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Meet the GRT – Lisa Stephenson

Here is our next installment in Derek’s “Meet the GRT” series, taking a look at the life and times of the ruckers in our community.

Meet Lisa Stephenson

Tell us a little about yourself to get us started. (Name, Age, Location, Family, work, things you enjoy, whatever you want to tell the community)

I’m Lisa Stephenson.

I’m 45 years old and live in Gaithersburg, Maryland, with my 11-year-old son and my 3 dogs. I also have a daughter that has already graduated college and is off on her own crushing adulthood.

Our favorite family past time is traveling around with our camper in tow, exploring this beautiful country that we live in.

During the day, I’m a chemist and work in pharmaceutical development.

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At pretty much all other times, I’m a fitness-obsessed strength and conditioning coach. I run a strength training program called Ruck Strong, in which we use strength training as a means to improve performance and durability for people who ruck and do GORUCK events.

Fitness, especially the use of strength training for sports performance enhancement, has been my deepest passion over the last decade and I absolutely love to coach. Basically, when I’m not at work being a chemistry nerd, I’m somewhere else being an exercise science nerd!

Where did your GORUCK journey start? What was your first event? What stands out from that event?

My first GORUCK event was Challenge Class 987 in 2014. I knew nothing about GORUCK when I signed up. I had never met a GRT until I went to the start point. I basically signed up because I was telling an Army Ranger friend that I was disappointed that the Tough Mudder I had done years before didn’t end up being the mental/physical challenge that I had hoped it would be. He said “You should do a GORUCK event” and I said “OK” and signed up.

My most vivid memory of that event occurred during the welcome party. I had no idea that there was such a thing as a welcome party or what it was so when it started, I was shocked! Everything felt so chaotic and stressful and painful! As I was there with a “deer in the headlights” look on my face trying to follow instructions while my mind was like “What in the hell did I sign up for?!!!”, someone grabbed my hand and said, “It’s ok. We got this!” and everything was ok after that.

Hard as hell, but ok.

That person was the first GRT friend I made and by morning, I had tons more, many of whom I still talk to today.

What was your most recent event or events? What would you like to tell us about it/them?

One of my most recent events was the Badass Babes T/L/S in Louisville. Honestly, I had a little bit of a bad attitude about all-women’s or all-men’s events prior to that. The way I saw it before was that we are all fit humans that like to punish ourselves for fun so breaking ourselves up by gender was dumb. I did the event only because so many of my friends would be there.

But, that event really made me see the power in women coming together to do work and that an all-women’s event is very different in a beneficial way. I’m sure it’s the same for those that have done all-men’s events.

I’m glad that we all can come together as a team regardless of gender most of the time but I’m now very thankful that I had the chance to experience an awesome event with just the Badass Babes of GORUCK.

Favorite Ruck?

The original black GRO that I used until I ran it into the ground. (I’m scared to send it to SCARS because I don’t want it to get replaced for being irreparable.)

Proudest accomplishment as a GRT?

Finishing the Expedition Heavy in Delaware and the All American Marathon in Fayetteville, NC back-to-back in 2017.

That Friday, my friends and I drove to Delaware and completed the Expedition Heavy. It ended at 10 pm and we promptly got in the car and drove overnight to North Carolina. We arrived in Fayetteville and went straight to the start point to run the marathon.

After the Heavy and the car ride, every mile of that marathon was a new sort of painful nightmare. By the last several miles of the marathon, I could barely walk as my hips were so tight it was hard to put one foot in front of the other.

With just over 2 miles left, the Race Director pulled up and informed me that we had 20 minutes until the race cutoff time. I could barely walk a 20-minute mile at that point so I was sure that running a 10-minute mile for 2 miles was not a reality. If there was ever a time to give up because something was clearly impossible, it was then.

‘However, I just couldn’t bring myself to say the words “I quit”. There was no cadre there to yell at me to do it; it was just me and my thoughts. But I remembered all the things that I thought that I couldn’t do but still did when there was a cadre there yelling at me to do them and I thought, “This is my moment! This is my test! This feels like the worst predicament I could possibly get into but it’s probably going to be the most epic one ever as well.”

So, I reached into a place in my soul that I don’t think I’ve ever visited before and I started running. During those two miles, I ran, I hurt like I’ve never hurt, I got stung by a bee on the arm, the bottom of my foot (which was I didn’t realize was one giant blister) exploded and gushed fluid between my toes and caused even more horrendous pain.

But, I kept running. Running and ugly crying all at the same time.

