hours required to perform well during an ultramarathon race.
“Why am I doing this? Why?” she asked herself.
Since the summer of 2017, Ridgely has been training to run the Homer Epic 100 kilometer race. After a good performance in the Willow Half-Marathon in mid-December, she started wondering what her limits truly were. With the encouragement and guidance from Bob Ostrum, an experienced ultramarathon competitor who has completed the Iditarod Trail Invitational, she began modifying her training to run the Susitna 100, a 100-mile ultramarathon for bikers, skiers and runners. Early Saturday morning, Feb. 17, Ridgely, 36, begins her race which will start and finish in Big Lake.
After that January training run, she said she “came to the realization” that one of her husband’s passions had become her own as she struggled to assign meaning to her extraordinary training effort. Her husband, Paul Ridgely, has felt passionate for a long time about promoting the sanctity of life. She decided to run the Susitna 100 mile as a fundraiser for an ultrasound machine for Homer’s Pregnancy Care Center — an ultra for an ultra. Suddenly, her training was filled with purpose, and others started lending support to her fundraising effort, she said. Ridgley he turned what could have been an isolating and solely personal event into one that is bringing a community together.
Homer’s Pregnancy Care center started in 1984, founded by a group of women in Homer as a Christian nonprofit organization. Currently under the leadership of Executive Director LaDonna Stephens and Toni Ross, chair of the board of directors, the organization is transitioning to a new name and will soon be called Water’s Edge. The new name reflects that the focus of the organization is on the entire family, not just those who are pregnant. There are six members on the board of directors and approximately 20 volunteers.
The center is not associated with any particular church. According to the mission statement, the purpose of the center is to “affirm and promote the sanctity of human life, the value of the family and Biblical sexuality in our community through the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
The center offers free pregnancy tests and parenting classes to help mentor new parents in all areas that they need help in, including budgeting and sleep training. Center staff want each person to feel they are not alone as they face all the uncertainties and fears that can accompany an unexpected pregnancy. Additionally, they offer abortion recovery, miscarriage and infant loss support.
The center also provides resources for help carrying and keeping a baby along with contacts for adoption agencies. Questions about the different kinds of abortions can be answered and concerns can be addressed, but the center does not refer for abortions.
Overarching the center’s service is “a desire to see every life valued from conception to natural death,” Ross said.
An ultrasound for the center is the ultimate goal, much as the finish line of a 100-mile winter ultramarathon is for Annie. To get to the stage where an ultrasound can be installed and offered as a service to pregnant women trying to decide their next step, the center has goals of building a new structure further back on their existing lot, which is just above Christian Community Church on Bartlett Street. So far, the center has been entirely funded by individuals and churches in the community, with no assistance thus far from any grants or state and federal funding. Center leadership may look into grants for a new building, although they hope that the majority can be raised in the local communities. Estimated costs for a new ultrasound machine vary, but the high end is $20,000. The ultrasound would require trained and certified personnel.
Ridgely has not lived an easy life, and is no stranger to challenge and trauma. As a young woman she struggled mightily with addiction, alcohol and an eating disorder. Ridgely reflected on how she overcame these issues.
“My willpower alone when facing anorexia and alcoholism couldn’t help me overcome their snares on my life,” she said. “I needed to surrender my will and allow for God’s will to be sovereign in the core of who I was and believe in His love for me with complete abandon — and that was sufficient. Now, life is so abundant and free, I wouldn’t risk anything that would jeopardize that. And I asked for help. No one has to do it alone.”
Her heart’s desire to run an ultramarathon for an ultrasound does not come “from a place of judgment, or a feeling of superiority,” Ridgely said. She is not naive to the situations that put women in the position to be faced with hard decisions about unplanned pregnancies.
When Ridgely starts the Susitna 100 at Big Lake on Saturday morning, stretching ahead of her will be a distance of almost four marathons back-to-back. She will have a specialized hydration system that doesn’t let her water freeze. Extra pockets sewn onto her waist belt will be stuffed with white cheddar cheese. A jar of emergency peanut butter and 20 pounds of extra gear will be in a sled behind her. Her ultra-running shoes will be studded for ice and potential overflow.
She has a four-step plan for when she feels like quitting: she is going to eat, hydrate, cry and take a nap.
“Then,” she said, “If I still feel like quitting, I will hopefully not quit.”
To help Ridgely in her fundraising, make a pledge by mile. Visit her Facebook fundraising page, Ultra for Ultra, or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Megan Corazza is a writer, commercial fisherman and an avid skier who loves to fill her days coaching skiing.