Story originally appeared in BND’s Lipstik Magazine in 2009
Tammy Accola-Newell was destined – maybe even born – to run. In April, she accomplished her 22nd marathon, a goal she never fathomed after a heartbreaking diagnosis 20 years ago. But regardless of what doctors said, fate- and God- had different plans for the Belleville native.
From the day she started on Central Junior High’s track team in 1981, Accola-Newell could tell that running would become a significant part of her life. And for the next nine years, it was. She ran on Belleville West’s Cross Country team, where her stellar performance led to scholarships from Missouri Baptist and Southeast Missouri State. After college, she continued to run 5Ks, 10Ks, and eventually marathons.
“Running became just a part of my daily routine,” said Accola-Newell.
But on a cold December day in 1990, a slippery road tried to defy her destiny. With her 8-month-old son in the back seat, Accola-Newell hit a patch of ice, lost control of her van, and plowed head-first into a bluff. Her face hit the windshield, and her right knee hit the dashboard, blowing out her kneecap. Accola-Newell and her son had to be cut out of the van.
“Thankfully, the baby was fine,” said Accola-Newell. “But doctors said I may not walk again, and if I did, I would have a bad limp. Running was out of the question.”
Doctors replaced her kneecap with metal pins, screws and wires. For two months, she tried to endure physical therapy.
“It was too painful to keep going,” she said. “I decided to stay home where I was more comfortable, and did a lot of stretching, and a lot of praying. My entire family prayed too. They all knew how important running was to me.”
Gradually, she began taking steps. Six months later, with extreme determination and answers to those prayers, Accola-Newell stepped out for a run.
“It wasn’t pretty, but I did it,” she said. “I just kept taking short, slow runs until I got stronger.”
By 1992, she was running 10Ks, and in 1997, she finally ran another marathon and has been racing ever since. Last year, 30 members of her family attended her 20th marathon, donning pink shirts that read GIFT FROM GOD.
“I do believe my running is a gift from God because there is no other way I should still be running,” she said. “I wanted my family to share with other people that God does still answer prayers.”
Accola-Newell said although she is the only runner in her family, running is a family affair. She has never run a marathon without them there.
“My husband and two sons (19 and 15) bring me water and gels, and always cheer me on,” she said. “For long training or night runs, my husband follows me in his car.”
Her family has traveled to Boston and Chicago, and will accompany her to Kansas City this fall for her 23rd marathon.
On most Saturday mornings, Accola-Newell meets with the Belleville Running Club for a five-mile loop.
“It’s nice to have a partner or group to be with while you run,” she said. “We have people (yes, some are WOMEN) who run six-minute miles and some who run13-minute miles. Yet, in the Belleville Running Club, everyone is a winner, just for being out there and running.”
Accola-Newell encourages every woman to give running a try, regardless of speed or mileage.
“It’s a great stress reliever, which we can all use,” she said. “Any woman can run and any woman can finish a race. The feeling of finishing a 5K or a marathon is something every woman should feel. You feel like you rule the world and can do anything. And let’s face it, WOMEN CAN DO ANYTHING!!!”