At 52, Underkoffler completes first marathon


Raises $2,400 for Matt Graef in Susanville race

Almost within reach of making good on an impossible dream, Emily Underkoffler discovered a nasty obstacle in her path: The Wall.

Every marathoner and distance athlete knows The Wall. It appears out of nowhere and causes a shutdown of both brain and strength.

But Underkoffler, a Mammoth Elementary School teacher, a triathlete, and an accomplished skier from Crowley Lake, had something extra.

Running her very first marathon alongside 200 women and 300 men at the Oct. 7 Bizz Johnson Marathon in Susanville, Lassen County, Underkoffler, 52, said she found inspiration in the black bracelet on her wrist—the one inspired by the community-wide effort toward helping the family of Matt Graef.

On it are Matt’s football jersey number (44), his initials (MAG) and the words, “Fight The Good Fight.”

Graef, a captain on the Mammoth Huskies football team, was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year. Underkoffler made her run on his behalf, asking for pledges that eventually totaled about $2,400.

“It just went away, miraculously,” Underkoffler said in her lilting English accent, and so did the increasing pain in her hip—a muscle strain that prevented her from running in the weeklong run-up to the race.

Somewhere, mixed up in the moment, was the coaching advice she obtained from Mammoth triathlete Alana Levin and the information contained on web pages dedicated to marathon training.

But it was the bracelet that kept her going, she said.

“I had just three and a half miles to go,” she said, “and then I thought of Matt.”

It helped, she said, that the race was on dirt, not the concrete of the Benton Crossing Road.

It also helped, she said, that in September, she completed the 100-mile High Sierra Century bike ride.

But still, for a woman who had never run more than 20 miles, in her first marathon, the task at hand was daunting.

She finished the race in 3-hours, 50-seconds, well ahead of the 4:20 goal she and Levin and set for her run.

It was enough to get her second place in the 50-55 age group, and her time was fast enough for a spot in the 2014 Boston Marathon.

On Tuesday of this week, Underkoffler handed over the envelope of donations to Matt himself, with Matt’s Dad, defensive coordinator for the team, and Marty Thompson alongside.

She had fought the good fight.

“I was high for a week,” she said.