Ten years ago, Cheryl Holdefer was busy scribbling notes on legal pads while watching her kids’ softball and baseball games. Now she’s the proud author of “Victoria’s Run,” her first novel, pieced together from those notes she wrote so long ago.
Holdefer’s “Run” is both literal and figurative, as the novel blends themes of distance running and life’s challenges. Although not autobiographical, the story is loosely based on Holdefer’s life.
While recovering from foot surgery as the result of (what else?) running a few years ago, Holdefer, who lives in Clary’s Forest with her husband, Dave, rediscovered her handwritten pages and decided to type them on her laptop. She filed the notes away again until Christmas 2012.
“I read it over and decided it was time to publish,” says Holdefer, who works as an assistant principal at a Montgomery County high school. The inspiration for “Victoria’s Run” came from a short story Holdefer had written, which doubles as the first chapter of her novel, which is self-published.
As described by Holdefer, “Victoria’s Run” is the story of Victoria, a single mother who is dealing with her career and raising two kids while striving toward her dream of competing in the Olympic Marathon. She falls in love along the way; however, her goal of competing in the marathon is sidelined after an accident, so she accepts an invitation to organize a major race in Puerto Rico and “begins her life again.”
“In a surprise ending, Victoria is faced with some complex decisions to make, and she finds strength and renewed resolve from the power of a dream,” explains Holdefer.
“Certainly, the running piece was part of the inspiration for the book, acknowledging the strength that a woman possesses, but I also wanted to share how we can learn from those who touch us as they pass through our lives,” she says. “And finally: love. It comes. Don’t be discouraged. You will find it when you least expect it, and when it comes, don’t throw it away just because it is complicated.”
Holdefer, now in her early 60s, grew up in Puerto Rico with her mom and stepfather until she left the island at 18 to study at Bridgewater College in Virginia.
“Two of those years of my youth, for grades seven and eight, I went to a French school in Denmark ... while living with my biological father and four sisters,” says Holdefer. “Both of the schools and countries are featured in the book, and the experiences from both are mostly true.”
Like the main character in “Victoria’s Run,” Holdefer is an avid runner. Hooked on running at age 30, she worked her way up from small races and 5Ks to the Cherry Blossom 10-mile races and then marathons. While running in her 40s, Holdefer injured herself, but kept running despite the pain.
“I felt like I was fighting myself, competing with myself all the time. My knees were in bad shape, and my feet were telling me to take a break. But I didn’t listen,” she says.
“... So once the doctor scared me, I took a break and then graduated to longer distances at a much slower pace. I ran those more to just clear my head and see the sights, rather than try to beat any time goals.”
Afterward, Holdefer says she found running to be more enjoyable. She also recognizes everyone runs for different reasons, especially reflecting on April’s Boston Marathon bombing.
“It’s not easy to run. I think about the people in Boston and how much courage it took for them to train. It’s not just the race, you have to practice and it’s hours of sacrifice,” she says. “These people worked so hard, and for many of them it was their first marathon. Someone took this away from them with that bomb. What does that do to you? Will you ever run a marathon again? Is it all taken away with something like that?”
Despite injury and tragedy, Holdefer maintains that running is something that will always be a part of her.
“You really do feel a sense of accomplishment and exhilaration that is inexplicable,” she says.
Holdefer continues to write. This summer she plans to release her second book, “Secrets and Sunflowers,” which is about a woman who discovers a secret three years after her husband dies.
“I feel it’s important for us as female writers to show both men and women that women can do all these things, too,” she says. “We have a lot of courage and conviction for many different things.”
“Victoria’s Run” is available for $9.99 on amazon.com.