By Doug Hawley
Janice Wycherley has proven herself as a competitive distance runner — one only need to note her four masters (40 and older) championships in the past five years for the Carpet Capital Running Club’s series.
The 52-year-old Dalton resident also competes adroitly in triathlons. In fact, she’ll compete this morning in the heralded Chattanooga Waterfront Triathlon, attempting a .9-mile swim, 31-mile bike ride and 6.2-mile run.
Despite such prowess, though, Wycherley must overcome medical problems on a regular basis.
“I have two heart conditions, arrhythmia (fluttering, out-of-sync heartbeat) and tachcardia (an extra circuit in the heart),” she said. “I am on three medications to help prevent an attack. Sometimes I wonder how it would feel to be like everyone else.”
One of her most memorable incidents involving her heart came in 1998 at the Peachtree Road Race, Atlanta’s annual Independence Day 10K.
“I had to go to Piedmont Hospital because my heart went out of rhythm at the third mile marker,” Wycherley related. “I had no problem last week at Peachtree except the heat that affected most people.”
Nevertheless, Wycherley faces the heart challenge with a positive spirit.
“I’m so blessed to have had these 20 years,” she said. “I hope that the the Lord gives me 20 more years of these fun events.”
A 1977 graduate of Southeast Whitfield High, Wycherley had the self-imposed problems of smoking and being overweight back then.
“I started smoking as a sophomore at age 16 and weighed 210 pounds,” she said. “I was wearing size 18 pants. By the time I was 30, I was smoking two packs of cigarettes a day.”
Then her life took an about-face after marriage to David Wycherley, a physics professor at Dalton State College until his retirement four years ago.
“I owe my 20 years of fun running to my husband,” Wycherley said. “If not for him, I’m sure that I would be overweight and still smoking. He showed me that I could have a healthy lifestyle, and we have so enjoyed these events over the years. And to my Lord for letting me still be here and still competing. Maybe not first or second, but I’m still crossing the finish line, and that’s all that matters in the big scheme of things.”
It was not easy at the start — as most smokers know.
“The first time that I quit smoking was 1991, on a vacation trip to Florida,” said Wycherley, who wasn’t able to stick with it that time. “When David would take a shower, I would run out to the hallway and smoke. The second time I quit was Sept. 8, 1992, cold turkey. I have never had another cigarette since.”
Two years earlier in 1990, the Wycherleys entered their first road race, the Decatur Federal 8K.
“We didn’t even have running shoes,” she said. “We ran in Converse high tops. We were hooked. The runners were so friendly and supportive. David surprised me later by buying me my first pair of running shoes.”
Over the years, she has completed some 400 road races, 150 triathlons or duathlons and participated five times in BRAG (Bike Ride Across Georgia). Randall Godwin, president of the Carpet Capital Running Club, long has admired Wycherley.
“She’s an awesome person,” Godwin said. “She’s very competitive. She and my wife (Gail) have a competitive spirit going between the two of them. They have a blast.”
After turning 50, a new challenge for Wycherley turned to mud runs, outdoors events that lead competitors through an obstacle course which they’re not likely to finish without getting a little dirty.
“My husband thought that I had gone nuts,” she said. “Most people want new cars, face lifts and the like. I wanted the mud. They are a lot different from a triathlon or road race. They require some upper body strength training, lots of obstacles you encounter, climbing, jumping, carrying logs, crawling in tunnels and swimming in ice baths, plus lots of mud pits.”
Wycherley has also given back to the local running community, starting the Jingle Bell Run (the early December event is now known as the Silver Bell Sprint) and serving as the race’s director for four years. Veteran area runner Margie Bruner said Wycherley’s race was a good addition for the community.
“She poured her heart and soul into that race,” Bruner said. “That provided a kickoff to the Christmas season. She showed the same competitiveness that she has as a runner and triathlete.”
Last year, Wycherley retired after 15 years as the proprietor of Loganberry’s Fine Gift Baskets in downtown Dalton. She obviously enjoys retirement.
“Retiring enabled me to spend a lot more time training,” Wycherley said. “I work out a lot at Bradley Wellness Center and have a personal trainer (Justin Hair). I try to do something five or six times a week, whether running, swimming or biking. Even if it’s just to walk.”
Meanwhile, the Wycherleys are also raising a daughter, Kim Jade, a 13-year-old Dalton Middle student.
“She runs in a lot of the short races,” Wycherley said. “However, I think that she might become more of our cheerleader.”
She still has some lofty goals she’d like to reach before age 65.
“I plan to do a full Ironman Triathlon (2.4-mile swim, 112-mie bike and 26.2-mile run), bike across the United Stages and hike the Appalachian Trail,” Wycherley said. “I have 10,000 more miles also to complete in my challenge of ‘Around the World.’ My husband is down to 317 left before we celebrate for him. It’s 25,000 miles completely around the Earth. We include all miles in running, biking and swimming.”
Don’t bet against her.