“I have crazy dreams, which is well known to the women I run early with — because I still remember them so soon after rising and love to share all the details. I should have been writing these down over the years,” Maxwell laughs.
The 59-year-old Green Bay mother of four grew up in Milwaukee and has been running since she was in middle school. But four decades ago the organized sports landscape was far different than today. There was a co-ed track team at John Madison High School, but no cross-country offering for girls.
“I was at a track meet when John Rodahl came up to me, said he was starting a cross-country team and wanted me to be captain. It was the very first girls’ cross-country team in Milwaukee. We were pioneers. I’m still in touch with my coach to this day.”
In fact, two years ago when Maxwell’s daughter Kate wanted to run her first marathon, the mother-daughter duo ran together. And 24 years after Maxwell ran her first 26.2-mile race — the Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon — she crossed the same finish line alongside her daughter. Who was there to cheer them on at the finish? Rodahl, her high school coach.
The thing about runners is they tend to stick with the sport. Maxwell thinks that’s the case because it’s such an accessible activity. “There’s such an ease of participating in terms of scheduling and equipment,” she said. “You just need a good pair of shoes. Beginners can do it
fairly anonymously on trails or parks but they learn quickly how good it makes you feel.”
A lot of runners enter into the sport by jogging solo or with one partner. But when participating in races or further distances, the natural progression is to join or initiate a running group. For many, it can start by aligning with groups like SHE Runs This Town Linda Maxwell
or organized training runs for specific races like the Prevea training runs for the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon or Bellin Run training runs.
“I’ve been running with the same core group of five women for 20 years,” Maxwell said. “We start our days doing something that keeps
our bodies strong and healthy, it gives us a chance to be outside and find peace before the craziness of our days while encouraging and
supporting one another.”
The crew started when Maxwell was a young mother. “The first two of us met at the old West Side YMCA when our kids were in class,” she recalled. “They only had four treadmills. So you’d get your kids situated in class and then rush upstairs and hope to get one of the treadmills. This woman stopped me and said, ‘You’re a runner, right?’ She wanted to know my PR (personal record), and I was really proud that I had just broken 44:00 at the Bellin Run.”
She didn’t realize it at the time, but she was chatting with Carol LeGate, who Maxwell would later learn was a three-time Olympic trials qualifier. LeGate hemmed and hawed about her Bellin Run PR before admitting to a 35:00 finish time. Maxwell had two marathons
under her belt at this time, and LeGate was considering that distance as her next big challenge. A lifelong friendship, solidified side-by-side on early morning runs, ensued as the two picked up more partners at races and training runs.
The teamwork approach is crucial to Maxwell, who has coached cross-country at St. Mark Lutheran School for 25 years. “One of my favorite roles is that of coach,” she said. “I’m proud to say I know I have made a difference in these kids’ lives. By exposing them to running as a sport and, more importantly, as a lifetime activity. I have seen them succeed competitively in high school and college or heard from them years
later about how running is a joy in their lives.”
Along with the dozens of runners she’s guided, Maxwell has coached all four of her children in cross country. “I think my favorite stories are
about those kids who tried out for other sports in high school and got cut as the teams got competitive,” she said.
“They felt lost — or worse yet, like a loser. But then they remembered — hey, I can run; maybe I’ll try cross-country, or run with friends after school or all by myself to stay in shape. Having a background in middle school gave them the confidence to move forward — and feel positive about themselves.”
Maxwell’s professional training is in economics and teaching. But she’s spent most of her career on the business end of local races. She started as the elite athlete coordinator for the Cellcom Marathon before aligning with the Bellin Run. “I love seeing others push to
overcome their struggles and obstacles,” she said. “As a person who doesn’t seek out change, I am inspired by those who do — and try to support them as best I can.”
With the Bellin run she serves as the assistant race director under Randy Van Straten. “Randy is really creative and I’m slow to change,” Maxwell said. “We meet in the middle for the perfect balance.” Maxwell loves her work with the 10K (6.2-mile) Bellin Run. Typically a race director is too busy on race day to participate, but she and Van Straten have worked it out so they alternate years of participation. Maxwell will be running at this year’s June 8 event. Five years ago, Maxwell attended a casual meeting about getting more female involvement in the Bellin Run. By the time she walked out of the coffee shop, she was a newly minted race director for the women-only 13.1-mile event, which happens to be her favorite race distance. “I don’t think a lot of people get to form their perfect job,” Maxwell said.
“Everything in my career was building toward the Bellin Women’s Half Marathon. The event’s focus is on empowering women, and every decision we make is determined by that focus. My favorite time of the year is the first weekend in October, because I see firsthand how these women flourish and thrive; and I know it’s not all about me, but I feel like sometimes all they need is a good push, along with a strong hand to pull when needed — and I hope we are that to our participants.”
One of the facets of the Women’s Half Marathon that is most important to Maxwell is the “Mentivators” program. Inspired by InCompetition Sports founder Deb Ernst, who died of cancer three years ago, the program aims to pair female runners with running partners who are partially mentors as well as motivators.
“We’re trying to have more one-on-one interaction with new and seasoned runners,” Maxwell said. “This is a celebration of people in the community who are encouraging runners. Deb was the epitome of that attitude.”
A similar mindset buoys the “Kids for Running” program. Third through eighth-grade students attending high-poverty schools in the area
participate in a training program that culminates in participation in the Bellin Run. Sponsored by Schneider Trucking, 1,500 students are provided registration for the race, preparation through training runs and some of them receive running apparel and shoes.
Maxwell is also pushing for increased diversity participation. She’s partnering with the YWCA of Greater Green Bay to encourage participation in the Pink Pumpkin 5K (Oct. 5) and expansion of their women’s closet to include running attire and shoes.
The Pink Pumpkin 5K benefits the Breast Cancer Family Foundation. The Bellin Women’s Half Marathon benefits the Women’s Fund of Greater Green Bay. w
Life on the Run: Linda Maxwell
Linda Maxwell hasn’t met a problem that she can’t solve on a run. Whether she’s hitting the trail solo or (more likely) surrounded by her crew of running partners who’ve stuck together for decades, the answer almost always comes to her with an elevated heart rate and fresh air filling her lungs.”
As assistant race director for the Bellin Run and race director for the Bellin Women’s Half Marathon and Pink Pumpkin 5K, she has figured out race logistics during a run. And as a friend, she’s worked through tricky quandaries the same way: “I had a conversation with a friend recently and she asked ‘How do you stay so positive?’” Maxwell said. In the moment, she didn’t quite know how to answer her. “Later I was out for a run by myself
and I thought more about her question. Even when things go wrong, I feel so blessed. I have a wonderful husband, great kids and great support here. I realized I stay so positive because my final joy through any sorrows is that in the end it’s going to be perfect.”
Sometimes, thoughts can get pretty deep when you’re several miles into a long run with several more miles awaiting you. Of course, mid-run thoughts often turn silly, too.