Susan Clayton Runs Through Her Fears
After being hit by a car, the entrepreneur was afraid to cross the street. Training for a marathon helped her take back her life.
Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
Susan Clayton told her story to producer Shweta Watwe for an episode of The Daily Rally podcast. It has been edited for length and clarity.
They say your life flashes before you, and it doesn’t really flash, but moments pass in front of you. And one of them was, “I’m not gonna be able to do my 12 miles tomorrow.”
I live in Baltimore, Maryland, and I was born and raised here in Baltimore. I am an inventor and business owner of a mitten called White Paws Run Mitts.
The 2021 Boston Marathon decided that they were gonna have a virtual Boston Marathon. I decided I was gonna do it because I was like, I’m never gonna qualify any other way, so I’m gonna do this virtual marathon. I’ve done lots of half marathons, but this would’ve been my first marathon, so I was super excited.
It was in the summer and it was actually four days before my birthday. I was leaving work. The sun is starting to set, but it’s not completely dark. It’s sort of like that glory time of the day when you want to be outside after work, and you want to go and hang out with your friends, maybe sit and have a cocktail.
I was thinking, Tomorrow I have to get up. I have to do this training run. I hope that the weather is nice and it’s cool enough when I get up in the morning. Just thinking about getting up the next morning. And I was crossing the street in this crosswalk, and I got hit by a car.
As the car was coming towards me, I kept saying, He’s gonna stop. He’s gonna stop. He’s not gonna hit me. I can’t believe he’s…Oh my God, he’s hitting me.
As you’re falling and you’re laying on the ground, you’re like, I can’t be hurt. I can’t be hurt.
I was laying on the ground, he was yelling at me. “You weren’t supposed to be there! I had a green light!” And I was like, Ugh. You’re laying there in agony and you’re hoping that you’re not beat up so much that you can’t function after this, and that you’re not hurt so bad.
I had two cousins who had died recently. We were all close in age. And all I kept thinking is My family can’t handle if I get hurt. I need to make sure that nothing happens to me. I have to be OK with this.
Nothing happened to him. He wasn’t issued a ticket. He probably just was like, “Whatever,” because he didn’t feel like he did anything wrong. So he went on with his life. Whereas my life was changed. I’m scared to even cross the street, because the next person might kill me.
I felt like my life had been taken away from me because that’s how I got around. I walked to the grocery store, I walked to the drug store, I walked and hung out with friends. We’d take long walks on Sunday morning. We’d walk to the farmer’s market.
I would make these weird detours. I would try my best not to go places where I had to do major street crossings. It was just like this shock, this terror. I’m looking both ways, and I’m looking everywhere, and I’m like, No, I don’t want to cross yet. Let’s make sure there’s no traffic. I can’t cross that way. I can’t cross this way. I gotta cross this way. It was taking over my life, not being able to just cross a street. I could walk, but I couldn’t mentally do it.
Needless to say, I wasn’t able to train right away for the Boston Marathon, and it was devastating, because I was like, They’re never gonna do this again. They’re never gonna offer this again. This is my only shot at doing this virtual marathon.
I was so angry that this person was going to take this experience away from me, and I was like, I can’t let this define me. I can’t let this person take something else away from me. It took about a month and I just said, I can’t live like this. I am going to figure this out.
I just got up and said, No, you’re gonna finish this. And even if you don’t finish it, you’re gonna train to try to finish it. If it takes you 12 hours to walk this race, it’s gonna take you 12 hours to walk this race. But you’re going to get past that finish line.
I just started in the neighborhood. And then slowly but surely, I would walk a little bit further, walk a little bit further. I even made my route so that I didn’t have to cross so many streets. I mapped it out. So I was like, OK, if I go this way and I go this way, and I go this way, I can alleviate so many streets that I have to cross in order to do 26.2 miles.
I was determined that I was going to finish this race, no matter what, and I did. I don’t know if I would’ve made myself do it if I hadn’t gotten hit. It sounds crazy. I got hit by a car, but I was more determined to finish the marathon than if I hadn’t, because I was not gonna let this person take this away from me. So I think that gave me even more determination to finish it.
People are always looking down on certain aspects of peoples’ lives. You didn’t do this, you didn’t have this. You didn’t grow up this way, you’re not supposed to succeed. You’re not supposed to be this way. You’re not supposed to do that. And I think that those things in the back of my head make me want to do even more. I’m gonna prove you wrong that I can do it.
Susan Clayton is the founder of White Paws Run Mitts, a Black-owned company that makes mittens designed for runners.