35 Days – We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.

It was a typical Tuesday night for me. I got home from work, ate some dinner, layed out some clothes for my work out the next morning, then logged on to Facebook to enjoy a little ‘me’ time after another long day. It didn’t take me long to realize that something wasn’t right. Status after status of my ultrarunner friends read ‘Just found out that Gina Natera has been missing since Sunday…’ or ‘Does anyone know where our Gina is??’ Gina is a friend of mine in that community. She is a very gifted runner. Her smile has lit up the trails of many races that I have done. Some messages were exchanged between Cheryl, Michelle and I before we all decided that the best way to communicate was through a conference call.

On the call we were given the rest of the information. Gina had left for a long run early Sunday morning. Her car was found at a local Starbucks with her keys locked in the trunk (not uncommon for us to take a key off of our keyring and lock the rest in there). It wasn’t until Tuesday night that her brother in law, Fidel’s truck was found at the Easy W trailhead in Orange County. Some of her belongings and a towel were in the front seat. From our understanding, they were heading out for a 6-8 hour run.
Gina knew these trails well and something didn’t seem right with BOTH of them missing. The idea of animal attack (though there are two known aggressive mountain lions in that area) was unlikely with two. A fear was that they had entered a pot harvesting area and possibly seen something they shouldn’t. But the most likely thing that happened was that they were lost. People have been lost for up to two weeks out there.
We devised a game plan. Two groups of ultrarunners would take off from different places… Easy W and Holy Jim. We had something that the authorities didn’t… knowledge of the trails and the ability to cover a lot of ground quickly and not become a liability. Since there were so many going off on Wednesday morning, I immediately asked my boss if I could take Thursday off and he said yes. My hope was that Gina would be found and I wouldn’t have to take him up on that.
I didn’t sleep at all that night, thinking about what Gina must be going through. In my heart I felt that she was ok but I was still very scared. I fielded calls and texts all morning from my runner friends until something gave us hope… Fidel was found!! His story was that he and Gina were seperated during the run on Sunday and he had gotten lost. He was dehydrated and delirious but he was ok. Authorities were questioning him, but our minds didn’t even go there. Gina was out there. We just had to find her.
Around 2:30pm that afternoon, a helicopter spotted someone matching Gina’s description – it was her!! And she was alive! On Sunday, she had taken off on a trail that had gotten her in trouble and couldn’t go back the way she came. She was stuck there, for 72 hours, with no water plus her menstrual cycle had begun. She took off her pants and they blew away. She had said her goodbyes, coming to terms with the worst. When they found her, she was between 10 – 15% dehydrated. 15% is fatal. She would not have survived another day.
I’ve never been so happy to get a Facebook message from someone in my life as I was this morning when I got her message thanking me and wishing me luck at Javelina. Looking at her page a few days ago brought chills down my spine, wondering if we would ever see her again. But none of us lost hope. I think it’s amazing how the entire ultrarunning community came together for this. Truly, this could have happened to any of us. And for any of us, ALL of us would have been out there.
This experience has taught me that there is so much to be grateful for in our lives. Minor things happen daily… my asthma acts up and I have to take a few days off from working out or I am 5 lbs under a PR on a lift and it screws up my whole day. Then the fires come and take my forest away and I wonder… why was I so concerned about all those little things, my forest is gone! Then a friend goes missing and I think, why was I so concerned about the forest, my friend is gone! Javelina will be more than a race this year, it will be a time of celebration, for all the ultrarunning community to come together and be happy about the things that we have. We have been through a lot recently, but we TRULY have so much right now.

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