How faith brought strength to a snowshoe champion facing huge adversity
Jennifer Chaudoir has overcome more obstacles than most of us do in a lifetime – finding the strength to leave two abusive men, raise five daughters on her own, overcome bankruptcy, as well as manage Lyme’s disease, stress fractures and other challenges. Chaudoir is the epitome of strength, courage, faith in God, athletic stamina and a mindset that nothing can bring you down.
Jennifer Chaudoir, of Green Bay, Wis., was 30 when she decided to leave her first marriage. After being both physically and emotionally abused for 10 years, Chaudoir, then a mother of four, had turned to walking, then running, just to escape her husband. After she left her husband, however, Chaudoir used running to help her cope; and through time, her endurance blossomed into a strong running career.
“One day, I drove the route I had been jogging and realized I ran two miles; and so from that day on, I focused on increasing how far I ran. Soon, I was running 5 miles, sometimes in boots, then sandals and jean shorts, completely naive to what running apparel was after being isolated and avoiding people so long,” Chaudoir said.
Within six months, Chaudoir was running over an hour and signed up to run the Green Bay Cellcom half marathon. “I ran in cotton shorts, hair down and makeup carefully applied,” she said. “I attended the awards ceremony with lack of anything better to do, and was surprised when my name was called and I placed third in my age division! I walked up to receive my medal looking at the ground and ran home to my duplex where I had just moved, proudly wearing the medal as well as the tears that ran from my eyes. My life just begun…I had finally found Me.”
Running was a boon to Chaudoir. She was running well and taking age group awards in many races. Both the competitive and social aspects of running became addicting. She gained confidence, freedom, friends, and her self – whom she says she had lost a long time before. Chaudoir found training schedules in running magazines, set goals, and decided to make a career out of fitness by getting a job at a local fitness club selling memberships. Soon, Chaudoir joined the Personal Training Program and became a fitness trainer.
Chaudoir remarried in 2008 and had child Jay the same year. She now had two boys and three girls; but unfortunately, her second marriage also ended in divorce.
“It was another bad marriage, this time worse than the first; my ex-husband abused both of my dogs (who later died as a result), and broke our infant daughter’s ribs and ankles. I again drew my strength from my running,” she said.
In an effort to get through the bad times, Chaudoir focused on her running goals in order to “stay sane in this turmoil [she] lived in.” Now with five children, ages 11 years to 3 months, Chaudoir found herself alone and scraping by waitressing, cleaning houses and working as a bus aide for the Head Start program she managed – often operating around the clock and going many nights without sleep.
Those sleepless nights, however, would only aid Chaudoir’s endurance. After waitressing until 2:30 a.m., she’d be up by 6:30 a.m. to run before the kids were shuffled off to school each day, or she’d run while they were in school. Sometimes, she’d run up and down the road where they lived while they slept.
To Marathons, Overcoming Chronic Illness and Beyond
In 2010, Chaudoir ran her first marathon, finishing in 3:02. Motivated by her success and the fact that she felt marathon training was easy for her, she trained to run the same marathon the following year and hit a PR with a 2:57.
Prone to goal setting, Chaudoir wondered if she could qualify for the Olympics and set herself on obtaining a 2:46 marathon. To accomplish her training goals, she was going to hire a trainer. During this time, however, Chaudoir was often feeling fatigued and sore. “My heart was weak and my injection infraction rate was that of a 55-year-old male, and I could barely run a mile and get off the couch some mornings,” Chaudoir explained. “I was unable to work and was ultimately going to lose my home. My children were taking care of me much of the time.”
Chaudoir was informed that she had fibromyalgia and rheumatory arthritis; but after working a few years with a naturopath, Chaudoir discovered she was misdiagnosed. In fact, Lyme’s Disease, coupled with mold toxification and histoblasmosis, were most likely the root of her fatigue and pain.
“This is something I still struggle with; I will never be completely relieved of the symptoms of Chronic Lyme’s Disease, but I have learned how to manage them for the most part with diet and proper supplements and sleep,” she said. “Some days are just difficult days and it goes in streaks, but I am so much better!”
Becoming a Snowshoe Champion
Chaudoir got into snowshoe racing in an unexpected way. In 2011, as a personal fitness trainer, one of her clients – an autistic athlete who was preparing to compete in a snowshoe race for the Special Olympics in Korea 2012 – asked Chaudoir to train with him.
Chaudoir signed up for a local race herself and borrowed a pair of big clunky snowshoes. She finished second female overall and fell in love with the sport. Even then, she set her sights on making the US National Snow Shoe team in an effort to compete at a higher level.
“I Googled snowshoe racing and found more races, and information on what I needed to do to make the US Team: and so I persisted,” Chaudoir said.
And as if by fate, a pair a snowshoes was in her future.
