Within minutes of finding out that her mother had passed away from COVID-19, Yolanda Scott went for a run.
'I had no idea what the route was, because I was crying the entire time—I just let it all go,' Scott, 58, told Runner’s World. 'That’s what running has become for me: A catharsis. A way to deal with the grief of losing both my parents within five days of each other. A way to try to understand I’ll never talk to them again. If I don’t run, I know it will all get stuck.'
While this particular run took on new meaning for her, it wasn’t all that out of the ordinary; the New Orleans native has been running every single day since last Thanksgiving (Thursday 28 November).
Scott had always enjoyed walking—she actually walked two full marathons after she turned 50. But five years ago, when she was 53, she felt she could benefit from a challenge, so she added running into the mix. When Scott was able to run more consistently, she decided she wanted to run a marathon, and she picked the 2017 Rock & Roll Marathon in New Orleans in honour of her hometown. She had moved to Columbus, Ohio in 2009, where she’s employed as a dietitian, but she always missed her parents, Bernadine and Arthur Moran, who still lived in the New Orleans. Her mother was so happy about the marathon that she put together a uniquely New Orleans bash—a crawfish boil for the whole extended family.
'Here I am, barely able to walk, and she’s having a party for me,” Scott said. “That was my parents. They celebrated everything I did—they were so supportive even when they didn’t quite understand what I was doing.'
Moran was so proud of Scott for her marathons that her she had a habit of asking random runners in New Orleans if they knew Scott.
'She acted like I was famous, like everybody should know me. I tried to tell her that’s not the case, but she never stopped doing it.'
As a way to keep challenging herself, Scott tried a streak in 2017; she made it four days before stopping. The second time, in 2018, she got up to 14 days.
'I thought it would be easier to do than it was,' she said. 'That’s when I realised this really does take commitment. This is about mindset. So, I thought I’d give it one more shot.'
She chose the Runner’s World Thanksgiving to New Year’s streak in 2019, and the third time ended up being the charm, since it stuck. Once the calendar turned to 2020, she made a new resolution to run every day of the new year. And she’s stayed with it, although it’s been the most heartbreaking, soul-challenging year of her life.
Even if it’s 11:15 p.m. and she feels like breaking the streak, she goes anyway, calling it her 'prayer and pavement therapy.' Often, she thinks about her parents while running, and about the week that changed everything.
Ever since moving to Ohio, Scott called to her parents every Monday evening—they’d both be on the line, her father talking about his latest golf round, her mother chatting about cooking. But on March 23, neither picked up the phone.
Concerned, Scott asked an uncle who lived close to them in New Orleans to check in after another day had passed without contact. Although both her parents were in good health, Scott knew how much of a coronavirus pandemic hotspot the area had become, and her mother told her the week before that they hadn’t been feeling well recently. Scott’s uncle went to Bernadine and Arthur’s house, but when they didn’t answer the door, he broke it down, finding them both collapsed and Bernadine nearly incoherent.
Although Bernadine was taken to the hospital, the paramedics assessed Arthur and determined he could stay home to recover—but he passed in his sleep that night. Bernadine, who never became lucid again and had to be put on a ventilator, declined quickly despite aggressive measures in the intensive care unit. On April 1, a physician let Scott know the prognosis was very poor due to lack of oxygen to the brain during the time she’d been collapsed at home.
When the decision was made to remove Bernadine from the ventilator, a nurse gowned up and held her own phone up so Scott could talk to her and pray over her one last time. Thirty minutes later, Bernadine passed.
Then, as she’d done every day since last Thanksgiving, Scott went for a run. Despite running alone, Scott said she’s not doing this by herself.
'As I thought about how running has helped me cope with the grief of losing my parents, I’ve been reflecting on the relationships of my running community,' she said. 'There has not been a day since they died that someone from Marathoners in Training or Black Girls Run didn’t call or text me to see if I needed anything or offer condolences.'
One of her Black Girls Run! sisters dropped off a 'runner pandemic grief package' of gummies, hand sanitiser, and a face mask. Some runners call when they know she’s running so they can be on the phone with her during her mile. One of the Marathoners in Training pacers texted Scott every day for five weeks just to say she was thinking of and praying for her.
'Those are the intangibles that go beyond helping you make a PR or picking out the best training plan,' she said. 'I love this community.'
Without her 'prayer and pavement,' Scott believes she would struggle with simply getting out of bed every morning. She had a tough time getting through Mother’s Day, and she’s dreading the upcoming Father’s Day. Like all her relatives, she didn’t even get to say goodbye at their shared funeral—it was held over livestream—and she has to stop herself from calling them every Monday.
'You have to do something to get through grief, you need an outlet,' she said. 'Prayer helps me turn inward, but running helps me get it out.'
Little did Scott know that taking up running five years ago would have such an impact on her life.
'Not only has running helped me grieve, but I think it helped me prepare for this time as well,' she said. 'It created a way for me to cope and have better emotional health going into this.'
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