By Cecilia Harris
Yolanda Holder is a twice Guinness World Book record holder, a mother of two grown children, a wife, a power walker, and a goal achiever. Seven years ago, when she turned 50, she wanted to challenge herself to do something different in her life. Her kids were in college. So she decided to walk – power walk – 50 marathons in 50 weeks. She did not succeed.
Instead, in October 2008 when she finished her 50th marathon (Silicon Valley Marathon) she realized that she still had more time left in the year. So she completed 65 marathons in 52 weeks. This was her start that has no end. In 2009, she went on to complete another 77 marathons/ultras. She would complete an ultra marathon (50K) on a Saturday and then complete a marathon on a Sunday. It wasn’t until November 2009 that she realized that she was different—so different that Runner’s World has yet to do a story on her—because she is NOT a runner. Yolanda has never been a runner. When you are runner, you can slow down and walk. But when you are a walker, how do you slow down? You are already walking! It is not easy to be a power walker. But no one said life was easy.
After contacting Guinness to find out if there were any other women who had completed more marathons in a year, she completed 106 in 2010. Her first World Record. But runners were still not giving her respect.
In 2011, she cut down on her events and only completed 50-60 marathons. She was still referred to as “just a walker.” And in her mind she was not an athlete.
But 2012, she was determined to set the record straight – a second Guinness World Record! She not only completed 120 events, but she power walked three 100-milers, two 50-milers, 40 50Ks, and 75 marathons in one year. Bam – in your face runners! Yolanda was now a world champion walker; and an athlete.
2013 brought a total of 300 lifetime marathons before having major surgery in November 2014. And on February 14, 2015, she hit the mark for 500 lifetime marathons/ultras.
It was in Alaska at her first 6-day event. She power walked 403 miles, placing 3rd for women and 10th overall out of 100 runners. Only about 15 Americans competed. The multiple-day ultra is more popular around the world than in the United States. But that may be changing.
Yolanda has since completed two other 6-day events (getting on the podium in all three) and will be competing in her first 10-day event “Sri Chinmony 10 Day Race April 19 – 29, 2016, Queens New York. Yolanda will be breaking Sutushi Lang (USA) 19 year record (510 miles) and will be the second American Woman to run or walk a 10 Day Race.
Yolanda believes the human body is amazing. “If you treat it well – run, walk, ride a bike – the body will achieve what the mind believes. Physical, mental, anything – it can be done. Positive thinking and believing – believing got me through it,” proclaims Yolanda.
After losing her father in 2003 and then her mother in 2013, Yolanda needed to honor her parents and take a stand against Type 2 diabetes. With her sponsor, Nissan, she walked from Corona to Oakland – 525 miles – to raise funds and awareness for the devastation that diabetes has and is causing in the African American community. She believes that you don’t have to be a runner. You don’t have to go to the gym 7 days a week. But you have to be responsible to yourself and move. A little today, a little more tomorrow, a little to save your life so that your kids don’t have to keep picking up the phone to call you only to remember that you are gone – too soon.
Today, there are lots of people who have done a 5K or a 10K. The numbers of participants in half marathons has exploded. And it is not elite athletes that are building these numbers. It is the middle-aged woman who decided that she didn’t want to sit on the couch anymore. It is the young girl who has joined her girlfriends to walk for a cause. And soon, the ultra – the 100 miler – is going to be the new 26.2. Because you don’t have to win, you just have to complete. And if you want to win, that’s okay too.
Today, Yolanda has completed 527 lifetime marathons/ultras. She is competitive, but she still will make time for a selfie or two out on the course. He father would always tell her, “I can never help my family,” and she lives this as well being one of eleven siblings, three with diabetes. She inspires who she can. This is her lifestyle. She believes the average person can do anything. Know your goal. Stick to your plan. Believe. Achieve.