Victories sometimes take second – Mercer Island community feels like family for Bellevue Marathon winner

By Matt Phelps

  • Monday, November 24, 2008 8:48pm
  • Sports

By Matt Phelps

Mercer Island resident Susan Empey was the first woman to cross the finish line during the Bellevue Marathon, which was held July 10.

Empey has won races before, but with her 3-year-old son Peter healthy and recovering from surgery, winning the Bellevue Marathon was her happiest finish to a race this year.

Empey, 36, also was the first woman to cross the finish line during the Mercer Island Rotary Run Day Half Marathon in March. While she was training for the Half Marathon, Peter was recovering from surgery to remove a tumor from his brain.

Peter’s surgery was performed by neurosurgeon and former Island resident Dr. Jeff Ojemann. The surgeon grew up, and his parents still live, on Mercer Island. When Empey found out about the coincidence, she wrote the doctor’s family.

Peter, who loves vanilla milk shakes, has recovered from the surgery and Susan has continued running.

The kindness of neighbors and family gave Empey an opportunity to clear her head and take part in one of her biggest passions: running.

“There were some people on the Island who called me and wanted to watch Peter so I could go running,” said Empey. “We moved here just a year-and-a-half ago and it is an incredible place to live.”

Empey started tackling races in order to get back into shape after having Peter. Empey also has a daughter, 5-year-old Megan, who she says may be following in her mom’s foot steps.

“She is quite a runner herself,” said Empey. “It is fun for Megan to see mom doing this. I think it is good for her to see me working hard and setting goals.”

Those goals have not been confined to the Northwest. Empey has run in the Boston, Seattle, Washington, D.C., Marine Corp and Chicago marathons.

Her best time was in Chicago at 2-hours 55-minutes. She ran the Boston Marathon with her mother, Sarah Beer. Empey watched her mother run as she grew up.

“That is something I like about running, you can do it for a long time,” said Empey.

She first started running in college after a high school swimming career.

“I have never run on an organized team,” said Empey. “It is just nice to go out on my own.”

She has competed in 10 marathons in 10 years.

Her top female finish in the Bellevue Marathon was the first time for Empey in a marathon.

“It was a pretty tough course, I am still a little sore” said Empey. “I never thought I would win one. It is a small marathon, but it made me feel good. But I could not have done it without my husband.”

While training, Empey went for runs before her husband, Gordon, went to work. She also ran for two or three hours on Saturday mornings.

The Bellevue course was sponsored by a drink that Empey had never used in a race. Gordon bought Gatorade, her drink of choice, and handed off the drink to her at two spots during the race.

Empey runs on the Island but says that it is not the ideal area during the winter because of road shoulders leave little room to run, as well as other dangers at night.

“It can be tricky,” said Empey. “There are a lot of aggressive owls, so I run around clapping my hands with a minor’s head lamp.”

Empey said that she would like to try the Twin Cities and New York marathons and tries to average a race every nine months to a year.

“I love having a goal and feeling in shape,” said Empey.

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