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Ridgefield Educator Takes On New York City Marathon Challenge

Dr. Stephanie Bell, the head of the Lower School at Wooster School in Danbury, will run her first marathon on Sunday at the TCS New York City Marathon. Photo Credit: Contributed by Stephanie Bell
Dr. Stephanie Bell, right, and training parter Laura Donnelly relax before a race. Photo Credit: Contributed by Stephanie Bell
Dr. Stephanie Bell of Ridgefield and Wooster School in Danbury runs during a race last year. Photo Credit: Contributed by Stephanie Bell

RIDGEFIELD, Conn. -- Dr. Stephanie Bell found running hard. Physically and mentally, the Ridgefield woman who is the Head of the Lower School at Danbury’s Wooster School thought tackling the challenge of 26.2-mile marathon would be too difficult a task for her to even contemplate.

“What I enjoy about running is that it goes back to something that is hard for me. For me, it’s proving I beat the demon. The fact that I can do it, it amazes. Sometimes I look back after I finish a 20-mile run and I can’t believe I just did that.” -- Dr. Stephanie Bell

On Sunday, she will prove otherwise. Bell will run the TCS New York City Marathon, her first attempt at covering the distance. “I thought a rabid dog would have to be chasing me to run that far,’’ said Bell, who is also the head of Wooster’s Prospect and Bridge programs. “It’s shocking to me that I’m actually doing this.”

Bell’s process of self discovery says much about redefining physical and mental limits. She’s also demonstrating to her teenage daughters, students and faculty at Wooster and couch potatoes everywhere that the barriers to achievement in running, education, employment or anywhere can be overcome with perseverance, dedication and commitment.

“What I enjoy about running is that it goes back to something that is hard for me,’’ Bell said. “For me, it’s proving I beat the demon. The fact that I can do it, it amazes. Sometimes I look back after I finish a 20-mile run and I can’t believe I just did that.”

Throughout her life, Bell ran in fits and spurts. “I was never consistent,’’ she said. “When I was writing my dissertation, I would go out and run 10 miles rather than write. It was the lesser of two evils.”

Bell’s outlook changed in 2013. She joined the Run Like A Mother training program, led by Megan Searfoss and Deb Povinelli, to prepare for a 5-kilometer race on Mother’s Day. She also was introduced to a group of runners that met every Sunday, and she joined them for conversation and cardio.

“It was this incredible group of supportive, wonderful people that were interested in helping,’’ Bell said. “I was a rule follower. If you trust the training, you’ll see the progress. It was very reinforcing to keep with the program and do what the trainers were telling you to do.”

Searfoss and Povinelli opened Ridgefield Running Company a little more than a year later, and last year introduced a half-marathon training program. Bell joined the group, and found encouragement from other runners.

“Being with all these runners, I found there was this community that had this mindset,’’ Bell said. “It gave me the confidence to set goals. I started training with a friend, Laura Donnelly, and we did it together. We talked about nutrition plans. We ran together. It’s always helpful to have a partner.”

Bell finished the Ridgefield Half Marathon last year and it fueled her running fire. “It wasn’t if I was going to set another race,’’ she said. “It became which race was I going to do.”

She set an ambitious goal for this year to run four half-marathons. After she ran the New York City Half Marathon in March, she placed her name in the lottery for the marathon. Surprisingly, she was accepted.

“My fear was I didn’t know if I could balance everything with running, my family and my job,’’ Bell said. “I read all the books. I knew how I was going to approach it. It was easier in the summer, and when school started I found a bunch of runners who were nuts like me.”

Bell puts in a demanding day. She joins other runners for 5 a.m. workouts two times a week. She puts in long mileage days on the weekends. Her workday ends in late afternoon, and the rushes home to have dinner with her family. “It’s hard to juggle things,’’ Bell said. “The marathon training did not impact my life to the extent I thought it would.”

This summer, she even trained other runners with the Ridgefield Running Company group to help them complete a half-marathon.

“When Deb asked me to be a pace leader, that was a big shift mentally,’’ Bell said. “It empowered me. I felt like a newbie myself, and here I was helping other runners. I felt so good, it helped me think myself as a runner. I was on the other side of that doubt.”

Now, in a matter of days, the school administrator with the demanding job, the woman devoted to family who doubted she would ever have the stamina, strength and discipline to finish a marathon, will cross the finish line in a race she never believed she could achieve.

“I think the message I’m making is about goal-setting,’’ Bell said. “It’s about being able to lead by example. You set a goal, follow a plan, and do it with integrity. Those are the things I hope my kids and my students take away from this. You can achieve anything you want, and this is the path to do it. That’s the way I live my life. Whether it’s my doctorate degree, my career, or running, set a goal and follow a plan.”

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