Saturday Spotlight- Jen Heymach

Name: Jen Heymach

Age: 48

Marital Status: Married…

Kids: Jessica (24), Rachel (22)

Occupation: Civil Engineer (I design roads, but started in bridges)

Hobbies: Obstacle Training/Racing, Singing (Good Shepherd Church 10am mass), Wanna-be Activist?

Hometown: Lake Ronkonkoma/Lake Grove, NY

Current Town: Holbrook, NY

College: Johns Hopkins, Stanford

Favorite Race: Hmmm… I have good memories of all of them? Rob’s Run, Ocean 2 Sound, Irish Times 5k (home turf!), Dirty Sock 10k (more home turf!)

Frequent Running spots: Holbrook neighborhood (evenings), Argyle Lake / Southard’s Park (work days), Heckscher Park

Ok, so I feel like I’m a bit ho-hum, but I’ve done a few cool things over my many years! (Trapeze, Top of Tappan Zee)

I totally identify with so many other spotlights before me – remembering idyllic childhoods being active. I played SYSL soccer, did one or 2 seasons of summer softball, but mostly swam, did gymnastics/acro, climbed lots of monkey bars, went skiing in the winter, and put on “shows”. I was often one of the last kids chosen when we played in teams in gym class – I am not good with ball sports!!! And I was not a fan of running either. But when they put out the rope in gym, I got to the top. And in 6th grade, I was a runner up for the school record in flex arm hang – 61 seconds.

As I said, I swam – that was the team sport that my parents signed me up for. I could swim, but I really didn’t have a competitive nature, and I looked for excuses to get me out of the 2 hour practices. They bored me. I’d tell the coach that my asthma was bothering me, and would dry off and go sit in the stands and read. I was a huge bookworm. I also loved to sing and played the flute. I was good at music, and fit in with those kids much better than the athletes, but growing up in Sachem, I really wanted to be on a team. I went to the first day of tryouts for gymnastics, but was intimidated, and for the rest of tryouts, went to swimming. One of my few regrets from my youth actually – not going for something that I loved, in order to take the safe path. I didn’t love swimming but in 9th grade I got onto the varsity team, as a lane 1 swimmer (slowest), and I was rarely in meets. I did love being on the team though. Stretching, traveling to meets, doing the “arrow beat” on the bus walls and roof as we entered the parking lot of the school where we’d compete, and being on a 10-year undefeated team, felt great! Plus I knew the girls, and never felt put-down or bullied, even not being good. Actually, I now wonder if my acceptance on the team was in many parts due to my younger sister (fellow SHW), Heather Rowley McKenna, who was a lane 5 swimmer (very fast), who had been competing year round with most of the girls for a long time.

Anyway, for the rest of the school year, I was the drama kid, loved being in musicals, and competing in NYSSMA (voice and flute). I even went to All-State for chorus – and treated the local NYSSMA competitions like athletic ones – running and checking the scores as they were posted, tallying medals, etc. My other varsity “sport” was Math Team. For real, I got a varsity letter in MATH. I enjoyed being smart.

When I went off to college, I discovered a few things. School was harder, and I was actually a better athlete than I’d thought. I was a lifeguard for my work-study job, so I got to know the swim coaches. When I felt like I was getting out of shape, or the scale was moving up, I went down to the pool and swam. One day I got out of the pool, and the assistant coach asked me “Why aren’t you on my team?” I said, because I’m not that good? We were a division 3 school, so most HS athletes would automatically think they could go for the college team. But having rarely competed in meets, I didn’t think I was good. But my team was SACHEM. We had 6,000+ students, and about 30 on the swim team. So it was elite. Of course I was on the bench. But at any other school, I would have competed.

Fast forward to my adult life. That “safe path” led me into engineering, since I was good at math and science, and hated writing. I loved my construction classes, and worked on the Sagtikos-LIE Interchange during the summer of 1990. I loved my flashing yellow light, walkie talkie, and seeing designs on paper become reality. This led me to grad school for Construction Management out at Stanford (the Bay Area is my happy place – I really want to move back there some day!!!), but when I graduated, the jobs were hard to come by, and I came back home. Somehow I wound up in bridge design and not construction, but due to personal life choices, marriage, kids, house out on LI, I wound up losing my focus, and jumping to jobs which gave me the flexibility I wanted as a mom.

I was an awesome PTA mom, super active in the elementary school for 9 years, and my kids were everything, so between poor career choices and my kids needing me less and less, I really lost me. I realized I was on a slippery slope in 2008-ish, and tried to lose weight, develop some athletic goals, but it didn’t stick. In 2009, I was fairly successful though. I actually had lost a job, and with a lot of free time (and both kids basically out of elementary school), I committed a few hours a day for months. I joined the YMCA, swam, bike rode, and started walk-running (couch to 5k plan, but not with an app, since prior to my smartphone era…). I lost about 40 pounds, did a few sprint triathlons, and felt like an athlete again. But then I had more job changes, and the mental game of not being secure in my career path, well I lost myself again.

Fast forward to 2017. My younger daughter was in her 2nd year of college, my marriage was not good at all, my house was a wreck, I was at my heaviest, and basically I did nothing active. I watched Ninja Warrior, and Biggest Loser, for years, and in my head I competed. But I didn’t leave my couch. For several months, I noticed that when I got into the office in the morning, just walking a single flight of stairs got me winded for several minutes (embarrassing, loud breathing), and I could feel my pulse in my head. My health stats were fine, if you ignored my size/BMI, but I knew it was a matter of time. And at the end of February, something clicked. I joined Weight Watchers. I just wanted to have something that would force me to take my health seriously. And in addition to that, I realized I could connect with people there. I could be successful. I focused on healthy eating, developing tools that I could use to get back in control of my overeating (and let’s face it, self-sabotage). After a month, I started walking, 10 minutes at lunch, or after work. It had to be somewhere pretty, so that I would be distracted, because I was not moving fast, so it was BORING. Then in May 2017, I started C25k. I’ll skip the gradual progressions, but I did my 1st 5k (of this journey) in August 2017, Commack Ambulance Run, in about 38 minutes. Then my 1st 10k (1st ever!) on Thanksgiving 2017, in 1:18. These were run-walk, but hey, you gotta start somewhere!

In 2018, I set my goals higher. I signed up for a sprint triathlon, I liked triathlon training, and did well enough, but that training felt like an obligation. Next I signed up for a Spartan race with people from work. I realized I needed to step up my running, specifically on terrain, so I got in touch with Susan Munro- Donnelly, who initiated me into the Selden Hills Warrior Training! I also joined Obstacle Athletics. Obstacle training felt like getting in touch with my younger self, having fun while working so hard to get strong. My 1st few obstacle races were terrible – I pulled my quad, and limped along in my 1st Titan Race, then for my 1st Spartan, I took 3+ hours, and failed many obstacles, but I plugged along, and always finished. I gradually gained confidence, and got to where I finished mid-pack in my age group by the fall of 2018 (right about the time I reached my weight loss goal of 100 pounds). I sent in my transformation story to Spartan, and they actually shadowed me for the Long Island race. I was all over the live feed that day, and my “Spartan Story” was aired in January 2019, about the same time I did my 1st 10 mile race (Brewery Run). I actually mentioned all of my communities that were essential to getting where I was in my interview, but none of that actually got into my 1-minute of fame. But you all were in my thoughts!

Community is everything. And it’s why I value this group so much, even though I don’t get to the hills as often as I should!