Degree’s Not Done Marathoner
Degree’s Not Done Yet Marathoner Ashley Zirkle donates her kindey to a complete stranger and keeps going
ALTRUISM: HOW MARATHONER ASHLEY ZIRKLE CHANGED A LIFE
“You can keep going until you’re done,” says Ashley Zirkle, a Florida-born, Seattle-based marathon runner. “You’re doing great. Just continue to put one foot in front of the other because you’ve got this.”
During the run of her life, Zirkle had accomplished many things. However, when the pandemic started and offered unexpected space for introspection, she knew she wasn’t quite done with giving her best yet. She listened to her own words, kept going, and, sure enough, arrived at a finish line that marked the start of a whole new journey at the end of which she was to completely change a stranger’s life.
Altruism is the highest form of selflessness. It’s a concern for the well-being of other people and/or animals that goes beyond everyday goodwill. This is the story of Degree’s Not Yet Marathoner Ashley Zirkle, one filled with running, yet-to-be-accomplished goals, and life-changing kindness.
Degree’s Not Done Yet Marathoner Story – Ashley Z – Interview with SFM
SFM: Could you please tell us who you are and how you got into running?
AZ: I’m Ashley Zirkle. I’m originally from Florida but I live in Seattle now. I got into running in my early twenties because I was a poor college student and didn’t want to pay for a gym membership. I’ve been running ever since.
I think it took me about four years before I actually attempted my first marathon. I didn’t really finish right off the bat the way I wanted to. I got shin splints and started to cramp around mile 18 so I slowly made my way through the rest of the race. After that, I didn’t run for a while because it was very disappointing but then, throughout the pandemic, when everyone was in quarantine mode, running was my way of keeping sane.
About a year ago, I donated one of my kidneys to someone who was a stranger at the time and within the first couple of days of recovery I signed up for another marathon. It was a way to motivate myself to get up and moving during the recovery process. I started out very slowly, taking laps around my living room, then walking to the end of my block, and then, eventually, going for my first jog about three weeks after the surgery. A few weeks after that, I did my first run and have been training since then.
SFM: You said you donated a kidney to someone you didn’t know at the time. Would you be comfortable expanding on that?
AZ: Absolutely. During the pandemic, I wanted to go back to Florida to be closer to my family. I was alone here in Seattle; I have no family here. I started driving there and during that trip, I was in this introspective headspace where I really wanted to make a difference in the world and have a big positive impact on someone’s life.
As I was in that mindset, I came across an article about a woman in Florida that needed a kidney. I just felt very moved by that and knew there was the opportunity to change someone’s life. We had matching stats so I clicked the link in her article and submitted my information.
I showed up for the first test, then kept progressing through, test after test. They said I was a preliminary match. After I submitted my info, I reached out to her on Instagram to tell her about it and we started chatting and getting to know each other. I kept her updated for every test I did.
We didn’t meet for the first time until about a week before the surgery but ever since then… well, we live on the opposite ends of the country now but we stayed in touch. We still text each other and check in on each other and, essentially, have become a family. I’m hoping to meet her family later this year and my own mom checks in on her from time to time, too, which is really great.
SFM: How has this relationship impacted your life, your mindset?
AZ: I call the recipient of my kidney Angel. To me, she’s so inspiring because she’s incredibly strong. She’s still in recovery now, a year later. She’ll always have to continue taking different kinds of medications just to make sure her body isn’t rejecting the kidney and she tells me that some days are harder than others. She’s tired but she still gets up every day, does what she needs to for work, and goes out and enjoys life. That’s just really beautiful.
Unfinished Business for this chosen Degree’s Not Done Yet Marathoner
SFM: This year at the San Francisco Marathon, you’re taking part in Degree’s Not Done Yet Marathoner program, which means you’re pushing past that milestone when things didn’t work out before. How did you get into doing the race and the challenge?
AZ: Funnily enough, I visited San Francisco not too long after the first marathon that I did back in 2016. It was so beautiful there and I knew immediately it was a course I wanted to run. I actually did look into running the San Francisco Marathon previously but the timing just never worked out. So when I learned that Degree wanted to support me in running the San Francisco Marathon, I got really excited. This is the course that I’ve been wanting to run. San Francisco is just so beautiful.
SFM: What is your mindset going into the race and past that mark of 18 miles?
AZ: I want it. I want it really badly. That’s my mindset. I’m just really determined to fully conquer the race this time and complete it. I’m hoping to showcase to my daughter, my family and friends, and, really, to anybody, that if you do something as big as a marathon and you aren’t happy with it, haven’t completed that goal as you wanted to, you can keep trying. You can come back to it. You can work through any challenges such as recovering from surgery and work for it and accomplish it. You can keep going until you’re done.
Rocky Road to Running
SFM: If you feel comfortable talking about it, would you like to share how coming out of surgery, missing a kidney, has affected your running?
AZ: Honestly, not much has changed between before and after the surgery. The recovery period took me six weeks, then I was more or less back to running.
The first jog and even the first full run after recovery, however, did feel very different. Internally, I felt like I had extra space, that’s the only way I know how to describe it. It felt very weird. But it was part of the surgical team’s post-op list to make sure that I kept moving so I made myself get up every couple of hours every day during the recovery period. I made sure I was walking until I felt comfortable enough to start jogging.
After the initial six weeks of recovery, I think I was running maybe twice a week and it took me good three or four months before I felt like I could run more than that. I’ve slowly worked up to running three to four times a week after that and for the past few months, I’ve been running five times a week on average. But overall, not much has changed. There’s no physical limitation.
SFM: Taking everything we talked about into account, what’s one thing you’d say to your fellow runners?
AZ: The running community is one of my favorite communities to be a part of because everybody is really uplifting and everyone cheers each other on. To all runners, I’d say, you’re doing great and just continue to put one foot in front of the other because you’ve got this.
We’re excited to see Zirkle take on and finish the San Francisco Marathon. You can come to help us cheer her and thousands of others in on July 24! See what’s happening at our Full Marathon !
Editor’s note: some of the answers have been slightly edited or shortened for clarity.