Rebecca Goeckeritz lives a charmed life. She's an accomplished musician and a motivational speaker, she interviews people for documentary films, travels the world, and has a husband who loves her so much that he carried her to the top of the steep ancient ruins at Uxmal, Mexico. Her latest feat? Completing her first marathon.
"I exceeded my expectations," Goeckeritz said. "I was able to come in at 2 hours and 10 minutes, and I was expecting to do it in 3 hours, so it felt really good."
Goeckeritz, 31, who lives in Salt Lake City and works as an office manager in a Bountiful accounting business, competed in the ING Miami Marathon's hand cycle division on Jan. 29.
In spite of living life in a wheelchair, and in some ways because of it, she says she really does live a charmed life.
"It does have its challenges, and things become difficult, but through adversity I feel I gain a lot as well," she said. "I look at adversity as a way to grow, and growing isn't bad -- growing is a good thing."
Becca Goeckeritz was 15 months old when she was hit by a car. She was instantly paralyzed from the waist down.
Her mother, Paulette Bierwolf, thought about the challenges her daughter would face as she grew.
"I was worried about that first date, and that first driving experience, and all of the acceptance issues. But I think as the months went by, and time went by, I realized that she was just as much an integral part of the family, and an integral part of any situation, as any child, and she should be held to the same standards as other children, and be just as responsible," said Bierwolf, of Centerville. "We all have limitations, so we don't dwell on limits -- we dwell on all the many things we can do, at our home."
Goeckeritz found ways to do what she wanted to do.
"My brother had a Big Wheel. ... I remember one day thinking, 'I could do that,' so when he wasn't looking, I hopped on his," Goeckeritz said, explaining that she pedaled the tricycle with her hands.
Her excited parents bought her a pink version of the toy.
"My dad took off the handlebars so I wouldn't hit my chin when I turned," she said.
Goeckeritz tried out for a jump rope team when she was in fifth grade.
"She realizes, as she gets in there, that it might be hard to jump over the rope," said Bierwolf. "Then she saw girls who were the turners, and they're an intricate part of the jump rope team, so she went over and asked the girls if she could try."
She made the team.
Goeckeritz worked for what she got, and Bierwolf appreciated people who wouldn't accept less.
"I knew a teacher in school had seen past her wheelchair when the teacher would come to me and say, 'She's not toeing the line,' " she said.
Goeckeritz always looked past her wheelchair, thinking of it like a pair of shoes. That changed when she went to a store for new clothes to enter junior high school.
"She wheeled by some mirrors, and out of the side of her eye caught this mass. She turned around and all of a sudden saw this wheelchair, and then a girl in this wheelchair. She was surprised and shocked, and she worried that her peers would see the wheelchair before they saw her," said her mother. "She decided she was going to go out of her way to learn people's names, and to talk to people so that they would understand who she was."
Goeckeritz studied music since she was 6 years old.
"She's quite a good violinist," said Michael Palumbo, a music professor at Weber State University, where Goeckeritz earned a degree in violin performance. "She was a Concerto Night winner when she was here."
Since college, Goeckeritz has performed regularly with Palumbo's Chamber Orchestra Ogden. She's also part of the Orchestra at Temple Square, which accompanies the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Music brought her together with local filmmaker Issac Goeckeritz. His mother performs with the Orchestra at Temple Square, and he volunteered to be part of the stage crew. One of his assignments was to help Becca on and off the stage.
"We became friends, and about a year and a half to two years later, we started dating," he said.
They've been married 2 1/2 years, and it was a belated Hawaiian honeymoon that led Becca Goeckeritz to hand cycling.
On the islands, the couple decided to try renting a tandem bike. About 100 yards out, they decided it wasn't safe, but back in Utah they checked out other options. Going online, Issac found a used hand cycle for his wife.
"I bought it for Christmas, and my dad fixed it up," he said. "That became our new hobby."
The will to do
Bierwolf wasn't surprised her daughter decided to do a marathon, but she was concerned.
