published Thursday, September 29th, 2011

Ultra achiever: After epilepsy, van Deren excels in long run

Ultra runner Diane van Deren has won several events since a 1997 brain operation to combat epileptic seizures. She will speak Friday at Coolidge Park at 7 p.m.
Ultra runner Diane van Deren has won several events since a 1997 brain operation to combat epileptic seizures. She will speak Friday at Coolidge Park at 7 p.m.
Photo by Contributed Photo.


What: North Face Speaker Series

Who: Diane van Deren

When: Friday, 7 p.m.

Where: Coolidge Park

Cost: Free for general admission or $20 for VIP reception -- reservation required


Diane van Deren spent many years literally running from the epileptic seizures that plagued her since her pregnancy with her third child.

An accomplished athlete her entire life, van Deren found that the only way to prevent the onset of a seizure was to run -- and keep running.

"When I had the sense that a seizure was coming, I found that running was the one thing that would prevent the seizure," she said Tuesday by phone from her home in Sedalia, Colo. "So running became my comfort and led me to the sport of running."

After 10 years of seizures, more drastic measures became necessary. In 1997, van Deren had brain surgery that removed part of her right temporal lobe.

The operation was a success and she has been seizure free since. Freed from her epilepsy, van Deren pursued her new passion of ultra running, which means longer than a marathon but in her case usually involves 100 or more miles.

She will be in Chattanooga this weekend to share her experiences as part of the North Face Speaker Series sponsored by Rock/Creek. The event will be held Friday at 7 p.m. in the RiverRocks tent at Coolidge Park. Proceeds benefit Wild Trails, which promotes the use, expansion and protection of trails in greater Chattanooga.

"I try to share a personal part of my life story and show where I was and where I am now," van Deren said. "Everyone has trials in their lives, but if you can push through the difficult times, you can achieve great things."

Since her operation, van Deren has won several ultra running competitions, including the 2009 Yukon Arctic Ultra, a 430-mile race across a frozen wilderness in Canada.

She also has been honored several times for her accomplishments and was named "Adventurer of the Year" by National Geographic magazine in 2010.

While the surgery put an end to her seizures, van Deren said the procedure was not without consequences. She struggles with short-term memory problems, organizational planning and time management.

"When I am out on the trails, it's hard for me to keep track of time," she said. "As a musician [she has played throughout her life], using the rhythm in my feet is how I manage time."

In addition, she is recovering from a concussion suffered in a car accident four weeks ago.

Despite the challenges, van Deren is happy with her life now and proud of the challenges she has overcome.

"I wouldn't take back what I went through," the North Face-sponsored athlete said. "It was tough on me and my family, and there were many tears and hard times. But it also led me to be the person I am now."

Van Deren will be making her first visit to Chattanooga. In addition to her appearance Friday, she will be at the start of Saturday's StumpJump 50k trail run, and she plans to run a few miles of the race before having to catch a flight to another speaking engagement.

The StumpJump has earned acclaim in recent years, and van Deren said she is excited to see the start of the race.

"There's some vibe about the race in the ultra running community -- about what a good race it is and how beautiful the area is," she said. "I'm really looking forward to visiting Chattanooga and being a part of this event."

about Jim Tanner...

Jim Tanner has worked as assistant sports editor at the Times Free Press since late 2006. He started at the Times Free Press in 2001 and worked as a news copy/design editor from 2001 through 2006. In addition to working as a night and weekend editor producing local and national sports coverage for print and online readers, Jim occasionally writes local sports and outdoors stories. Jim grew up in Ringgold, Ga., and is a graduate ...

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