Running has always been an important part of Kathi Wagner’s
life, but it really made a difference back in 2007 when she went through one of
the toughest times.
That’s when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She endured those long and difficult chemotherapy
treatments and she had a mastectomy. And
she eventually lost all of her hair, which may have been the worst part of all.
There were plenty of days when she felt just horrible and
barely had the energy to get out of bed, but short runs on a treadmill
sustained her and she was able to somehow get through it.
Wagner is a pre-school teacher at Bright School where she’s
been on the faculty for the past 19 years.
She has a class of 16 darling four-year-olds. Half of them reported today with the other
half set to appear on Friday. All of
them will be present on Monday when it all starts for real.
Kathi says that she celebrated her 60th birthday
on April 27, but she doesn’t look a day over 25. And it’s hard to believe that she has any
aggressiveness in her personality at all, but she says that her whole outlook
on life changes when the horn sounds at the start of a race.
“When that gun goes off at the start, I always take off too
fast, but running has been one of the best things I do for myself,” the East
Ridge High School graduate who later earned a degree in elementary education
from UTC explained Wednesday afternoon in her brightly decorated classroom.
Kathi started her running career back in 1975 when she was a
student at UTC.
“I used to run around Chamberlain Field late at night when
nobody could see me and my lungs really burned.
I ran with my roommate Sherrye Jackson.
My first race was at Missionary Ridge in 1977 and I had never run
further than three miles.
“Sherrye was waiting for me at the halfway point in her car
in case I needed a ride back to the start, but I’ve been hooked on it ever
since. I don’t remember much about that
first race, but I took off too fast as always.
I’m better about that now,” she smiled.
Kathi and her husband Les have been married for 33
years. They are the parents of two
children, a son named David who is 26 and a civil engineer for TDOT. Laura is 23 and waiting to continue her
education after graduating from Rhodes College in Memphis. She’s currently working at Center For Sports
Medicine, but her intentions are to become a physician’s assistant.
Laura has that competitive spirit when it comes to running
and she’s the one who got her mother back out on the road a few years ago.
“Laura is the one who got me motivated when I was sick in
2007. I had my annual check last week
and everything is clear, so I don’t have to go back for another year. Running helped me through those tough times
and it was really a gift at such a critical time. Losing my hair was devastating.
“I have always eaten right and done the things I was
supposed to do, so I was wondering why this had to happen to me. But I’m stronger today than I’ve ever been
and I don’t take any medication at all,” she said proudly.
Kathi has run 20 marathons, including half at
Chickamauga. Her first one came in 1984
when she posted a time of 3:09, which is also her fastest. She was the women’s overall winner at
Chickamauga in 1986 and 1989. She ran
her last one at Disney World with Laura last year and she’s already signed up
for Chickamauga in November.
“I’ve been running a lot of half-marathons and that’s about
the perfect distance for me. I try to do
my long runs on Saturday and I average 25-30 miles a week. These days I run with Laura if she’s going to
take it easy as I can’t stay with her now,” she smiled.
Kathi won a bunch of races back in the 80s with the first
one coming in 1983 at the Choo Choo Classic, a five-mile race in downtown
Chattanooga that was held at night during the hottest part of the summer. She really liked the Great Heart Run, which
was an annual 10K that started and finished at McCallie’s track.
But her favorite race course in this area is at Chickamauga
“I love the Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon as I really
like that loop around the park. I’ve
done it so many times that I believe I could run it blindfolded,” she nodded.
While Chickamauga has been the location for 10 of her
marathons, she’s also been to Boston four times, Disney three times and to New
York and Huntsville once. She also
completed the Seven Bridges Marathon in Chattanooga a couple of years ago.
“I went to Boston the first time in 1985. I started crying when I made that last turn
and could see the finish line. That’s a runner’s
dream to be able to say that I’ve run the Boston Marathon,” she added.
While she runs three or four days each week, she’s also
actively involved in cardio dance classes.
She would do one of those every day if time allowed.
She also enjoys working in her yard and reading a good book
from time to time, but she really likes her job as a pre-school teacher.
“I just love my job as I’m in heaven when I’m in this
room. I’m so fortunate to be able to
teach in this environment. I hope to
keep teaching as long as I’m able, but I don’t have any plans to retire any
time soon,” she suggested.
Kathi Wagner is enjoying the best days of her life right
now. Everything has fallen into place.
Running continues to play a vital role in her life, just like
it did during the toughest times back in 2007.
(This is the 25th in a series of runners in the
Chattanooga area. If you know of someone
who would make an interesting story, email John Hunt at