Two very different types of races are central to Jean Evansmore's life right now.
In mid-August, the Ellicott City resident plans to depart for Alaska to complete her goal of running a marathon in all 50 states.
And on any given day between now and Nov. 4, she may be found campaigning for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.
Though her interests may seem unrelated, they share an important link to Evansmore, 67. Each one, she said, is "something I feel I owe it to myself to do."
When Obama extended his hand to her after a town hall meeting in West Virginia in March, she grasped it hard, acknowledging that she was awe-struck.
"I said, 'I just shook my son's hand!' and a couple of women overheard me. The next thing I knew, they were excitedly congratulating me and saying they didn't realize I was his mom."
Evansmore, a retired defense contractor employee, obviously isn't Obama's mother. She said she and several African-American friends just like to call him their son, explaining it's "a cultural thing," a term of endearment.
She laughed after recounting the incident. Since then, she's made a point of being informed about the Illinois senator who wants to become the first black president of the United States.
"Here was something happening that never, ever was supposed to happen in my lifetime," she said. "There was just no way that I wasn't going to be a part of it."
She said she had that same clarity of thought after completing her first marathon in Hawaii in 2005.
While the benefits to her physical health were obvious, she said, she discovered an unexpected boost to her mental health that made running indispensable.
"I don't accept the notion that this [pursuit] is selfish," Evansmore said, acknowledging that she relies on her credit card to purchase airfare to reach race destinations. "This is about building yourself up from the inside as much as from the outside."
By mid-2006, she had finished 10 marathons and qualified to join the 50 States Marathon Club, a 1,600-member organization based in Houston.
"Mama Jean, as we all call her, is an inspiration to women who think they're too old to do something like this," said club Vice President Charles Sayles of Glendale, Calif. At 71, he knows firsthand. He returned home Monday from his 118th marathon in less than six years.
"You don't have to be young, super-fit or fast to be in a marathon," he said. "Even if you walk the entire 26.2 miles, that is quite an accomplishment."
After growing up inhaling secondhand smoke from family members' cigarettes, Evansmore was told by her doctor that she had the lungs of a much older woman. So she does a combination run-walk to prevent breathing distress.
"This is not about speed - it's about being the tortoise, not the hare," she said, noting that her first race has remained her fastest posted time, at 5 hours, 35 minutes and 46 seconds.
"My motto is to finish each race uninjured and with a smile on my face," she said.
If she completes her 50th marathon Aug. 17 at the Big Wild Life Run, which is sponsored by the Anchorage Running Club, Evansmore said, she has no plans to stop running. As a member of the Howard County Striders, she participates in races of all lengths.
Her husband of seven years, Stewart Frazier, said his wife's model habits have influenced his exercise regimen. At 75, the retired veterinarian said that three mornings a week, he walks the equivalent of a 5K race, which is 3.1 miles.
"Exercise keeps both of us in a peaceful and balanced emotional state," he said.
Evansmore, who values the independence of being a marathon runner, said she keeps a suitcase packed and ready for marathon trips, since she is frequently on the go.
She sometimes grabs that same suitcase on the spur of the moment when she discovers that her "son" is speaking somewhere within driving range.
The busy activist works part time at Costco in Columbia and volunteers at her church, in area schools and at the Glenwood Senior Center. She also maintains close ties to her and her husband's alma mater, Du Bois High School in West Virginia.
"I like to be challenged," she said of her unconventional approach to life. "What I've observed is that many women my age have decided it's their role to baby-sit the grandkids and bake cookies. I am not that stereotypical woman."
Is someone in your neighborhood worth writing about? Is there an event that everyone in Howard County should be aware of? Neighbors columnist Janene Holzberg wants to know about it. E-mail Janene at email@example.com, or call 410-461-4150