ALLIANCE — It started as a personal challenge, but Jodi Kimmel, 42, of Alliance, eventually fell in love with running.

“My mom was diagnosed with cancer in 2009, and that really freaked me out,” Kimmel said. “I was a smoker. I smoked over a pack of cigarettes a day.”

Kimmel said an unusual aid helped her kick the smoking habit.

“I know it sounds crazy, but I read a book called ‘The Easy Way to Stop Smoking.’” she said “You’re supposed to smoke throughout the whole book. There’s a certain part in the book where it tells you now is the time to put out your last cigarette. I’ll never forget when I got to that point. I put out my last cigarette ... I quit cold turkey, just from reading that book. It was the easiest thing I ever did. I’ve never wanted a cigarette again.”

Two years later, a move to the country helped provide the spark for a lifestyle change.

"I moved to the country two years later. I’ve never lived in the country before that. I was so bored. I decided that I was going to take my cassette player and I’m going to for a run,” she said.

She didn’t make it far on her first few attempts, she said.

“I couldn’t even make it from one light pole to the other,” she said. “I just kept trying and trying and eventually, before I knew it, I was making it farther and farther. I was running up to a half marathon, and now I run over 1,000 miles a year.”

She didn’t immediately take a liking to running, she said.

“It took me a minute. I thought, ‘This is kind of stupid,’” she said. “It took me a while to get into it. After the first year it really grew on me. The further I got the more I pushed myself. It took a few months for me to really get into it.”

A change of gear really helped spur her along, she said.

“I will never forget the first time I went and bought my first pair of Asics,” Kimmel said. “I was running in old high school tennis shoes. I started buying the running gear, I was like, ‘Wow.’”

After a few years of running, she was asked to be an administrator of a running group.

““I thought, ‘Oh, I will try it.’ We challenged each other to run 100 miles a month. That’s when I decided I really liked running.”

Kimmel said she has run more than 1,000 miles a year since 2015.

“What keeps me going is the people I’ve met. They inspire me so much. I have met a lady with Parkinson’s who just finished running 100 marathons. The running group I’m in really gets me excited,” she said.

Kimmel decided she was going to start competing, but Alliance didn’t have many opportunities to put her running skills to the test.

“A few years ago, I started finding virtual races, and I thought, ‘I will challenge myself to try a 5K, I kept pushing myself. Before I knew it, I was pushing myself to run half marathons. It was exciting to me when the virtual medals would come in the mail. I know it sounds cheesy, but I have over 30 virtual medals. They get me really excited.”

Kimmel said it is easy to find virtual races. She runs in races on moonjoggers.com and virtualstrides.com.

“When you sign up for a race, they mail you a bib number. You then run your race and submit your times. They tell you what place you got and mail your medal.”

Kimmel is currently taking part in a running challenge called Run Across Nebraska. She has to run 406 miles in 80 days, which means she has to run 5 miles per day, she said.

With four children at home, the youngest is 4, Kimmel has to find times to get in her daily run no matter the weather condition at the time.

“I run in the snow. I’ve been caught in hailstorms. I run in rain. I run in heat,” she said. “A lot of times, I will wake at three o’clock in the morning and drive into Alliance and get my miles there.”

The biggest factor in choosing a time to run is when her husband Brian Kimmel, who owns a farm in the Alliance area, is able to watch the kids to free up some time for her.

“It is challenging trying to find the time to run,” she said.

Kimmel recently ran in the virtual torch run for the Cornhusker State Games.

“I was going to do it last year after I heard on the radio that they passed by my house. I live near Carhenge. They go down Highway 87. I told my husband I was going to do that, but I didn’t find any time to do it. I was really bummed,” she said.

She thought she had missed her chance again this year.

“My husband called and said, ‘Jodi, I just heard they’re doing a virtual torch run.’ I signed up to do five miles because I’m doing my running challenge.”

Once her children are a little older, she will likely run in some endurance races for the challenge.

“One of my friends came down when he was on his way to do one of the 50-mile races where you get dropped off in the desert. He told me I should go, but can’t just up and go. Summer is when my husband is working, and that’s when all of the good races are going on.”

Kimmel said she is happy she decided to take up running.

“I’m so grateful for it. Running makes me very happy in so many ways,” she said.

Running has led to her being featured in Modern Fit magazine.

“In December 2019, Yak Tracks got ahold of me because I’ve used their Yak Tracks, and they featured my photo,” she said. “Asics running shoes has gotten ahold of me and they featured one of my running videos. Belief Sports has gotten ahold of me ans asked me to be an ambassador. Running has really changed my life. I went from not liking running to it being, pretty much, my whole life.”

Jeff Van Patten is the sports editor of the Star-Herald. Jeff can be reached by calling 308-632-9050 or emailing jeff.vanpatten@starherald.com.

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