“I looked online at snowshoe prices, and the next day got a card in the mail from a friend with a $200 gift certificate.” Struck by the irony of it all and feeling God was making her a new path forward, Chaudoir simply bought the snowshoes – and the rest, as they say, is history.
Chaudoir qualified early in 2012 for the US Snow Shoe Nationals in the 10K. In order to qualify, the athlete had to place first female and win the whole thing.
The race proved to be quite difficult. She not only had to fight pain, but suffered frostbite on her ankles, totally naive as to how to dress for the qualifying race and ultimately ending up in the ER with severe frostbite on her ankles. Despite all that, she still managed to come in first place in her age group.
Chaudoir would suffer complications after the race, however. Her ankles had swollen so large and the sores from the frostbite were so deep she couldn’t wear shoes. Further, she had a tibial stress fracture in her left leg. She had trained by jogging on a trampoline with ankle weights; now, she continued training with taped-up ankles and even competed in some races with her ankles taped and her shoes untied.
“I guess what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger; and I believe this was all a part of a bigger plan,” Chaudoir said.
Chaudoir competed in Oregon Snowshoe Nationals in 2012, in an effort to qualify for the US National Snow Shoe Team – still dealing with Lyme’s symptoms, which left her with achy muscles, early fatigue, stiffness, vertigo and asthma.
“Snowshoeing to me is so much more than just a winter sport; it’s where I come alive.”
2014 Was a Signature Year
Things for Chaudoir certainly have not been easy; but in 2014, things turned around in all aspects of her life.
In terms of family, her oldest is almost 18, so she can run when the kids are in school.
She currently owns her own businesses, cleaning houses (Jen’s Cleaning Service) and doing personal training (Simple 2B Fit). Her kids are very supportive, and her girls attend many of her races. The youngest two, Kaylee and Jaide, often compete; Kaylee ran her first half marathon at age 9.
“I work my housecleaning jobs and personal training clients around the kids’ schedules and my training,” Chaudoir said. “I was recently engaged a couple months ago and have a very supportive fiancé who attends all my races, toting and spending time with my youngest.” Chaudoir’s exfiancé provided leg rubs, kid watching, cheering, photographing and taking trips to cold-weather places to be there for her.
Chaudoir also went undefeated in the women’s division in Wisconsin for the 2014 snowshoe season. At the last minute, she decided she wanted to compete in Vermont for Snow Shoe Nationals but didn’t have enough money. After a night of prayer, she happened to take a sick day and ultimately worked on her income taxes. Again, her prayers were answered: her tax return just so happened to be the exact amount of money she needed to complete in Vermont. So she went, competed and made the US Team Masters division.
Snowshoers are most often runners in the off-season, and in 2014, Chaudoir decided this year to try a 50- miler – The FALL 50.
“I chose this race simply because Sean Ryan was directing it and Roy Pirrung, on the US National Ultra Running Team, said I should! It was that easy to convince me. I did minimal training by running a marathon and then running a 30-mile training run. On race day, I stood at the start with a simply a goal to finish. This race is a US National event, and I placed sixth of all females. Unfortunately, I allowed the fourth and fifth pass me in the last leg simply because I didn’t know I was in fourth!” Chaudoir explained.
She was sponsored by Nicolet Water and Water Joe, both of whom pay Chaudoir’s race entry fees and shoe expenses. She also picked up a few local sponsors along the way that help out with the fees now that she’s increasing the number of races every year, having completed 63 races in 2014.
Working as an Advocate for Victims of Domestic Violence
Chaudoir supports the Domestic Violence Center and often runs in honor of victims and to raise awareness as well as money for the shelter. In January 2015, Chaudoir will compete in the snowshoe division for the 2015 Masters World Games in Quebec, ON. She will write the victims’ names on her arms.
“Somehow this makes my run seem so worthwhile and the tension of competing is lessened when the reason is something so heartfelt; in fact, I find such strength in running for the hope of others that it’s impossible not to be my best…I focus on God and I play songs in my head that I store there…I think little about the race while I am running, and my mind shifts from my personal heaven of a field of white lilies to songs like “Higher Love” by Steve Winwood, and “Dancing in the Moonlight”, and “Latch” – all relaxing, calming tunes to me.
“I remain simple; I don’t wear a Garmin, I don’t own the finest apparel, I don’t listen to music because I listen to my heart. I believe God gave me the gift of running, and that it is a part of a bigger plan. When I focus on what has gotten me through all the devastating times in my life, I find peace and indescribable inner strength. When I stand at the start of a race, while others set their Garmins, I look up to the only Garmin I need. He sets my pace and determines my finish, and I hand it over to God. It’s really not about me, it’s about how God works through me.”
Download the Jan/Feb 2015 Issue at: http://www.magzter.com/US/Endurance-Racing-Magazine/Endurance-Racing-Magazine/Business/114385