The Race Director abandoned his car to run with me, Army guys that were there as spectators joined in too. When I got to the end, my GRT friends were there waiting to cross the finish line with me and we did so holding hands.

This experience will always be near to my heart. It taught me that there is no impossible and it further solidified my friendship with some of the people that I love most.

How many events have you done? What’s your favorite event or type of event? Why?

I have done 40 events, including 3 HTLs.

The HTL’s are my absolute favorite – it’s a long time to endure and there is a lot of adversity. You really need the support of your teammates and they need you.

I love the feeling of finishing an HTL with my team – the memories that only we share and the bond that we formed going through hell and coming back. It’s just the best!

Why do you continue to do events? What keeps you coming back?

Well, I thought I was retired and had moved on to doing Ironman races but, apparently, I haven’t because I have done some events since declaring my retirement. Mostly, I continue to do them because my friends are there and GORUCK is an experience that I like to share with them.

How do you train for events?

These days, I don’t really train for events. I almost exclusively lift weights but I do occasionally ruck with my friends and I still throw my ruck on for hikes and long dog walks.

In preparing for my HTL’s, I did PATHFINDER Ruck Training, which I cannot say enough good things about in terms of it being an effective, quality program run by people who genuinely care about helping others become well-prepared for their events.

If I were to do another HTL, I’d do Ruck Strong and PATHFINDER together to prepare.

Best Rucking and/or GORUCK event advice you have gotten?

When everything sucks, your mind is melting down or you feel some sort of pain and panic that you’re truly injured, EAT! Sometimes a few calories are all you need to turn your mind around and handle things better.

This seriously works! Eat and reassess. Sometimes you’ll just totally forget why you got all bent-out-of-shape in the first place.

Other than packing list items, what is a must-have in your ruck for events?

One pair of extra socks. That’s the only extra thing I carry.

A book or a few that have impacted your life? Why?

I’m gonna say any book by Dan John. The guy is a legend in the strength and conditioning world and worth listening to in that regard but I especially love how he sees the interconnectedness between fitness and every other aspect of life. He’s inspiring and he makes you think!

What other hobbies do you have?

Training my German Shepherds!

What’s the best purchase under $100 you’ve made in the past 12 months.

A Tile for my car keys! I can handle a GORUCK event. I cannot handle losing my car keys! Haha!

How has rucking changed or improved your life?

As someone who has been a single mom her entire adult life, I’ve always just counted on myself and done things on my own.

GORUCK has taught me that there’s power in teamwork, that it’s ok to ask for help sometimes. It’s shown me that there are people out there that are willing to work as hard as I do and that will be by my side during hard times just as readily as I’d do that for them.

Knowing that has raised my expectations for the kind of people that I keep in my company and that has brought a lot of peace to my life.

How do you recruit new people to ruck, or do events with you?

Like any good GRT, I wait for even a hint of a chance to start talking about GORUCK and use my powers of persuasion to pull them in.

Best Beer to drink after a ruck?

Tequila

Advice you would give to someone before their 1st Light?

Enjoy it! Know that there will be fun times and not-so-fun times but you’ll be there with your team, all working together to get things done and it will be great.

Don’t be afraid to get in there and carry some weight.

Work your hardest, do your part and finishing will be an experience like none other.

Advice you’d give to someone before their 1st Tough?

I’d probably say the same thing to them as I’d say to someone doing their first Light.

If you get overwhelmed during an event how do you refocus on the task at hand?

Like I said above, when possible, I eat first and see if that solves whatever mental breakdown I’m having.

If I’m not carrying anything at the moment, I often find that jumping in to carry a coupon or help someone else that’s struggling really helps.

I have a couple of mental tricks that work well for me as well. One is to focus only on the current task – this step, this rep, etc – no thinking about what was or what is to come.

The other is to start very matter-of-factly describing the environment around me – “I am outside on a sidewalk, there is a tree to my left and it has no leaves, there is a light pole to my right, I see a red a car….” This tactic draws you out of emotion and into logic and can help you reframe things in a more rational way.

Usually, when I do this, at some point I’m able to start describing things to myself in a funny way and that really turns my mood around.

What’s the next event or events on your calendar?

I have a 7-mile open water swim race in April but no GORUCK events planned yet. My next GORUCK event will probably be spur-of-the-moment.


Meet the GRT is put together by Derek. Derek is an average joe who enjoys exercise as a hobby. He lives and rucks in Mayberry (really) with his wife and newborn son. He works for a national nonprofit in finance and coaches functional fitness for 55+ year old folks. He writes at hilledit.com and you can find him at @dhill37. Reach out to him if you think you know a GRT he should feature next!

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