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I believe Melanie Carvell’s purpose in writing "Running with the Antelopes" is not to inspire the readers to become runners or athletes but to suggest a more healthy lifestyle.

The seeds of this desire to inspire folk to do more with their bodies began, when as an eighth-grade cheerleader, she suffered an injury which saw her become a patient in rehab. There she observed the one-on-one work the therapists did with all ages, genders and types of injuries. She recognized the rapport between patient and therapist and knew then this is what she wanted in her future.

In her sophomore year at the University of North Dakota at Grand Forks, she noticed a poster announcing a meeting for women interested in running cross country, a sport not available in her hometown of Mott. She thought of how she had enjoyed running at home and through the dirt trails along the Missouri River the past summer in Bismarck. She’d lived with a brother and worked three jobs to enable her to continue her education. Now, she thought cross country would be a good respite from studying.

The first race she came in near the rear of all the runners, well behind her teammates, but was met at the finish line by her roommate, who had been cheering for her. That day Carvell learned that friendships and encouragement meant a lot. From then on, she made a point to genuinely offer encouragement to other competitors. 

From this humble beginning, Carvell became an accomplished triathlete who won many medals and honors. She trained at the United States Olympic Training Center with the national cycling team, is a six time All American who represented the USA on eight world championship teams — winning a bronze medal in Germany in 1999.

Often during training, she would return to western North Dakota to run and cycle. It is here where she would sometimes encounter small bunches of antelope that would quickly bound away. She gives an ethereal account of one such event and concludes, “Maybe it is my life as an athlete that fuels a sense of solidarity with the animal ... want the pronghorn’s strength and stamina, its heart ... the rhythm with which the antelope runs .... the grit and ability to persevere .... refusing to slow down. Maybe I see in the antelope that what I want to see in myself, not just as an athlete but as a person.”

Carvell says each person has a reservoir of something that can come to life, given the chance.

 “It’s really the motto of this book and the most important thing I have to say: If I can do it, so can others. So can you," she said. "We don’t have to be good at something to start, but we do have to start.”

Her life, however, has more substance than running, cycling and triathlons. Carvell graduated from the UND School of Medicine in 1983 with the coveted degree in physical therapy. That same year, she and boyfriend Charles Carvell, also from Mott, were married. Their three children are now adults and Carvell is a grandmother.

Life hasn’t always been roses for her. In the early and mid-2000s pain was pretty much a constant companion. She finally had to acknowledge the need for surgery. Back and knee surgeries resulted in lengthy recoveries, but she did heal to the point of winning competitions once again.

She is  a physical therapist, and the director of the Sanford Women’s Health Center in Bismarck. She also is a certified worksite wellness consultant and a motivational speaker. She and several friends get up early to meet and run before work every day, even on severe cold winter mornings.

(Virginia Luger lives in Bismarck.)

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