Heather Banos–Running for Life
● By Gary VanDeWalker
By Gary VanDeWalker
Photos by Taryn Burkleo
The mountain air parts for the runners in the 50K race. Participants pass as onlookers cheer them on. Hushed voices move through the wispy pines along Lake Siskiyou.
“She’s a mermaid,” says one spectator.
“No, a unicorn,” replies another.
A bright green head of hair appears on the trail, belonging to runner 6. Her smile encourages her fans as much as their shouts propel her on her eight-hour, 31-mile journey.
Heather Banos possesses a mythical persona. She is a living rainbow with an infectious love of life and a soft voice which brings you into her world. Out of a dark storm of drinking into the light of sobriety, her feet now carry her into a life of running. Her addictive personality and eating disorder are transformed to create a disciplined life of exercise and nutrition. She often performs for an audience of one, her 7-year-old son, Jaxson. “I wanted to show my son a life where he would learn to chase his dreams and goals in positive ways,” she says.
Running didn’t always appeal to Banos. “I hated running my whole life, I stayed away from it,” she says. “But I like to challenge myself. It was really, really hard, but a good and positive thing to embrace.”
The lithe spirit in Banos grew to love running. She started running short distances. She looked for local fun runs. In six months, she went from five miles to half-marathons. She found she enjoyed the beauty of the road along with the expanded vistas of mountain trails. She learned to be part of a family, crewing and pacing for other runners.
After 18 months, she was ready to enter the 50K race around the mountain lake. By the time of the grueling race, she adored her new sport. “I didn’t want to beat others. I wanted to beat myself,” Banos says.
Her races are a passion and calling. She journals her life and her training on Facebook. “Running has given me the high I was always chasing,” she says. “I put myself out on social media, wanting to help others who are coming from where I was. Facebook is my diary and release.”
Banos finds her accomplishments forge her identity. “I didn’t like myself in the beginning,” she says. “Fitness and nutrition have introduced me to a support system. I have a new family and community who see me for who I am now.”
Her enthusiasm is more than internal; it bubbles out in her bright outfits, her changing hair color and the tattoos which grace her skin. She is a genuine character as she dashes through her races. There is no falseness in her. “I like to stand out. At first, the color was to draw attention away from worrying about what people thought of me,” she says. “But people and kids love it. It helps make running the most positive thing in my life.”
Her goals expand with each day. She is training for a 50-mile race, with her eyes looking beyond to a 100 miler. “I still have bad days,” she says, “but I look for the positive outlook, the good lesson. Let me have the bad day. Tomorrow is a different day.”
Companies have begun to endorse Banos through ambassadorships. They provide equipment to a runner, not because they are first in a race, but because they inspire. “I have to use it and believe in the company. It’s local businesses I love the most,” she says. “I like to pick based on who they are and see if their values connect with mine.”
Banos is a woman who embodies a myth and has brought herself into the real world. Her hand fingers the small rubber unicorn she often carries with her. “I know sometimes I won’t finish, but that’s where I’ll learn the most,” she says. “You learn not from the wins, but from the struggles. Running saved my life.”