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Marathon with a Meaning

Heidi Jacobsen '24 and Bella Subramaniam at the beach in Greenwich, Conn., as part of their marathon walk to raise money for their local hospital.
Heidi Jacobsen '24 and Bella Subramaniam at the beach in Greenwich, Conn., as part of their marathon walk to raise money for their local hospital. By Courtesy of Heidi Jacobsen
By Griffin Wong, Contributing Writer

A lot of people planned to use quarantine as an opportunity to work out every day and improve their health, or to focus themselves on aiding the fight against the novel coronavirus. Some of those people fell short of their lofty ambitions. But women’s heavyweight rower Heidi Jacobsen ‘24 managed to do both at the same time, undertaking the challenge of walking a marathon while in the process making a huge difference in her community.

Jacobsen has always been an athlete. She rowed for five years with the Connecticut Boat Club, an all-girls team based in Norwalk, Conn. Thus, staying active by going on three-mile walks with her best friend, University of Texas-Austin’s Bella Subramaniam ‘24, every day during quarantine came naturally to her. However, one day in April, as they saw their hometown of Greenwich, Conn., get hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and wanted to help the essential workers in their community, they decided to give their exercises a bigger meaning.

“We obviously saw people sort of gathering around their communities,” Jacobsen said. “There [were] a lot of efforts to help hospitals and provide PPE for essential workers. That was our inspiration, and we just wanted to provide for the essential workers — provide some funds so that they could continue doing their jobs.”

So together they thought up a route, hatched a plan, and set to work marketing their adventure, trying to gather support for their mission and, most importantly, funding for the Greenwich Hospital. Jacobsen told her friends and rowing teammates about her challenge and chronicled it all on her Instagram account. It all blew up, and ultimately, she gathered more support than she could have possibly expected.

“Once we reached out to people and told them what we were doing, they were really supportive, and once you kind of have a community of people standing behind you, it’s hard to back down from a challenge,” she noted.

Her large team of backers helped her through the marathon, texting and direct messaging her every step of the way, and as the day progressed, she drummed up even more support for her project. Meanwhile, she and Subramaniam walked by many of her friends’ homes, waving to them and making sure they kept them in their minds as motivation to continue with the challenge. Even when fatigue started to kick in, the immense support Jacobsen received grounded her and allowed her to stay focused on the bigger picture.

The bigger picture truly was massive; through her efforts, she managed to raise over $6,000 for the hospital. This money made an invaluable contribution to its COVID-19 relief fund. But the impact of her walk spread far beyond Greenwich.

“A lot of people were DM-ing us on Instagram or texting us and saying that they were doing something similar in their communities, so it kind of reached a larger audience,” Jacobsen recalled.

Jacobsen’s challenge was further inspired by other influential athletes who strive to use their platforms to impact change.

“I think you see it with certain athletes like Serena Williams or even Simone Biles,” she said. “I think people have a lot of respect for those people, and so they listen to their messages.”

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