Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The World-Record Holder - an Empowering Portrait

This is the first post in my new Empowering Portrait series! For each one, I will interview someone I know who has a story to be told... survivors, artists, mothers, students, everyday people who inspire me!

One day, when I was checking my work e-mail, I took a glance at the "homepage" photo on the e-mail website. I saw a girl running in full Army gear, with a caption that read she won the Guinness World Record for being the fastest woman to complete a marathon in full military uniform. My first thought? That she was crazy. My second thought? Wait a minute, I know her!

Sophie and I met in college, where we joined the same club. Immediately I saw how much we had in common. Both of us have Korean mothers (and yet never truly learned the language), and we both spent part of our childhood following our fathers' jobs around the the world, infecting us with the travel bug! As soon as I saw the photo, I e-mailed her, because seeing it just left me speechless. And I wasn't the only one who e-mailed.

"The coolest part was all the emails," Sophie said. "Every day I felt like I was getting 20 more emails from soldiers I didn’t know, from posts all over the world, from [Privates] to 3-star Generals. I responded to and saved all of them! I was so touched that I affected anyone enough for them to actually take the time to search [for] my name."

E-mail from a soldier to Sophie, now hanging on her wall:

When I saw that you completed the marathon, I wanted to say that was impressive.
When I read that you wore full battle rattle, I was truly amazed.
When I found out that you did it for veterans with brain injuries, I felt impressive and amazing were too soft of words.
The only thing I can say of your actions is that they are heroic and inspiring.
I have always been proud to be a Soldier and honored to be Ordnance, Soldiers like you remind me that I am not the only one.

The coolest part about the race? Sophie didn't do it for the world record, but to raise money and awareness for veterans with brain injuries. Because that's the kind of girl she is.

(Photos: Sophie on her record-breaking run, and Sophie being her beautiful self!)

Sophie claims Ohio as her childhood home, but she spent time with her family in Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, & New Zealand. In college, she was able to continue her travels, visiting France and Italy, as well as completing an internship with FEMA in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It was also in college that Sophie, who described herself as "not particularly athletic in high school", motivated herself to start training for marathons, all while competing as both a fencing and crew athlete. That marathon training motivated her to pursue the world record, for which she received an official certificate from Guinness.

So what's next for Sophie? Check out the website!

"I actually laughed out loud when my friend sent me the link." Sophie said. "If you’d sent me the link a few years ago, I probably wouldn’t be intrigued enough to even click on it."

Sophie will be competing in the 48-hour Spartan Death Race on June 24th, trying to raise $2000 for the Children of Fallen Soldiers Relief Fund, specifically for college scholarships for children who have a parent killed in action while deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom. Sophie and her siblings both received their college educations at the United States Military Academy, so service and education are extremely important to her family.

90% of those who attempt the Death Race do not finish. But Sophie is ready to go.

"Over the past few years, I’ve built up some confidence from various races and competitions and actually crave challenges. I’m still searching for my breaking point, physically and mentally, and I’m constantly pushing to find it. Since I have no idea what the race will entail, and it’s going to be 48 hours long, I think I’ll probably find it somewhere along the way. I can’t wait to see what that is like… to see the other side."

But don't start thinking Sophie's anything but a normal twenty-something girl. While she doesn't make time for TV, she loves going out with friends, outdoors activities like snowboarding, eating different foods (Korean, Thai, & Indian are favs), and traveling near and far! She even plays piano and enjoys shopping. She somehow manages to seamlessly combine her passion and discipline with an active social and work life.

With every new endeavor, Sophie inspires hundreds of people, many of them soldiers, and that keeps her motivated.

"It’s very moving for me to know that I inspired someone," Sophie said, "because I know I gain so much from my own role models."

And I'm pretty sure, whether she knows it or not, there are a lot of people out there calling Sophie their own role model!

Empowering Portrait Lightning Round Questions!
If you turned on my iPod right now, I'd be listening to: Fiona Apple. I just got back from a long road trip, and she typically keeps me company.

I never leave home without my: food for most of the day, to do list, and cell phone. I actually have that exact list on my door so I don’t forget anything.

If I could teleport to any place in the world right now, I'd be: in Antarctica! I’m trying to travel to all 7 continents (4 so far) and 50 states (31 so far) and I could save a lot on the trip to Antarctica if I could just be teleported there. That is going to be one expensive cruise.

I have never: broken a bone or had a cavity (knock on wood!).

If I were an animal, I would be: a chinchilla! And I would pet myself all day

If you had some advice for your 16-year-old self, what would it be? Despite my rebellious streak at that age, I still believe I had my priorities straight. I’d probably tell myself to not waste so much time on petty melodrama; I spent far too much of that year being emo over nonsense. But I probably wouldn’t have listened to my older, wiser self at that time.

Want to contribute to Sophie's Death Race donations?
Donation Options:
1. You can email (with the name Sophie Hilaire) at this link via PayPal or credit card.
2. Or send a check to the following address with “Sophie Hilaire” mentioned in the “For” line.

P.O. Box 3968

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