OU Student Training to Run 4,000 Miles for the Second Time

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Lighting up a candle and covering her eyes with a heat pad. That’s how Illona Hartman recovers from her third concussion before she can start running again.

The Dutch international student wanted to run with 4K for Cancer, a non-profit that raises money for cancer in young adults by running across the United States. She wanted to run the race in honor of Leighton Hailey van Leeuwen, her baby cousin who had cancer.

But her plans came to a crashing stop.

Illona suffered her most recent concussion last year during an OU field hockey practice. This kept her from even looking at her computer screen, let alone run a marathon.

“Since I was struggling so much with my health I decided to choose for myself for the next couple of weeks,” Illona said. “Just focus on recovery and focusing on classes.”

And just days after the injury, another tragedy: Illona’s baby cousin, Leighton, her reason for signing up for the run, passed away. Illona was devastated.

“It felt unreal at the beginning. It’s like one of those famous, or infamous black holes,” she said. 

Illona had to cope with her loss without her usual stress reliever: athletics. When faced with difficult circumstances, she would let off steam by jogging or playing a sport. Without this outlet, she struggled to cope with her loss at first.

“Whenever I find out that exercise makes [me feel] worse, it’s so stressful and frustrating,” she said.

But Illona is not letting her injury keep her from her coast-to-coast run. The memory of her baby cousin helps her stay motivated.

She’s also received loads of love and support from her friends and family, especially her friend Sarah. Sarah is planning on participating in the cycling team of the 4K for Cancer. The cycling team completes their ride in the opposite direction of the runners; Illona and Sarah plan to meet in Colorado as both their running and cycling teams cross paths.

“She has been my extra motivation and inspiration to me to continue to get better and training and to raise money together,” Hartman said.

Today, Illona continues to fundraise for the organization. She has partnered with businesses in Athens while receiving donations from as many people as she can find. She’s confident she will complete the run this coming summer. Most of all, she now has a more positive outlook on life.

“I can still see the world and talk to people-there is always something positive in even the most brutal situation.”

Illona’s run will start next year on June 16. She’s run from Baltimore to San Francisco and finish on Aug. 3. She will continue to fundraise and seek funds from now until the start of the race next June.