Theresa Hailey Fuchs: Portland’s Fleet-Footed Runner and Engineer Extraordinaire
Creative Director’s Note: I’ve known Theresa for more than fifteen years; I met her before she had started running competitively, or even thinking about which university she wanted to attend for her first degree. What strikes me in particular about Theresa, is for all the incredible things she has accomplished already, and for all the amazing opportunities ahead of her, she is still the same down-to-earth, big-hearted, kind and supportive person I met all those years ago.
Name: Theresa Hailey Fuchs
Where did you grow up?: Spokane, WA
Where do you live now?: Portland, OR
What do you consider “home”?: Memories, sentimentality, tradition — a place I can fully be myself with my husband and family by my side
What is your career path?: I am currently a Design Engineer at Boeing and an aspiring Elite runner. I love my job and I hope to one day work as an engineer abroad — preferably in a climate similar to the PNW.
What other passions do you have?: Running, reading, engineering, learning
Where can people find you on the internet?: this blog, which I haven’t had a lot of time to update lately. I love writing about running, how it makes me feel, and why it’s a significant part of my life. My hope is that my blog will inspire others to pick up running, or get back into it if it fell out of their routine.
Favorite thing about the NW?: I love that we have the four seasons, beaches, mountains, and thousands of miles of trails
How do you take your coffee?: I love plain black coffee, but when I want to treat myself, I like to drink a cappuccino from a real mug
How do you record info?: I enjoy the nostaligc feeling of using a pen or pencil to make lists or take notes, but when blogging or journaling, I love the feeling of falling into a flow and being able to type as fast as my mind is thinking. The rhythm I can get into when I am typing can be almost mesmerizing.
Favorite season in the PNW?: I LOVE Fall!
How do you protect yourself from the rain?: I don’t! I love the rain! Sometimes when I go for a run, I will wear a hat to protect my eyes, but if you catch me wearing a raincoat, it’s not because it’s raining, but rather because it’s too cold to not be wearing a jacket, but not cold enough for me to be wearing my pea coat
What’s the best decision you ever made?: To start running back in high school. It shaped me into the person I am today, and has helped me to stay focused, driven and goal-oriented.
What did you do today?: Today I woke up at 5:30, went to work, did an hour of yoga at 3, worked some more, and headed to track practice with my running group at 6:15. After I got a good workout in, I drove home where my husband had dinner waiting for me. We like to relax by the fire and do our own thing after dinner.
What would your best friends and loved ones say are your greatest accomplishments?: Graduating with a degree in Mechanical Engineering, finishing grad school (MBA), nearly qualifying for the 2016 Marathon Olympic Trials (Qualifying time was 2:45:00, I ran 2:45:01), Working as a tool design engineer at Boeing, marrying a supportive and loving man.
What are people surprised to learn about you?: I come off as an extrovert, but I prefer the life of an introvert. I would rather spend a Friday night watching a movie at home in front of the fire, than go out and be social with people. If I make plans to hang out with people in the evening, I have to get excited about it at least a week in advance. I love nothing more than a cold, rainy, Saturday or Sunday because then I don’t have to feel guilty about doing nothing all day.
What are the most cherished parts of your day?: I usually go for a run at lunch with two of my coworkers. I really cherish taking an hour to split up the work day and start the afternoon fresh and rejuvenated.
How did you decide to become a design engineer, and what was your path to a STEM field like?: When I first started thinking about college, I never really thought about what I wanted study; I was more focused on where I might have the best time running collegiately. I remember once talking to my mom about what I would major in, and I specifically recall her saying that she knew what all seven of my siblings would go into, but she had no clue about me. I didn’t know whether to take that as her not knowing me well enough, or if I was just interested in too many things..
Now, I can say that that it wasn’t my mom not knowing me, it was me not knowing me. Growing up with seven siblings, I was always trying to figure out which one I wanted to be like and which one had talents I most envied, so I could try to mimic them. For a very long time, I wanted to be a singer because that is what my sister did. Then, I wanted to be an astronaut because that’s what my closest brother was interested in.
