Heather Stephens

Last fall, Brynna Lipson reached out to inquire about joining the Volée. It had been years since we had been in touch and it was so good to hear her voice. She was the captain of the track team when I was a freshman at Ridgefield High School. I had always looked up to her and admired her strength. The day she received her acceptance letter to Cornell, I remember thinking that she was such a badass. She worked hard, she was strong, brilliant, and beautiful inside and out. But none of those things shielded her from the messy part of life that we’re all susceptible to.

A few months after she joined the Volée, I learned that her mom had passed away. Brynna is someone who deserves good things, this wasn’t supposed to happen to her. But it did happen, and she is getting through it. She’s regaining her strength through running and a team. We're honored to share her story. 


Throwback .jpg

Brynna and Feather back in the day.

My story is about love, finding yourself, and rising up from the ashes of loss and defeat. People usually like to start at the beginning, but I think it’s best to start in the middle. My mom passed away from colon cancer at the age of 53 on July 19th, 2014 and my (and my family’s) world was turned upside down. She was gone in what felt like a flash.


Back to high school days I will admit that I joined track initially to keep in shape for soccer. I ran a variety of shorter distances including the 4x400 relay. I was an average runner on my own, but the relays were where my true loyalty was. Something about working towards a goal as a group and being a part of the whole has always motivated me. I cared more about my split on a relay than my individual race time. My love for running was born. The personal challenge paired with the team goals was a perfect match.


Throwback to high school track. Look it’s me and Feather Stephens!

My track coach begged me to run the 800 and I told him that was too long (meanwhile, I probably ran at least 5-6 miles a soccer game, of which I played one almost every weekend of the year, jokes on me!).  I then ‘found’ long distance in college studying abroad. I found then what I feel still today - a sense of freedom, release, and time to just be. I ran along the Salzach river in Salzburg, Austria and my love for long distance running was born. 

My mom was diagnosed with colon cancer in my senior year of college, Oct 2008. I was in such denial that I couldn't even use the word cancer. I called it the 'c word.' I struggled immensely with the idea of her being sick in the most severe sense of the word. My mom was beyond special. She was supportive but not enabling; cautious but not overbearing; positive yet realistic. She was the perfect balance of all mother qualities you need and want. She was originally told she had nine months to live… and she lived six and a half years. Her strength, positivity, dedication to life, health (mind body and spirit) was inspirational and allowed her to beat the odds. She never complained about having cancer. No ‘why me’ or ‘this isn’t fair.’ It was the hand she was dealt and she handled it with such grace. She also had the best laugh and hugs to top it all off.


Example of great mom hugs that I miss dearly post Philly marathon in 2012.

My mom was treated at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and I started working there after college. Working at MSK I felt I could somehow contribute to the idea of curing cancer in the grandest sense, and by default curing my mom. After some coaxing by two friends I ended up running the NYC marathon for Fred’s Team (MSK’s charity team) in 2011 and raising money for cancer research. I thought it would be a bucket list box check, but I was wrong. Through Fred’s Team and marathon training I had found a new way to cope with my mom’s diagnosis. I ran for a cause, I ran for hope. I ran with people who believed and wanted the same things I did. I ran with survivors, people who had lost someone, and people with loved ones battling. Fred’s Team became family quickly, and still is to this day (including my now Fiancée that I met on a training run)! Training for a marathon is tough. Even for me having grown up an athlete playing soccer, this was physical and mental challenge on a new level. Somehow though, it felt like the right thing to do. If my mom could get chemo every two weeks and spend the days after throwing up and sick, I could run. Running marathons became my mirror and homage to her battle.


I ran Philly in 2012; and Chicago in 2013. I’d been struggling with nagging injury all season heading into Chicago and at mile 15 it became unbearable. I debated dropping out, the dreaded DNF. I knew I was going to see my parents at mile 16 so I figured I’d hobble to them at the very least. When my mom’s purple sweater came into view I realized there was no way I could quit. She couldn’t just give up or quit her battle, so neither would I. I quieted the competitor in me and I walked the last 10 miles of the marathon. I thought a lot about her strength and positivity and my wonderful father and his love and dedication to her. He never missed a single appointment of hers. I had no idea at the time that would be the last race she saw me run (walk).

I took a long time off from running after Chicago. My mom declined so quickly (at least it felt quickly to me) and all of a sudden, she was gone. I was trying to run again because I wasn’t sure what else to do and I felt like I was supposed to, but my body wasn’t ready. Every time I ran, I cried. I cried because I was sad, frustrated, angry, confused, vulnerable. Running became so tied to my mom and her battle that once she was gone I wasn’t even sure what I was doing out there. I ran on and off and struggled with it over the last 3 years. Then, lightning struck and Oiselle Volée popped in my life. It gave me a renewed sense of purpose. This team of amazing females who embody strength, love and support is the spark I needed. I know that my mom would have loved all of what Oiselle is and the Volée represents. Head up, wings out was her way of living. Now it is my way of living too.


I am heading into training for the Chicago 2016 marathon with two half marathon PRs under my belt stronger, faster and more fit than I have been in a long time. I go back to where my real journey started after healing physically and emotionally (a work in progress albeit). From injury, to strength. From defeat, to success (hopefully sub 4!). I go back to honor my mother and her life.  Having found Oiselle has given me more confidence and brought me closer to the sport of running in ways I never thought possible. I have always been someone who performs best as a part of the whole, being motivated forces greater than ourselves, Oiselle Volée (and Fred’s Team) included. I look forward to seeing some of you on the streets of Chicago, where I am running for myself, for my mom, but also for all of us as part of the bigger female runner bonding experience that is Oiselle Volée.


Head up, wings out.

- Brynna

jacquelyn scofield