Skip to main content

Feting feats of endurance

For those who undertake adventures in perseverance, it often is as much about the journey as it is the end result.

Three athletes recently pursuing outdoor challenges of different sorts and in different seasons would likely find themselves in agreement on that.

Despite the demands of their exploits, these determined individuals discovered that the beauty of the outdoors can make any journey memorable.

Read on for more about these three outdoors lovers and their exceptional adventures.

Finding a new perspective

Last May, cancer survivor James Warpinski was planning to celebrate his triumph over the disease by running Green Bay's Cellcom Half-Marathon, a 13.1-mile event on the Fox River State Trail and a run he had done before. But because of another disease, COVID-19, plans for the event changed.

Instead of hundreds of participants with large cheering crowds, it would be a "virtual" run, "just me and the pavement," he said. Runners were asked to complete a 13.1-mile run in a safe and socially distanced way and note their finish time to run organizers.

Rather than let himself be disappointed about the new approach, Warpinski welcomed it. Turns out, the solitude of this unusual half marathon was "an experience of mindfulness better than any meditation," he noted about finishing the "race."

The virtual event, he added, allowed him a unique opportunity to experience the trail "with fresh eyes and new perspectives."

wnrmagSU21warpinski.jpgDIANE WARPINSKIRunning Green Bay's Cellcom Half-Marathon has provided James Warpinski with many memories over the years, but perhaps none as unique as last year's event.

James Warpinski

I think of how this race was supposed to be with the crowds, the music, the excitement. I had registered months ago before our world entered its collective pause and the race went virtual.

For me, the Cellcom Half-Marathon isn’t just another routine race netting me a shiny finisher’s medallion and a designer T-shirt. It’s much more personal. Several years ago, the race helped me restore a sense of control over my life when that control had been surgically cut away.

At 13.1 miles, a half-marathon is ambitious for anyone, crazy for most, just right for me. Today, I’ll run downtown and back along part of the official race route. There won’t be anyone to talk to along the way. Just me and my thoughts,

Starting at home, I breeze through the first mile on the grounds of St. Norbert Abbey then to the Fox River Trail. This was one of my favorite running routes and my bike route to work hundreds of times before my retirement.

The adrenaline is flowing and I’m feeling great! At the boat launch, eager anglers are lined up, waiting their turn to join the early risers whose pickups and boat trailers already almost fill the parking lot.

Birds announce their presence in a wooded area. I’m struck by the profusion of bird sounds and can identify at least a half-dozen different birds singing out, opening their day in song.

A pair of bicyclists speed past me in their fitted biking attire. Next, a rollerblader strides by in rhythm to her music.

Two women approach me carrying flowers in plastic pots. Where are they coming from? I’ve seen many people walking their dogs on the trail, but who takes their plants out for a walk?

A family shows up on the trail — mom in front, two preschoolers on little bikes in between, dad bringing up the rear pulling baby in a Burley.

Along comes a different set of parents, two geese with 16 goslings waddling across the trail. Three of the young ones are just sitting on the trail. No hurry to get anywhere. We have something in common.


Across the river, one of the area’s many paper mills hums with the constant activity of the massive paper machines, the life blood of our community. Its two 300-foot smokestacks had been symbols of the plant’s success but are now coming down, their technology obsolete.

A rest area appears on the left, but signs announce the area is closed and instruct in bold letters and an oversized ruler: This is 6 feet. Must keep my distance. Closed — another consequence of the coronavirus.

Through the deserted downtown Green Bay area, nothing is open today. No cheering crowds, no water stations, no porta-potties. Just me in need of a restroom.

At Mile 7 of my run, under the Mason Street Bridge, a few families fish from lawn chairs. At Mile 8, someone has left plants for passersby to take. The plants look attractive, but I don’t think they’ll make it the next 5 miles until I get home.

Here’s that family of geese again. This time, the adults see me coming and hiss a warning: Leave our young alone. So many families on the trail.


When I last ran the Cellcom, I’d made it a point to talk to some of the other runners at the prerace event. What was the story behind their shirts and distinctive clothing, the signs they carried, their reasons for racing? I found each person had a story to share.

For one, running was a momentary respite from providing care for an ailing spouse. For another, it was to acknowledge a return to action after hip replacement. Others ran in honor of a loved one suffering from cancer or some other illness.

The event was the path I had followed in my own recovery from cancer. This virtual event is my fourth Cellcom Half-Marathon since cancer became my new lifelong companion. I’ve given up on personal records, but find myself simply enjoying the experience of running, uncomfortable as it was getting now.

I still have 4 miles to go. My body is tired, and my mind is starting to drift. Time to stop for a moment. Oh! Smell those blooming lilacs and get moving again.

Pink and white wildflowers along the way. Here are some bright yellow weeds and the ever-present dandelions. Just under 3 miles to go. I’m feeling tired and winded now, barely noticing my surroundings. I just want to make it to the finish line.

Back in my neighborhood, the final stretch. A mom approaches with her infant perched high up in a bike seat. Trailing behind are three children, the youngest with training wheels. Mother goose and her goslings on wheels.


13.1 miles at last! With running, there’s always a next time, another opportunity to experience the trail with fresh eyes and new perspectives.

Today, I encountered the sights, the sounds and the smells along the trail in ways I’d never done before. Today, I saw runners, walkers and rollerbladers, anglers, boaters and bicyclists, happy families — not to mention the geese.

This run had started as a competition with myself to record a respectable time. But in the end, I recorded something of much greater value than that.

When opportunity allows, I hope to run this half-marathon again, along with thousands of others, but in a different way. No longer obsessing about my pace, I’ll take the time to experience the course and its surroundings.

I’ll look for opportunities to meet my fellow runners and ask them about their stories, their hopes and dreams. Maybe I’ll get to share my own story to encourage them in return.

While I may not win any prize or gain a large medal for my efforts, I will be in the present moment.

Dr. James Warpinski of Green Bay is an avid runner who appreciates the many ways being outdoors can boost health and wellness. A retired allergist-immunologist, he teaches professional development at the Medical College of Wisconsin-Green Bay and takes special interest in the power of patients’ stories.


From its north trailhead in downtown Green Bay, the Fox River State Trail extends 25 miles along the Fox River and on a former rail corridor. For details, check Fox River State Trail.