"At the end of last year, she had some very critical health issues," Bierwolf said. "So she got the OK from her doctor first." Goeckeritz had been hospitalized because of dangerously high blood pressure.
To prepare for the marathon, she did a few hand cycle spin classes with the University of Utah Health Care's TRAILS program (Therapeutic Recreation and Independent Lifestyles). Most of the time she worked out at a local gym and on her bike, using Sears' online service "FitStudio." FitStudio hooked her up with a trainer and nutritionist, who offered advice by email and phone.
Andrea Metcalf says she's trained a lot of people for marathons, but training Goeckeritz was a challenge, because there isn't much literature on training athletes in wheelchairs for marathons. With hand cycling, Metcalf's main concern was to help Goeckeritz avoid repetitive motion injuries to shoulders and arms.
"I just applied basic training mechanics," Metcalf said in a phone interview from Chicago, adding that she also recommended speed drills, cross training and endurance exercises.
The other big challenge for Goeckeritz was dealing with her bike -- it was a great gift, but only a beginner's version.
"When Sears heard my story, through FitStudio, they got right behind me and offered me a competitive cycle if I agreed to tell my story," said Goeckeritz.
She is a motivational speaker, so it was a win-win situation.
Doing the marathon
The night before the marathon, Goeckeritz slept only three hours.
"About midnight, I could not sleep one more wink,"
She was on the course before sunrise, and quickly conquered the hill at the beginning of the race.
"When I saw my first mile markers, my time was way faster than I had thought," she said.
Worried about burning out, but feeling good, she decided to keep up her 4-minute mile pace and reassess at halfway.
At mile 17, she forced herself to slow down to a pace of 5 minutes and 15 seconds per mile.
"That was actually a lot harder," she said. "I felt more fatigued, and decided to pick up to four minutes again."
Her energy flagged at mile 24, so she made it a motivational mile, dedicating it to her parents and others who have supported her.
"I yelled it out there, and it was amazing," she said. "When that happened, I was able to increase my speed."
She dedicated the last mile to her husband.
More to do
Goeckeritz wonders what her time would have been if she hadn't made herself slow down -- and she may find out.
"I'm going to be doing the Moab half-marathon in March," she said.
And she's got her eye on a 50-mile race in June.
"I can do that," she said.
She's not the only one signing up for marathons.
"Because of Becca, I'm running the Chicago marathon for the first time," said Metcalf, admitting she's never run more than 11 miles at a time. "I figure if she can roll a marathon, I can run one. ... She's inspired me."
Becca Goeckeritz biography
"Becca is big on people having a belief statement -- something that drives what their actions are," said Issac Goeckeritz. "The purpose of this video is to tell her story, and say what some her beliefs are. ... She believes in empowering the individual, and she believes she'll walk again."
My First Marathon Journey with Fit Studio (Part 1)
My First Marathon Journey with Fit Studio (Part 2)
"Becca would go to the gym during the week, and on Saturdays we'd try to get in a longer bike ride," Issac Goeckeritz said. "In December, we woke up to three inches of snow on the ground, but we still went out to Layton and got on the Legacy (Parkway) Trail. We rode the trail as best we could, but once we hit Farmington, the trail was covered with snow."
My First Marathon Journey with Fit Studio (Part 3)
The third FitStudio video by Becca and Issac Goeckeritz documents them using nutrition advice from the company. It also offers a peek at a spinning class for people with spinal cord injuries, offered by University of Utah Health Care's Therapeutic Recreation and Independent Lifestyles program.
"It's been a very motivating experience to see other people who have these challenges but are pushing through. It taught Becca this marathon really is about endurance," said Issac, adding that he also participated in the hand cycle spinning class to see how it felt. "You learn really quick how tough this is."
My First Marathon Journey with Fit Studio (Part 4)
"We had to leave the hotel at 4 a.m., and be at the starting line by 5:30 a.m.," said Issac Goeckeritz, adding that the video also shows parts of a marathon press conference two days before the race. "They kind of featured Becca's story."