Prof. Norwood and Alumna Fischer's Bond Extends from Classroom to Marathon Challenge
One of Washington University School of Law’s many strengths is the unique bond that develops between student and professor. Often this tie—forged of hard work, late nights, and stimulating (if sometimes intimidating) conversation—remains strong long after the student has graduated from law school.
However, those classroom lessons of self-confidence, perseverance, and determination rarely transfer from the realm of the mind to that of the body as dramatically as they have for Professor Kimberly Norwood and Rae Fischer, JD ’09, IP LLM ’10. And it is even more rare that the student-teacher relationship gets turned on its head the way it did for Norwood and Fischer.
Last fall, Norwood and Fischer ran together in the Chicago Marathon. Not only did they complete the grueling 26.2-mile course, but they learned from each other in the process.
Norwood has been a runner since 1993. Having completed a few half-marathons, she says that running a full marathon “just felt like the natural next step.” Fischer, an intellectual property lawyer who was a student in Norwood’s Torts and Products Liability classes, had run the Marine Corps Marathon in the fall of 2011.
“For the Marine Corps race, there is a software application that lets friends and family get email or text updates on the runner’s progress throughout the race,” Fischer recalls. “Kim was receiving notices every five miles or so as I ran. Afterwards, she sent me a congratulatory email and said that she was so inspired she’d gone out and run five miles that day. Through our subsequent banter, we decided that we would run Chicago together in 2012.”
“Because Rae had run a marathon before, she knew what to expect,” Norwood says. “In law, I was the teacher, but here, it was Rae. It was a nice flip of the teacher/student relationship. She was a wonderful educator, which included finding me a coach and assigning material for me to read, weekly, and testing my preparedness on a weekly basis.”
With the goal of finishing the Chicago Marathon in front of them, Norwood and Fischer began training together—more than 800 miles apart. Fischer works in Washington, D.C.
“Even though we were far apart and couldn’t work out together, we both benefitted,” Fischer says. “For me, answering all of Kim’s ‘newbie’ questions and concerns made me think harder about what I was doing and learn new things when I didn’t have the answers for her.”
Norwood agrees that both benefitted from the training. “There was a week when I became frustrated with my training and seriously wondered if I would be able to complete the run,” she says. “Rae helped me regain my belief in my training and myself.”
Then just two days before the race, disaster struck: Norwood twisted her ankle during a short run and was unable to put weight on it.
“At that moment, I knew I was not going to be able to run,” she says, “but with tremendous support from my husband, we changed my flight and went to see a Chinese acupuncturist, who treated me on Saturday morning. By Saturday afternoon, I was on the flight to Chicago for the Sunday race. Crossing the finish line, I recalled the dozens and dozens of emails from current and former Washington University law students and colleagues wishing me luck the night before the race, and the fact that just two days earlier I could not walk unassisted. I was overwhelmed by it all. The sense of accomplishment and victory as I crossed the line just cannot be put into words. It was incredible!"
Fischer remembers Norwood’s worries, as well. “In the last week before the race Kim was expressing doubt about her ability to finish. I remember saying, ‘Are you kidding, I’m so proud of you, my cheeks hurt!’ And I still am.”
Looking back on the race and the hard work that led up to it, Norwood’s thoughts drift to the special friendship that began in the classroom.
“The marathon training and actual run reminds me so much of the three-year law school process and taking the Bar,” she says. “In both, you spend an incredible amount of time training and preparing. Discipline is important. Focus is important. Taking care of your health is important. Commitment for the long haul is important.
"Belief in yourself and self-determination are important,” Norwood continues. “And while the challenge is new and therefore out of your experience, something deep in you says if you keep your eyes on the prize, you can make it. Kick doubt to the curb and stay focused.”
After they had completed the race, Norwood and Fischer “pigged out on Chicago-style grub,” including Chicago-style hot dogs for Rae. They laid motionless as they watched Casablanca, at a friend of Rae’s, “and groaned every time we had to move,” Fischer says.
“We laughed and yawned a lot,” she continues. Once they were able to stand up again, they started talking about running the New York Marathon in 2013.
“What can you say?” Norwood concludes. “We are buddies in pain!”