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By Craig Braack

York Ordained Minister Michelle Sumption has been running for a cause

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By Chris Metcalf

GREIGSVILLE – It took Michelle Sumption a little while to fall in love with the idea of running.

But, now she’s hooked.

And she absolutely loves running for a cause.

Sumption is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA), and serves York United Presbyterian Church as solo pastor/head of staff.

This is Sumption’s first ordained call, and she has been ministering for 10 years as she was originally from the Midwest and moved out to York after the offer came in.

“I’ve always felt that the congregation and I are a good fit, and I enjoy living and serving in this community,” Sumption said.

Sumption recently competed and finished the Philadelphia Marathon, her second 26.2-mile journey.

“After a difficult and discouraging first marathon in 2018, I did not have the desire to run another one,” Sumption said. “However, I was still running for fun and some runner friends convinced me to enter the lottery for a bib in this year’s New York City marathon. I did not get it, and immediately noticed how disappointed I was and it made me realize that perhaps I should run another marathon. So I looked for other marathons that were to happen about the same time as the NYC Marathon and I came across the Philadelphia Marathon, and knew it’d be the best option for me.”

Sumption said having a close friend nearby made it even easier.

“I wanted to run one during the fall, one of my best friends lives about 30 minutes away in Wilmington, DE, and I normally take the Sunday before Thanksgiving off anyway to be with family. I was also interested in exploring the city of Philadelphia in this way.”

The Philly Marathon is ranked among the top 10 marathons in the US and just celebrated its 30th anniversary.

In all, over 16,000 runners were entered in the full 26.2 mile full marathon, which hosted three events including an 8K, half marathon, and full marathon.

Incredibly, there were over 35, 000 participants entered in all three events.

“The Philadelphia Marathon starts and finishes in front of ‘the Rocky steps’ at the Museum of Art, and took us through many neighborhoods of Philadelphia, and past significant landmarks, parks, and historical features,” Sumption said, also noting that each finisher of the marathon received a replica of the Liberty Bell at the end, and it actually rings, she said.

“So after the race, all the finishers were walking around with the medal on, and the bells were dinging,” Sumption said. “I began calling everyone ‘twinkle toes.’”

A big reason why Sumption ran the marathon is because that particular event benefits the American Association for Cancer Research.

“It is an important charity for many, including the people I know or have known who have been diagnosed with cancer,” Sumption said. “One Sunday in church, (LCAA’s Finest photographer) Doug (McFarland) and I were talking about this race benefiting AACR and he told me, ‘I ran my part, now it’s your turn.’ I reflected on this while waiting in my corral at the start line, and imagined all of those I knew like Doug, who had battled cancer. I thought that this was like a relay race and now I have the baton.”

McFarland was diagnosed on 11/11/22 (Veteran’s Day) with small cell lung cancer, which is the most deadly type of cancer.

After going to radiation every day for seven straight weeks, and also chemo treatments three days a week from Dec. 21, 2021 to March 2023, McFarland was told he was cancer-free Oct. 23, 2023.

His last chemo treatment was March 3, 2023, totaling 15 total chemo treatments.

“Early detection and screening saved my life,” McFarland said. “Without early detection, I wouldn’t be here right now, 120 percent.”

EXPERIENCE IS CRUCIAL

Before Philly, Sumption had competed in one other marathon when she struggled to finish in Nashville, Tenn., back in April of 2018.

But, according to Sumption, some valuable experience was gained, and her second marathon went much smoother.

“That first marathon was a bit faster than this one, but many things went wrong, leading me to be incredibly sick and depleted starting at mile 16, continuing through those last 10 miles and lasting several days later,” Sumprion remembered. “I sought to figure out what could have gone wrong as I trained for my second one. This time, I modified my nutrition and hydration, zeroed in on my heart rate and recovery time, and started the race with a very conservative pace. By the halfway point I felt good so I picked up the pace a bit and my last few miles were very steady. At the end I felt relatively good and did not even have any blisters or chafing. Two days later I was no longer sore or stiff, and was even able to keep up with my young niece and nephew when with family for Thanksgiving.”

