College of Allied Health Professions

PA student qualifies for U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials

Tessa Stoltenburg, physician assistant class of 2021

Is professional school anything like running a marathon? Tessa Stoltenburg knows for sure.

Tessa’s a first-year student in the UNMC Physician Assistant program and recently qualified for the Olympic marathon trials.

Hailing from Watertown, South Dakota, she received her undergraduate degrees in Exercise Science and Human Biology from South Dakota State University. While applying for physician assistant programs, Tessa also applied to race the Chicago Marathon with the hope to obtain a qualifying time for the 2020 United States Olympic Trials.

We’ll let her tell the story:

As an amateur marathoner, it is incredibly uplifting to be a part of a running community that intensely trains while also juggling another obligation, such as graduate school or a full time job. In preparations for the Chicago Marathon, I was running 80-85 miles per week while also balancing the intensity of my studies. Some days of training were easier than others, and some days I just couldn’t make it happen and that was okay.

I hope to share my story in order to inspire other students towards maintaining their passions or hobbies while also being successful in their studies. Life is too short to not hang on to those things that make you a better person and bring you joy. My number one goal at all times is to show up to the starting line happy and healthy, and that is exactly what I did.

The days before the marathon were very exciting, as my classmates and faculty were all rooting for me. I wasn’t sure if they were rooting for me because I was racing the marathon on Sunday, or if they were rooting for me as I returned to school the next day (Monday) to take four exams that week. Yes, I was returning to the most difficult week in the semester; however, I was thrilled to be toeing the line on Sunday, October 18th, trying not to have all of my studies circulating in my mind. I shifted my thoughts towards the goal right in front of me, and that was the 26.2 miles I was about to race with a goal of under 2 hours and 45 minutes. All I could think about was how difficult the journey was to get to the start line, the early morning runs and the late night workouts between all my studies. I wanted to be certain that I made it all worth it.

It was. I crossed the finish line as the 30th woman out of 21,333, in a time of 2:41:10. I qualified to race the trials in Atlanta, GA, on February 29th, 2020 among the best female distance runners in the nation.

The excitement was unreal, and I have barely had time to absorb the accomplishment, since I returned to a very intense school week with four exams. Let’s just say, overall I had an unforgettable experience. I truly do believe that my dedication and work ethic towards my running career carries over to my academics. I’m extremely grateful for that. I have a burning desire to not only hit specific paces for my 20-mile run on Sunday morning, but also to spend the rest of my day digging deep into my studies in preparation for an exam, always striving for a PR (personal record).

The intensity and excitement of the last few miles of a race are comparable to the determination involved in the last few days before an exam. Both push me to be the best version of myself, and I am really excited to continue my academic journey at UNMC alongside my training towards racing in Atlanta.

Watch for a follow-up story after the trials in February 2020 and best of luck, Tessa!

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