Ambassador Stephayne Gibson is a regular in the Texas Trail Run Series. This season she ran XTERRA Pedernales Trail Run, XTERRA Muleshoe, and XTERRA ATX, XTERRA Magnolia Hill, and will be at XTERRA Cameron Park. She will also be at XTERRA Trail Run Nationals in Utah. Gibson is the reigning Texas Regional Champ for 2016 and placed 5th in her age group at Nationals.
"And I also love XTERRA Jurassic. Any time you get dinosaur tracks, that's just a bonus."
As ebullient as Gibson is about trail running, you would think she has always been a runner. But this isn't the case. In fact, this makes her laugh. "No, I have definitely not always been a runner."
Gibson has always been an athlete though, playing both softball and volleyball from elementary school up through college.
Then, life took its toll - kids, career, and injuries left the then 32-year old Gibson 60 pounds overweight and needing a knee replacement.
"Like every mom, all my attention went to my kids," she says. "And that's great, but then I woke up ten years later and I didn't like where I was."
As a way to avoid surgery, her doctor suggested that she start trail running very slowly on soft surfaces in order to strengthen the muscles around her knee.
"I was a softball player!" says Gibson. "I was used to running 90 feet. I thought, there's no way I'm going to be a trail runner. I hate running."
Gibson also hated the idea of knee surgery.
"I realized I like hiking and I don't want a knee replacement. So I started hiking faster. Then, bit by bit, I started running. I'm not fast, but I loved being out in nature and challenging myself. It was therapeutic."
Additionally, Gibson wanted to be a role model for the kids she coached in softball.
"I always said I would never become that coach who looked like she never threw a ball," says Gibson. "But that's what I looked like. And I didn't want to be that way anymore."
As Gibson lost her preconceived ideas about running, she also lost the weight and gained confidence. She began with small steps. First Gibson started hiking longer. Then she began running 30 seconds at a time.
"When I could run three or four minutes at a time I thought maybe, maybe I can run a 5k," says Gibson. "I set a goal, I did a nine-week training program, and I did the 5k. My next challenge was the half marathon and then a full marathon. As I learned to love the challenge, I started pushing myself further and faster."
Today, Gibson also runs 50k and 50-mile races during the XTERRA off season. She is a full-time personal trainer, and she is helping people like herself believe that they too can exceed their expectations. She can also be found at most XTERRA Texas Series weekends - volunteering on Friday and Saturday for the triathlons and then racing on Sunday.
"I work with people who think it's too late and that they just have to accept their body as it is," says Gibson. "I say, 'You don't have to accept this anymore. Let's go out and do something.'"
Gibson believes what holds most of us back from trying something new or challenging ourselves is fear.
"Clients always ask, 'What if I fail?' My first response is 'What if you fly? What if this becomes your passion and brings you joy and turns out to be exactly what you need?'"
In addition to coaching adults, Gibson also initiated a kids' running club, which is now a fixture in eight Texas elementary schools as an after-school program. The club meets for an hour and includes 25 minutes of running time. The students can choose to be part of the 5k club or a 10k club depending on their ability and how far they want to go. Gibson helps the kids come up with a short-term goal, which they try to meet in five weeks. They also come up with a long-term goal, which they try to accomplish at the end of the school year.
"It’s so cool to watch these kids set a goal because we live in a society where everything is immediate. Like I want that and I want that right now. We teach kids how to set daily goals that lead to bigger goals. It doesn't matter if they want to run one mile or 50 miles. We care about helping them achieve the goals they set for themselves."
As she helps and coaches others, Gibson seems to improve as well. In 2016, she was the XTERRA Regional Champ in her age group.
"In my second season running XTERRA races, I set my sights on being Regional Champion. For two seasons, I was in a pretty competitive age group and missed my goal by 5 and 10 points those years. Finally, I did it in 2016."
This year, Gibson is an XTERRA Ambassador.
"I'm loving every minute of it," she said. "I love XTERRA and I love to help people get across those finish lines."
Today, Gibson acknowledges that she is in a good place.
"I feel stronger than I’ve ever been – physically and mentally. I know there are things we struggle with and things we push through. But at the same time, you have to like yourself and be happy where you are. And I’m much more happy where I am now and where my family is. We do things together all the time. We go hiking and biking and kayaking."
This November, Gibson is celebrating her 45th birthday by running a 50k - something she never would have believed a decade ago.
"Back when I started - needing a new knee and carrying 60 extra pounds - I knew that drive was in there and I just had to just go find it," says Gibson. "And I did. I found it on the trails."