A lesson that was learned.

Training for a marathon, says Sumption, is a total commitment to the journey.

“Marathon training is definitely a commitment, and very much a test both mentally and physically, as is the race itself,.” she said. “There are many different approaches to training, but what worked for me is three runs during the week that were some variety of tempo, speed, hill, or easy runs with one long run on the weekend. Then I would also do strength training or weight lifting one-to-two times per week at a local fitness studio called ‘Fire Within.’ Each week I probably spent anywhere from 10-to-15 hours on training and logged as many as 40 miles. In addition, I spent many hours supporting my body and mind for the marathon, starting with stretching, proper nutrition, and more sleep. I definitely feel that my choice to train and run a marathon became a lifestyle as I was daily engaging with running blogs, friends from two running groups in Rochester that I joined for long runs, and the community I’ve found at my local fitness studio. At the finish line, we get a finisher’s medal, but honestly, I believe we should get a medal just for showing up to the start line – that in itself is both a sign and a celebration of all that was done to get to that point.”

Through running, Sumption discovered many benefits during her training cycle.

“I really renewed all of the joy I have found in running and movement,” she said. “I usually run first thing in the mornings, and these runs became a great way for me to start my day in prayer or reflection, maybe doing some creative work in preparation for writing a sermon, or even just enjoying my neighborhood or nature.”

She also says that her training cycle treated her to wonderful support.

“I may not always feel like an athlete, but I definitely feel like I’m part of a team,” she said. “From the neighbors who would be sure to cheer me on if they saw me, to the commuters, farm trucks and school buses who would wave, to the friends at Fire Within who would encourage me, to the family members who were always checking in, to the friends who came on race day and found me a few times on the course. I am so grateful to the folks in my congregation for their support from the very beginning all the way up to tracking me at the race and creating a giant display of race pics to celebrate with me on my first Sunday back in the pulpit. I am grateful for their grace, I always prioritize my job over training and work to maintain focus on balancing it all, and yet there were times when I’d have to fit in a training run before a meeting and have to show up still in all of my gear, and they were very understanding.”

JOINING THE MINISTRY

Sumption says she had always wanted to be in ministry, “since I was a child.”

She and her family moved around quite a bit during her early years, but no matter where they were living, she knew that each Sunday she would be at church.

“Church became my constant, and from there God continued to open up these opportunities that blessed me with some beautiful and wonderful experiences with people, and with our world,” she said. “At the same time, those doors just led me straight from high school to a mission-centered college in Kansas then immediately to seminary for my three-year Masters of Divinity degree in Dubuque, Iowa.”

While in seminary she pursued the ordination process for her denomination, and again doors opened for her.

“God led me through all of those steps so that even before graduating seminary I had accepted the job offer from York and was ready to be ordained,” she said. “I knew, without a doubt, that God was calling me to York, and I have enjoyed setting down some roots here”

HER HIGH SCHOOL DAYS

While attending high school in Canistota, SD in 2006. Sumption did not compete in any sport, including track or cross-country.

But, she caught the running bug a little later she says.

“I felt so intimidated by running, so the concept of even running laps in gym class felt daunting,” she remembered. “Then in college, several of my friends were on the cross-country team. In the off-season one of them needed to get some miles in and convinced me to join her. I ran two miles with her one day and then four the next. This began opening my mind to the benefits of running. It took me several years to gain the confidence to even sign up for a 5K, but slowly I embraced this joyful reality that my body can do so much more than my mind realizes. For me, signing up for that first marathon in Nashville was this statement to myself that there were goals I could achieve that at one point I could not even fathom were possible for me, that I do not even have to necessarily dream big but instead be ready to be surprised at what God leads me to do and accomplish.”

(See more from Chris at LCAA’s Finest on Facebook)

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