Going that extra mile
At the base of a sandy bluff on Belen’s West Mesa, in the shadow of a giant white “B” painted on the hillside, Geri Lynn Sanchez lifts her face to a cooling early morning breeze, feeling exhilaration in the anticipation, and later, euphoria, in the completion of her daily run.
“It’s unexplainable, intoxicating,” said Sanchez — who in her Olympic style dark blue running suit with USA in red letters across the front — projects a strong and quiet confidence.
“Running is a cleansing magic on my soul,” she said, tying her cascading auburn hair into a ponytail.
Sanchez, 47, is an amateur long distance runner fast developing into an unlikely world class marathon runner. Recently retired after a 25 year career as a district court clerk in Los Lunas, she’s a wife and mother, a new grandmother, and, according to some, a real “Angel.”
She’s called “Hot Granny” by her friends because of her country good looks and lithe runner’s frame.
But it’s her inner qualities that are most impressive, her friends and family say, describing her variously as “charmingly homespun, generous, caring, compassionate, coquettish and effervescent.”
“She has an infectious love of life and people,” one friend said.
Ironically, how she developed her convivial approach to life and living can be traced to a disastrous event early in her life, which could have destroyed her, but instead helped to transform her into a swift messenger of good will, and hope.
Her favorite venue for dispensing her infectious brand of positivity is social media, especially Facebook, where her daily posts are often pithy, clever or inspirational.
Some of the posts are original, and some cited. She combines her sunny online disposition with her real-time personality to provide a breath of fresh air in a daily fog of incivility, her friends say.
One of her closest friends, Patricia Dye, a “sole-mate,” as Sanchez’s running mates call themselves, describes Sanchez: “If it’s true that angels walk among us, then there’s at least one who runs among us.”
“Geri Lynn is a beautiful person; an inspiring person who makes people around her try to be better,” Dye said. “She’s kind, caring, compassionate, helpful, motivating and most of all, so positive.”
Another of her “sole-mates,” Tina Jaramillo Jojola gave the winsome Sanchez the moniker “Hot Granny,” who responds to a query about why: “Just take one good look at her.”
Tellingly, Jojola, unaware of Dye’s earlier celestial characterization of Sanchez, bolsters Dyes’ suggestion: “She’s open, honest, polite and inspirational,” Jojola says. “She’s always watching over you to protect you, like an angel.”
Sanchez’ altruism is no act, her friends say; it’s as true as her eyes are blue.
“I know there are days when Geri Lynn must get angry, upset or frustrated; I mean, she’s only human,” Jojola says. “And yet she always manages to stay so positive.”
She’s got a funny, impulsive side too, displaying it recently when she decided at the last minute to run at the Tread 5k in Albuquerque, a Halloween costumed event, in which she was dressed as Supergirl. Later, during the same fundraiser for Ronald McDonald House and Casa Esperanza, Sanchez as Supergirl danced in the streets with Orbit, the Albuquerque Isotopes’ baseball mascot.
On Facebook, she posts in a playful, folksy style that at times is even frolicsome in a Mae West kind of style, like when she invited a running mate to share a morning run, “at your pace or mine?”
If she’s not on a track or running on the ditchbanks near her Belen home, she’s on her bicycle in the early morning: “Best time of the day — just me, my bike, the open road, and an occasional bug in my eye.”
Happily married to her first love, she can also be daring, when she posts a picture of herself costumed in a depression-era flapper’s dress, or shown running full stride in tennis shoes, blue evening gown and windblown hair.
It’s all in fun, Sanchez says.
Last June, Geri Lynn retired after a 25 year career at the 13th Judicial District Court in Los Lunas.
“It hasn’t been the same around here since she left,” said her friend and former supervisor, Jamie Goldberg.
Besides her earnest and helpful professionalism at her former job, she brightened the day with her “quirky personality and cool sense of humor,” Goldberg said.
One recent morning, while lacing up her running shoes at the Belen High School track, Sanchez chuckled and shook her head, embarrassed at celestial descriptions, offering that she is neither angelic nor celestial.
