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Narrowing our cover model contest finalists down to nine great stories was a careful process. After receiving an overwhelming number of entries—nearly 2,000!—the WR staff combed through each incredible application. After zeroing in on 20 semi-finalists, we finally nailed down our top nine leading ladies from all around the country. One finalist was a 2016 Olympic Trials hopeful, while another conquered 26.2 miles in full military gear with 45 pounds strapped on her back. One was a recovering alcoholic now training for Ironman triathlons, another completed her first race while finishing medical school.
But Team WR (aka, you!) made the final call on our cover model champion. After more than 25,000 votes poured in for the finalists on womensrunning.com, our cameras turned to Lindsey Hein, a 31-year-old mom and marathon runner who made a fearless health decision in 2013, prompted by her discovery of the BRCA2 gene mutation.
“Ever since I had Marshall [my son], it was kind of in the forefront of my head to get this genetic test done. It was just eating at me—the fear of having the mutation,” says Hein, who tested positive for the BRCA2 gene mutation in June 2013. “Everyone has the gene—but if one of your parents have the mutation, there’s a 50-50 chance you will inherit it.”
Prompted to get the test by her mother (who also has the mutation), Lindsey’s results arrived two weeks before her first half Ironman in Muncie, Ind. She knew this meant she had an 86 percent chance of developing breast cancer in her lifetime and 27 percent chance of ovarian cancer. Lindsey elected to get an MRI and mammogram before her 70.3 race to rule out both possibilities before exploring future preventive treatments.
“Knowing was so much better than not knowing. Whether I knew it or not, it was there,” she recalls. Clutching her phone close in the days leading up to her race, Hein dashed out of the athlete village to receive the doctor’s news: She was currently cancer free. The next morning, on July 13, 2013, Lindsey completed her first half Ironman in 5:55:17, clocking a sub-2-hour half marathon.
“I kept telling myself, ‘Be grateful that you’re here, be grateful that you’re healthy. When it hurts, and you’re in pain, push through it and do what you do,’” she remembers. In October 2013, Hein underwent a prophylactic double mastectomy, a procedure that would lead to reconstructive surgery the following January—and result in the fearless life of one bad-ass chick.
“Running is always there when you need somebody. It’s always there for me. It’s my happy pill—my natural anti-depressant!” says Hein.
The RRCA-certified coach and communications rep discovered running when her best friend persuaded her to join the cross-country team during their sophomore year of high school. She wasn’t super fast, but the pesky endurance bug kept her moving recreationally through college. During her junior year at Indiana University, Hein tackled her first half marathon, the Indianapolis Mini, only having run 6 miles beforehand, a mistake she now looks back on with giggles. “It was a miserable race, but it was fine.”
In 2008, Hein conquered her first 26.2-miler at the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Marathon, with a loose goal of “maybe qualifying” for Boston. “I had run the mini a few weeks before in 1:37, so I thought it was possible,” she says. After running 17 miles of the race with her now-hubby, Glenn, she moved ahead, finishing in 3:39, a Boston qualifying time by more than a minute. (Glenn shared with the WR staff that his friends still remind him of his wife’s triumph. Go, Lindsey!)
“People train for years to do that race—I had to do it,” Lindsey recalls about deciding to compete in the 2009 Boston Marathon, where she crossed in less than 4 hours. But like any crazed runner chick, Hein wanted to be better—she wanted to go faster. “I decided I wanted to actually train and do it right.”
Thirteen marathons later, Hein has mastered the craft of focus, commitment and training, with a renewed goal of breaking 3 hours in the marathon. “I’ll do it in small parts. Next year I’ll go for 3:10, 3:06 if it’s a good day,” she says with a calm confidence.
“I’ve really struggled with fear a lot in my life— mostly health-related stuff—and running has really helped me overcome that,” she says. “I would not do stuff because I was scared. Not enjoying life because you’re scared? That’s stupid!”
The October 2013 mastectomy saved the new mama years of worrying and decreased her cancer risk by nearly 80 percent. It was the alternative to facing routine mammogram checkups every six months—and facing the hard decisions if a test ever came back positive. Although the procedure eased Hein’s mind of cancer worry, it still left an emotional stain that faded in and out as she raised her young son.
“During the first two weeks [post-surgery], I had a weight limit of three to five pounds. I couldn’t pick up Marshall—a natural instinct when you’re a mother,” Hein says of her then-15-month-old son, her voice cracking a bit. “That was probably the hardest part.”
Running was shelved for weeks as well—Hein’s come-back jog was 3 slow miles with music around her neighborhood. Patience was definitely the recovering runner’s virtue, and Hein patiently built back her strength leading into her reconstructive surgery this past January, just three months before her second go at Boston.
“You cannot expect your-self to be where you were. You have to ease yourself into it,” explains the run coach. “But after the surgeries, I think I’m more grateful for running—it’s an outlet for me.”
Lindsey hardly contemplates her response when asked: Did you consider quitting running at any point?
“I think I didn’t quit because I knew that wasn’t an option,” she says. “I had two miscarriages before having Marshall. I would have never made it through without running. Running was what was getting me through the hard times. If I wasn’t running, what would I be doing? Sitting at home feeling sorry for myself?”
Starting with a 5-mile treadmill workout weeks after her second surgery, the rock-solid mama refocused her efforts on getting to the Boston start line. She wrestled with plantar fasciitis, along with an on-off-again hamstring injury. Still, Lindsey continued to bring the same spunky spirit to her training as she did to our cover shoot—she was going to finish in Beantown even if she had to limp from mile 12 on (which she did!). “I want [women] to think about what they can do to inspire other people,” says Lindsey, who applied for our contest on a whim with the hope of “just telling a good story.” “I think my story speaks loudly because I’m young, and I did this surgery preventively. The real heroes are those who have gone through cancer and dealt with that.”
Her infectious optimism and outgoing personality definitely gained traction in her hometown of Indianapolis, which Lindsey says “always makes the ‘most unhealthy’ city list.” Local media picked up the story and celebrated the change of pace in publicity. “I’ll proudly represent my city!” she exclaims.
Life’s lemons loom larger for Lindsey than your average person’s collection of sour moments—but her genuinely upbeat outlook on life adds more than a pinch of sugar to that lemonade. She makes living look—and feel—as simple and as fearless as it can be. At our cover shoot, she added another notch to her bad-ass belt: Modeling for a national magazine while three months pregnant! She and her husband are expecting their second child this winter.
“Face your fears. Whatever it is that’s going to help you, do it and own it.”
Commonly confused with the mutation, the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes exist in everybody. “You have to inherit the mutation from a parent,” explains Hein. If you have a history of the mutation or breast or ovarian cancer in your family, getting an early mutation test can assist in making proactive decisions surrounding increased risk of breast cancer. Read up on Lindsey’s blog, outforaruntraining.com for her journey through testing, treatment, training and totally rocking life!
Even in tough times, Lindsey brings the cheer!
Twelve days after her mastectomy, Lindsey and her drainage tubes were on the course of Glenn’s race to cheer him on. “I didn’t care—I was going to be out there cheering for my husband!”
Lindsey joked about not technically announcing her second pregnancy, laughing that some friends may find out about it by reading this story!
Although being unable to breast-feed her second baby will be difficult, Lindsey definitely won’t miss crossing finish lines and racing to the car to pump!