Molly Bookmyer survived brain surgery—twice. Then her husband beat cancer. Now she’s rising through the ranks on her way to the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials.
Run with all your heart and see what happens.
That was the strategy Molly Bookmyer employed when she lined up on Saturday to run the 25K national championship in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
The simple plan helped push Bookmyer to third place in 1:27:27 during her first crack at a competition on the USA Track & Field road racing circuit. Emma Bates and Sara Hall, the 2018 and 2017 national marathon champions respectively, took first (1:23:51) and second (1:25:33).
“I never thought that this would ever happen,” Bookmyer, 28, said during a phone interview on Saturday with Women’s Running. “I never thought I would get this fast or be this healthy again. If you keep trying, it’s incredible what your body can do — the fact that my body can come back from all that trauma and come back stronger.”
Rewind to 2013, when Bookmyer, then a senior at Ohio State University, was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor. It continued to grow, and in 2015, Bookmyer underwent surgery to remove the mass. Just a few months later, she needed a second operation after developing hydrocephalus, a condition in which fluid builds in the brain and caused paralysis on her left side.
Undeterred, Bookmyer started running again, but again, she was derailed. In November 2015, while on a treadmill, she suffered a seizure and collapsed. She wasn’t seriously injured, but she had to start taking anti-seizure medication, which initially caused side effects.
“I just really didn’t feel like myself at all,” said Bookmyer, who was a walk-on for the Ohio State cross-country and track teams. “Also, it was hard because it was around the holidays, and I wanted to be happy, but I was struggling to get my health back.”
Frustrated? Sure. But Bookmyer never considered stepping away from running. One mile and run at a time, she slowly rebuilt her fitness. In 2016, she rejoined the running group at the Fleet Feet running store in Columbus, Ohio, where she lives, and the following year, she broke three hours in the Toledo Marathon, despite making a wrong turn around mile 20.
Happy, healthy, and ready to get married, she tied the knot with now-husband, Eric, in August 2017.
But then illness struck again, just a few weeks after the couple’s honeymoon. Eric, 26 at the time and complaining of back pain, was diagnosed with testicular cancer. The first year of marriage was filled with surgeries and treatment.
“Watching him go through chemo was devastating,” Bookmyer said. “I cried a lot. And I think it was harder for me to go through seeing him sick than when I was sick myself.”
She took a break from training until Eric’s treatment was complete in February 2018, then came back in June to race Grandma’s Marathon, where she set a personal record of 2:46:18.
“It was the first time I was able to focus and train without something huge going on in my life,” she said. “I was like, ‘Okay, I want to take this seriously.’”
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THANKSgiving. I’m thankful for you, for us. • One year ago we spent our first Thanksgiving at the James Cancer Hospital as you recovered from your second surgery. Watching you lay their in agony was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. There was nothing I could do, no way I could help. I would have given anything for it to be me, not you. I just sat there holding your hand wondering why this was happening to us again, we already went through my two brain surgeries. • It didn’t get easier, after the surgery we learned you had to start chemo. I tried to be brave and tell you everything would be okay, but I didn’t know if it would be. • Today we both have our health and we have each other. For better or for worse, in sickness and in health. You are my best friend, my partner, my everything. • I am thankful for you and for us. • #thanksgiving #cancersucks #survivor #columbus #614 #marriage #cancersurvivor #findacure #love #chooselove #jessicamillerphotography #highlinecarhouse #thanksgiving #thankful
That’s when she started working with Robb Kestner, a coach she met through the running store.
“Molly shared her training log with me for the previous six months and it was clear that she had a tremendous work rate and a whole lot of potential,” Kestner said.
With his guidance, Bookmyer ran the Houston Marathon in January, and finished in 2:44:07, cutting another two minutes off her personal best. Not only that, she hit the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials standard.
Since Houston, Bookmyer, who represents Fleet Feet Columbus Racing, has been on a tear. In March she place second at the Shamrock Shuffle in Chicago, the in April she won the Capital City Half Marathon in Columbus.
The third-place finish on Saturday was another step forward.
“Every race I keep building more and more confidence,” she says. “I’m starting to actually believe in myself. It’s a made a world of difference.”
With new confidence in her running ability and a desire to create more time for training, she recently left her full-time job as a store planner for seasonal women’s products at DSW. She’s now an assistant buyer for Fleet Feet in Columbus.
Tim Flahavan, owner of the running stores, said he first spotted Bookmyer at a track workout and recognized her as a “special talent.”
“What she does, of course, is very hard,” he said. “The way she does it, often by herself and in all weather, is harder. She is living in Columbus and not some western hotbed for elite runners, so most of her training is by herself. Somehow she has embraced this lonely pursuit and she never complains, never makes excuses, just goes out and puts in the work.”
Hoping to run 2:37 or faster later this year in the marathon, Bookmyer is eager to progress, but her experiences have also taught her to savor the moment and the health she and her husband now enjoy.
“I’m lucky I get to now chase my passion and chase my dreams,” she says.