Dr. Laura Leathers is the Assistant Head of School at St. Mary’s Episcopal School and the Assistant Cross Country Coach. She’s a bit of a rockstar in the world of girls’ education. However, this 46-year-old is also a rockstar in running. She’s completed marathons and ultramarathons and qualified for the Boston Marathon.
She’s been a runner since graduate school and has run every distance from 5K to 50 miles. After running the Lookout Mountain 50-Miler in December 2017, Laura was laying low in recovery mode, slowly getting back to long runs of 10–12 miles and deciding what was next in her running career.
On a Saturday afternoon a few weeks later, she was at her daughter’s track meet and suddenly lost vision in her right eye.
“I never had any symptoms—no headache or dizziness or anything else. I just couldn’t see anything out of my right eye anymore,” she says.
Thinking it was a migraine, Leathers went home and laid down. Her doctor advised her to go to the emergency room. It turns out that this healthy woman had experienced a stroke due to a blood clot that should have been filtered through her lungs, but ended up in her heart.
“It popped through a little hole between the atria and was pumped straight to my brain,” she explains. “It ended up blocking an artery in my eye. By the time they figured all that out, there was nothing to do for it.”
A few weeks later, Laura had an echocardiogram to get a better picture of her heart. They found a small hole, and a device was inserted to close it up.
“After the procedure, I couldn’t do anything for two months, which was hard,” Laura says. “For the past two years, it has just been trying to get back into the best shape I can and figure out what health means to me now.”
She is permanently blind in her right eye, making depth perception a hurdle. Her vision shifts and makes running more difficult, especially on uneven trails. Initially, she began rowing, which allowed her to regain fitness without the fear of tripping and falling.
“For a long time after this happened, I rowed a lot because it allowed me the ability to do speed work on the rower and gather data that I had been getting off my Garmin. I love all of the numerical data that comes from my workouts, so this allowed me to see improvement and increased fitness in a totally new way.”
Laura also joined IronTribe Fitness and goes several days per week. Being a part of that community has fulfilled her competitive spirit that she misses from racing.
“I haven’t really gotten back out there to run races in any sort of competitive fashion,” she says.
Her husband, Kevin Leathers, is the national coach for the St. Jude Heroes Program and the owner of Can’t Stop Endurance. He coached his wife in the past and now is her go-to for all of her running advice and questions. Laura’s close friend and running partner, Holly Hensarling, keeps her accountable and has been incredibly supportive.
“We all collaborate on what I need to be doing to reach the goals that I want to reach.”
Laura is headed to New Orleans to run a half next month and is excited to be with friends and just enjoy the experience.
“My long-term goal is to be as healthy and strong as possible.”
By Christin Yates
Photo by Tindall Stephens