Running Toward The Challenge

Alumni6 min. read

Tenacity and grit deployed in COVID-19 fight

Christine Hein runs in Cumberland and North Yarmouth
By Kristin Yorke '20
June 19, 2020

It’s amazing that Christine Brown Hein ’97 can find the time and energy for an interview. As a mother of five—three biological and two step-children—and the associate medical director for the emergency department at Maine Medical Center, as well as its chief wellness officer, Hein normally has her hands full. The professional turbulence wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic has proved, for emergency technician Hein, an unpredictable challenge.

But when nothing in her life feels controllable, running is Hein’s constant. “I developed this love for running for many different aspects. It became about running for myself and my health and the peace it could bring me.”

Running, and the skills Hein has learned with it, have provided her with a reprieve from the exhausting environment of battling the coronavirus. For Hein, tenacity, grit, and hard work are skills she’s learned through marathoning that have seamlessly translated into her professional life. “The marathon, in particular, is such a long training process … you really have to break it down into smaller achievable goals.” Hein brings this effective formula to her work at Maine Medical Center. “In emergency medicine, we make very rapid decisions. It can feel overwhelming.” Just as in running, Hein finds comfort and strength in “being able to go back to the fact that your training prepares you for the choices you have to make.”

At Colby, Hein spent her first year running cross country and indoor track. While training the summer before her sophomore season, a patella tendon tear forced her to slow down, and eventually, she lost the entirety of her second season. It was after recovering from this injury that Hein decided to change course. She gave up running on Colby’s team and began to run long distances on her own. By her senior fall, she had completed her first half marathon in Maine. Hein had fallen in love.

Hein ran throughout medical school at Dartmouth, using it as a healthy dose of sanity and a breath of fresh air. Six months to the day after her first child was born, she completed her second half marathon, pushing the baby stroller all 13.1 miles. Recalling the experience, Hein laughs, audaciously claiming, “It was fun!”

“We keep running, keep pushing, keep driving. And never give up.”

Christine Brown Hein ’97

Even as her family grew, Hein continued running. No child, or dog, was ever left behind: Hein’s morning jogs were spent pushing a two-child stroller, dog leash tied around her waist. A little too difficult to keep up with during residency and raising a house full of kids, Hein lost her focus on marathoning until 2007. “I started training for my first full marathon then, and I’ve run probably 35 marathons since then.”

Her first goal in her running journey was just to qualify for the Boston Marathon. Next: not to finish with the last of the pack. Then, break three hours. Years later, Hein was starting next to Olympians in the elite start. As she stood there for the first time, looking at her impressive company, she thought, “Wow! I did this through hard work.”

Despite the hurdles that come with an inconsistent and mentally tough sport like running, Hein said: “I feel really blessed to have an outlet like that. With the challenges of medical school, residency, work, and parenthood, it’s always been something that has been a really positive element in my life.”

When working, Hein’s mind is on the uncertainty of the global pandemic. “You don’t know at all how the disease reacts, and what you do know is that it has very severe manifestations.” This uncertainty is compounded by the isolation of Hein’s patients. “Limiting visitors and limiting family members at the hospital is a huge loss for the patient and the caregivers.” Family members know critical information about the patient that the patient isn’t always willing to divulge themselves, Hein emphasizes. On top of that, physical isolation is just as hard emotionally. “The support that patients get from their families, it’s really hard to see that go.”

The mental toughness involved in setting and crushing goals in her running career only helped prepare Hein for the challenges that lay ahead professionally. “When COVID hit the United States, I told myself: ‘Okay, this is a challenge you’re going to need to face.’ But I was certain I had great tools at Maine Medical and amazing people to work with, and I felt very reassured that we would be able to rise to the challenge.”

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