Keri Mandell is a yogi, CrossFit coach, marathoner and Ironman – but she wasn’t always these things.
“It wasn’t until much later in my life that I discovered my passion for physical fitness and health. Eight years ago, I discovered the joy of running and since then, have never looked back. Running has allowed me to discover and surpass my limits, to see how strong I am, and to help me realize that I am capable of more than I thought,” she said.
Although she played softball growing up, she said she was heavier and never thought she had a runner’s body.
After moving from Boston to New Jersey, she joined a running group. Discovering her passion for running about eight years ago, she competed in her first marathon in Philadelphia in 2014 and has run 14 since then. She has completed the big six: New York, Boston, Chicago, London, Toyko and Berlin over the past five years.
After spending 13 years as an educator in the South Brunswick Public School District, she became a yoga instructor and CrossFit coach.
“I kept upping the ante and taking my fitness to the next level,” she said.
Previously petrified of the water, she said she decided to take swimming lessons and completed her first triathlon, and then an Ironman.
Mandell is currently one of 42 athletes training to compete in the World Marathon Challenge: 7 marathons on 7 continents in 7 days. The DetermiNation Endurance Series provides the opportunity to fundraise for the American Cancer Society (ACS) while participating in healthy and active lifestyle activities. The marathon takes place Feb. 6-12, beginning in Novo, Antarctica. Only 139 people have completed the challenge since the event’s inception in 2015.
“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone,” she said, quoting a mantra on the wall of her yoga studio.
Mandell, from West Windsor/Princeton, whose family owns the Monmouth Mobile Home Park in South Brunswick, along with Brian Cronin, from Brooklyn, New York, have committed to an individual fundraising goal of $150,000 to support the ACS mission.
“I have chosen to compete in this race as a way to challenge myself both physically and mentally, but more importantly to raise awareness and funds to help fight cancer. I will run this race to honor my father, Arthur Roedel, who died an untimely death because of multiple myeloma,” she said.
Her father and stepmother each lived for about four years with their respective cancers, and died within six months of each other almost three years ago. She also lost a dear friend to cancer around the same time.
In addition, 10 years ago, doctors found cancer cells on Mandell’s cervix and she had it removed, but she found out that she could no longer have children. Mandell decided to focus on what her body can do, rather than what it couldn’t. She said she found yoga, which “saved her life,” and then “went on a journey to find out how strong my body really was.”
“Running to help fight cancer is something that I am driven to do, passionate about, and being able to have the privilege to compete in one of the most challenging races on the planet is certainly an awesome bonus. I hope that through my actions and sacrifices needed to compete inspires others to join the fight. I could not be more excited to have joined with ACS on their mission to save lives, celebrate lives, and lead the fight for a world without cancer,” she said.
For the world marathon, the group will first meet in South Africa for a debriefing. The event must begin in Antarctica because of the unpredictability of the weather, so there is a three-day start window, she said. Traveling on a private chartered plane with her fellow runners, medical staff and race director, Feb. 5 is the target date to leave for the Russian weather station in Novo, after which the race will proceed to Cape Town, South Africa; Perth, Australia; Dubai in Asia; Madrid, Spain in Europe; Fortaleza, Brazil in South America; and Miami in North America.
“I’m most excited about racing in Antarctica because most people don’t get to see Antarctica,” she said.
Mandell said each runner will have up to eight hours to complete each 26.2-mile regulation marathon. After that, they can shower at the race facility, eat, relax and then board the plane again. She said they will be living on the plane for the week, not in hotels or rest areas.
She said the prospect of running 183.4 miles total is not the hard part.
“It’s that you cross over 16 time zones and you’re eating and sleeping on a plane, and then you’re running again,” she said.
To train for such an endeavor, Mandell said she was running 70 to 80 miles per week at the peak of her training. An early riser, she said she’ll wake up around 3:45 a.m. and work out for three or four hours before heading to work. She said she has been biking and swimming to build endurance and strength. She said she has to be careful to avoid injury, so she ups her mileage and volume slowly so her body can absorb the impact. She said she is also running at different times to simulate what her body may feel like overseas.
“I’m no one special. I’m not a pro-athlete. I’m just someone with a deep desire to see what I’m capable of. … And you [anyone] can do this too. … You have one life, take every opportunity you get. Work hard and see what you’re capable of,” she said.
Mandell already has her sights set on another Ironman competition at the end of the summer.
“My dad always encouraged me to chase my dreams,” she said.
Anyone interested in joining these athletes as they embark on 183.4 miles can participate virtually by pledging to run 1, 3, 5, 10, 26.2 miles or more and fundraise alongside them in the spirit of #ACSrunstheWorld.
For more information on Mandell’s fundraising efforts, visit main.acsevents.org/goto/KeriMandell
To learn more about or join the DetermiNation community, visit facebook.com/groups/ACSDetermiNation.
Contact Jennifer Amato at email@example.com.