It wasn’t until I applied for college, and my coach said I could get an extra scholarship for being a woman in engineering, that I even considered a STEM major. I think the stars were aligning at that point my life though, because now I could not be happier with my decision to study mechanical engineering. From designing and assembling a dune buggy to designing, programming, and building a device that allows arm amputees to retrain antagonist muscle groups so they can use their prosthetic arms, engineering is my passion.
What has your experience been in a typically male-dominated field?: Many people ask whether being a woman in engineering has been difficult for me, and I can honestly say it has not. I consider myself to have a strong personality, especially when it comes to my career, and I have six brothers to thank for that. Taking control of my career changed the way I viewed how woman work and live outside of work, and it makes me thankful that I work for a company that supports me in both my career goals and my personal goals.
Tell us about the balance of a technical field, grad school, and elite running. How do they affect one another (positive/negative?), and do you bring skills from one to the other?: I could not do all three without the support of my husband. He understands the toll these parts of my life take on my body and he knows just what to do be there for me. I also believe that the ability to balance these three things comes down to passion for each task at hand. I love exercising, learning, and solving problems; running, school, and work satisfy those three things. Sometimes it’s difficult to do them all, but then I think of the days when I don’t have any of them and I feel lost or unaccomplished. I do these three things because they keep me motivated and driven.
My design engineering job and running complement each other really well. I will have days where I feel completely unmotivated and I will hit up some trails during lunch. When I return, I ALWAYS feel motivated and my once-tangled mind unravels and everything makes sense again. This happens to me often, actually. And, when I’m trying to solve a problem and I just can’t make sense of it, I will go for a run. I take that time to gather my thoughts and think about possible solutions and more often then not, I will solve the problem on my run.
Share with us about pursuing the Olympic trials and grad school at roughly the same time. How did you balance them, and how does/did it affect other areas of life?: In the spring of 2014, after running the Boston marathon for my second time, I made the decision to train to qualify for the 2016 Marathon Olympic Trials. That same spring I started the MBA program at University of Portland, and in May of that year, I married my best friend and now-husband.
I was roughly 12 minutes off of the qualifying time and I started training with some girls with the same goal. This was one of the hardest goals I have ever set, and nearly everyone at my company knew about it and was cheering me on.
While pursuing the marathon time standard, balancing work, school, and my marriage seemed natural. My husband is also a runner, so for a good portion of my training he would set his own goals and compete in races, or he would come to my races and cheer me on. It was definitely a “we” challenge. It affected how we both ate, drank, and slept. The great thing about running is that competing comes and goes in waves, so lifestyle restrictions follow the waves as well — though I would still have half a beer when my husband opened a bottle.
In fall of 2015 I took one last shot at the trials standard. My current personal best was 2:49 and I was attempting to break 2:43. Leading up to this marathon, I was constantly focused, and everyone in my life knew it. My goal time was posted in every room of the house and on my cubicle wall at work, along with a map of the marathon course. Coworkers understood my schedule and ran with me; my husband cooked special dinners every night and made sure I had a well-balanced lunch every day, and he always sent me to bed after dinner while he did the dishes. Homework took place on the weekends, so as to not interrupt my sleep schedule. I was riding a wave of support that I never thought could have existed, and I was in a rhythm not to be broken.
Well, I ran my heart out, and missed the qualifying time by two minutes, one second. I was devastated. The hardest part about it was telling everyone I didn’t meet my goal. The “normal” me would have been so happy to have improved my previous best by over four minutes, but on that day, I couldn’t believe that I worked so hard for something that never came to fruition. Like I believed so badly that it would just happen, and then it didn’t.
The week after is a blur; by the end of the week, the trials standard was changed to 2:45:00, and I had just run a 2:45:01. I spent the next month waiting to hear if they would let me in given the circumstances, but they ultimately denied my request.
When I look back on that month, and I think about my running future, it’s now hard for me to think negatively about it. I had an amazing race, an amazing time, I pushed myself harder than ever before, and I had a wonderful support group with me the whole way. I can’t help but look back on the events that have transpired in my life over the last 10 years and how serendipitous they all were in how they came together.