Heart of Utah: Herriman teacher overcomes challenges to win ultramarathons

Jan 20, 2021, 7:53 AM | Updated: Jan 27, 2021, 9:55 am

HERRIMAN, Utah — A teacher at Herriman High School is inspiring her students and many others with her story of hope and overcoming trials.

Doctors thought her body was too damaged from Lyme Disease to ever run again, but she proved them wrong, by running and even winning ultramarathons. 

Lyme disease strikes Herriman teacher

For years, Jessilynn Morton-Langehaug did not know what was wrong with her body. She couldn’t keep weight on, food made her feel horrible, and many symptoms made no sense.

“I grew up in, like, a very workhorse type of family. Like, my dad’s a rancher, and my… I have ranching on both sides of my family,” she said. “You can’t be sick, you can’t sleep in, you can’t rest, like — you need to just go, go, go.” 

But running, she said, made her feel better. 

“It was like my time to just kind of get out of my body, ’cause I would go into like a meditative state. Plus, you would get, like, increased circulations and your endorphins,” she said. “It was just a time that I had just felt happy and free, you know?” 

Finding strength through adversity

Morton-Langehaug struggled to figure out what was making her sick through a series of misdiagnoses, including anorexia, Crohn’s Disease, and others. Her parents put her in a psych ward to see how it could help her heal or find answers. 

“Honestly, it was like the hardest two, three months I’ve ever experienced, where I just had to get like — so mental. I just had to be like, ‘You will get through this,'” she remembered.

Finally, a new doctor found the underlying problem: Lyme Disease. 

“I was 25 when I saw him, and he was like, ‘Your internal age is 52,'” she said. 

He told her that her body could not run the super long distances required of ultrarunning — 50, 100, and even 200 plus miles. But she refused to give up. She believes her experience fighting through misdiagnoses and enduring the psych word instilled a mental strength that kept her moving. 

But she would not give up.

Refusing to quit

“There got to a point… I was like, ‘You know what? I’m tired of people telling me what I can and can’t do.’ Your mind is your biggest inhibitor,” she said. “But when you tell yourself you can, you can.” 

The Herriman teacher’s first ultramarathon was 50 miles. 

“It scared the living crap out of me,” she said. “And I was like, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to survive it.’ Well, then I survived it. And then I was like, ‘100 miles.’ Well, 100 miles scared the crap out of me. And then I survived it and then I just kept getting, you know, doing more hundreds.” 

Eventually, that led her to the Moab 240, where she won with the fourth fastest female time in history. 

Lessons from a Herriman teacher

She overcame other obstacles as well: her parents’ divorce, a rape, miscarriages. The Herriman teacher says her family has been a big support through all of it.

“I couldn’t ask for better parents. They are my greatest supporters,” said Moron-Langehaug.

And she details all of it in a book, ‘Defying the Odds,’ and hopes her life lessons inspire her students and her daughter, age 7.  

“I’m a stronger person because I can move past hard stuff,” she said. “And now I’m a pretty happy person and I’ve done a lot of self work,” Morton-Langehaug said. “Love of self is huge.” 

She says that’s what will help lead to solutions. If you can spend more time with yourself and love yourself, then you can find more forgiveness, compassion, hope and laughter for others, Morton-Langehaug says — and the world will be a better place. 

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Heart of Utah: Herriman teacher overcomes challenges to win ultramarathons