The WNW Show — Interview with Karen Queally

Welcome to another episode of the Wise Not Withered Show! This time you will get to listen my conversation with Karen Queally, an avid runner and mother of one of my life-long friends. I’ve known Karen and her family for almost twenty years, and it was incredible to learn about her life, witness her perspective, and learn more about things that I hadn’t really realized had been happening. As with every wise woman I’ve interviewed, I now have an even deeper respect and admiration for her and for everything she has prevailed through.

Note: The recording of our first conversation got cut off at around 25 minutes in. Karen graciously agreed to talk with me a second time, to record the rest of her answers. The break between recordings happens at around the 28-minute mark.

“I had a wonderful relationship with my mother. My mother and I were close, and we got closer as I got older. Yeah. I had a really good relationship with her. She was your traditional housewife, who stayed home and raised all six of us children. My father worked a couple of jobs, and my mother taught us how to cook, fold clothes, and do everything so we could help her. She had a baby when I was thirteen, and she taught me how to take care of him. I was thrilled at thirteen to have this real live baby to… Be my baby! (laughs) My mother appreciated my helping her, and I appreciated being able to take care of the baby.

She was a very kind, and generous person. She didn’t work but she volunteered at the church, she was in charge of the Thanksgiving clothes drive, and she was President of the Rosary society, and she volunteered to bring flowers and gifts to people that were sick. She did a lot with her time. She actually did a part-time job to make a little extra money—she used to do telephone surveys for a company that paid her for the number of surveys that got answered. So I’m sympathetic when someone calls me and tells me they’re doing a survey, because I know that’s what my mother did. I don’t hang up on them. I know they’re doing it for a reason, to make some money.

She taught me a lot of lessons in life, about being kind, frugal, generous, and… She was just a wonderful person. Everyone loved her.

And in what ways would you say you’re most like her?

I try to be kind, and frugal, and generous. And I want everybody to like me. (laughs)”

“I had been very, very unhappily married. And my solace was food. And during that marriage I gained about eighty pounds. And I went on a diet, I lost weight, and to lose more weight and maintain my weight loss I started running around the track.”

About the love of her life: “And I think the thing was… We had mutual respect for one another. And he wasn’t dependent on me. … It was a different kind of relationship, where I wasn’t forgiving his inappropriate behavior, which I had done with both [of my ex-husbands].”

About getting to know someone intimately: “Part of the lesson is… You need to be with people around their people, to see how they react to that person.”

About prevailing through cancer: “You have to think positive, and you have to eliminate any thoughts from your mind that aren’t positive. Because your body knows what your mind is thinking. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said that to people I do physical therapy on: your body knows what your mind is thinking.”

“One thing I’m compulsive about is record-keeping. I have records of my runs, I write down how far I’ve run, how long I took… I’ve written in a journal every day since I was… Twenty-three years old. I have journals of every year of my life. I actually kept a journal for each one of the girls through the first eighteen years of their lives: I wrote in a journal every day. Yeah. I also have a journal of my books. Since 1999 I’ve read over six hundred books. … I not only keep a journal of books, but I rate the books on a scale of 1 to 10, and I’ve only kept the 10s!

My idea with the journal is to write down what makes this day different from every other day. What’s different about today? What I wrote about yesterday was that it was such a great day because I was able to stop and get coffee on the way to work—I had enough time to do that—and when they gave us lunch, it was this wonderful salmon and broccoli. It wasn’t a sandwich. (laughs) I had this wonderful lunch yesterday that just made me so happy that I wrote down about it. So I would ask [my daughters] what made today different from other days.”

“I should never belittle a person’s goals or ideas—I should just encourage people and not be judgmental. That’s what I learned from [my oldest daughter]. … I think what I learned from [the twins] was to pay attention to more subtle cues and not just take everything on the surface.”

“I am equally proud of two accomplishments with running: one is completing a marathon in each of the fifty states. I think that’s an amazing thing to do: the logistics and cost and effort, and everything involved in actually getting to all the fifty states and running a marathon. … I’m also proud of my running streak! On January 1, 1997 I made a New Years’ Resolution to run every day. I can do that for myself. I can’t control a lot else, but I can control that. And I never missed a day since then. … Feeling tired, feeling sick, having a cold, being depressed, having breast cancer, having surgery from breast cancer, having chemotherapy, running a marathon the day before… No. Matter. What! Getting up and getting out, and going for a run. Three-mile minimum.”

“If you don’t set yourself a goal, you don’t know if you’re achieving anything!”

“I realized this probably when I got into my forties: you should not be jealous of any other woman. You should not be jealous because you are special in your own way, and another woman is special in their own way. Women are gonna be your friends and support for the rest of your life way, way better than any man could be. … I got over my jealousy of women later on in life, and I realized how dumb it had been.

And the other thing is that people—particularly women—need to believe in themselves, and they can do whatever they put their mind to and want to do, and dedicate themselves to… They can do it. You can do it. The lesson that I learned: believe. Believe in yourself. Whether it’s that you can get through an illness, or that you can run a marathon, or that you can finish your master’s degree, or you can become a nurse, or you can compose music! Whatever it is you want to do, you can do it.

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