“I’m no angel; in fact, I’m full of the devil most of the time,” she says with a laugh.
Eight years ago, inspired by her son, Jeremy, who ran cross country in high school, Sanchez began long distance running.
Passionate about running, she also possesses a fierce competitive drive. Her eye-opening introduction into world class marathon running came at the 2011 New York City Marathon, which she completed in 4 hours, 7 minutes and 44 seconds. All along the way, her real time and online friends followed her progress, and cheered her on.
Long before she expected it during the run, she hit the veritable “runner’s wall,” or the limits of endurance, but she overcame it.
“The pain is only temporary, the satisfaction crossing the finish line forever,” she said, paraphrasing something she said she read somewhere.
It was a particularly satisfying way to come back from a crushing disappointment the year before, in 2010, when she trained all year for the Big Apple race, but missed it when she broke her foot just weeks before the event.
Sanchez routinely sponsors fundraisers in conjunction with her running, to help raise money for victims of cancer, or others not as blessed with good health.
Currently, she’s scheduled to run a marathon in January, to benefit two friends afflicted with multiple sclerosis.
Dye said when she first met her friend in high school, she assumed Sanchez’s sunny optimism must spring from an idyllic childhood. But she soon learned from Sanchez that her childhood wasn’t always sunny — sometimes not at all.
When Geri Lynn was 5, her parents divorced; so her mom, Rosemary Keith Davis, raised her and her little sister, Dena, by herself, “doing a very good job of it,” Sanchez said.
In July 1978, when she was 13, mom and her two daughters were on vacation on their way to Chama to ride the narrow gauge railroad, when a drunken woman ran a red light and smashed into their car, killing their mom, and seriously injuring Geri Lynn.
During her subsequent many months of hospitalization and recovery, enmeshed in a full body cast, and feeling a maddeningly constricted, painful ache and anguish in her body and soul, Sanchez had time to ponder.
She at first was angry and resentful, but she soon realized that it only intensified her pain.
Cocooned in her body cast, she rallied with the help, love and hope of her family and friends, coming at last to a pair of important realizations by which she has lived: “To give is to receive, and each day should be lived as if it’s the last.”
She has since added another aphorism: “Live, love and laugh.”
After the crash in Chama in 1978, Sanchez recovered well enough to be a three-year letterman in tennis in high school.
Then, as a student at the University of New Mexico-Valencia Campus, her typing teacher and future sister-in-law, Ruby Esquibel Lyons, set her up on a blind date with Gerald Sanchez, whom Geri Lynn remembered from high school as being a ruggedly built football star.
On their first date, Sanchez drove up to her house on his Gold Wing motorcycle. A thoroughly jittery Geri Lynn was seriously considering escaping out a back door when she, watching from a window, saw him remove his helmet, and decided “he was the cutest guy I had ever seen.”
She climbed on the back of his bike, and they rode 50 miles to Socorro, where they had a hamburger at the Sonic Drive-In.
By Christmas Eve two years later, they were engaged, and then they married on May 21, 1988, though Gerald still teases her he can’t remember ever proposing to her.
Besides her passion for running, her family is her other passion, including her children, Jeremy and Shanyn, and grandchild, Jenniyuh, who just turned 1 in August.
Shanyn says when she was in high school, she came close to making her mom burst into tears by being a bit of a rebel, “but when I saw how sad I was making her feel, I just stopped,” she said.
“I don’t know how she’s able to keep such a positive attitude about life and about people, but it works for her,” she said.
Besides Tommy and Joan Dils, her uncle and aunt who raised her, the next biggest influence in her life was District Judge Tibo J. Chavez, the late Valencia County District Court judge and legislator who gave Sanchez her first job.
Chavez was also well known as an herbalist and author, whose books included one on medicinal herbs and dichos, or wise Spanish proverbs or sayings.
One of the sayings Sanchez remembers was “A quien madruga, Dios le ayuda/ God helps whoever who rises early.”
Early every morning, Sanchez walks out into the cool dawn, laces up her running shoes, looks to the east where the sun beckons, and she runs.