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Sheriff's Office re-entry case manager runs long distances for mental health, to connect with others

Thursday, October 28, 2021 - 12:38pm

Running means a lot to Rebecca Sudja. You can tell by how far she runs – completing a 100-miler in October 2020 in the Flint Hills and more than 80 miles earlier this month in Arkansas.

For the Re-Entry Case Manager at the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, running means a chance to escape and think about what’s happening in her job, with her family or the events of her day. It has also meant connecting with a strong group of friends who are committed and support each other.

And with those ultra-long distance races, beyond the accomplishment, it’s about figuring out another unique challenge.

“When you say it out loud, it sounds strange,” Rebecca said. “I’ve got to learn to eat something that won’t make me sick while running.”

Rebecca Sudja participates in a 100-mile run in the Flint Hills in October 2020.

Running such a long distance, the body continuously needs fuel, and also running on trails is an added challenge due to the terrain.

In Arkansas, Rebecca said she was having trouble with foods she normally eats while running, and the only things that agreed with her stomach were peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Pringles and Coke.

The eating is one of many components to the ultra-marathon. Some runners take naps, but Rebecca said she has never had trouble with getting sleepy in the two she’s done. She said it’s probably the adrenaline, as it took her about 22 hours to run 80 miles in Arkansas. The bad weather cut her run short of 100 miles, but she was still happy to make it so far.

She started out running years ago as a way to release from her job and stress and as a way to focus on her health.

“I had kids at super-busy ages in school. When I could get out and run for 30 minutes, it was super helpful,” Rebecca said. “For my mental health it became huge. It was a place I could go and process a bad day or things I had going on. These days, I found a group of mutual, somewhat crazy people who get up really early on Saturday mornings and go run for hours.”

The running long distances and pushing through challenges has aided her in her six years as a re-entry case manager as she works to help people in the Douglas County Correctional Facility get connected to services and a path to be successful.

“Bad things will happen. You’ve got to be able to roll with it and problem solve your way out of it,” Rebecca said. “It definitely helps in this job. Recently, in one of (the re-entry) groups we talked about reframing your thinking. In a situation that is hard or difficult, if we can change the way we think about it, we can get through it. That happens a lot in a 100-miler. You have to be completely able to give yourself a big positive pep talk.”

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