Healthy obsession

Mt. Pleasant therapist wants to set a good example


By Robert Stevens

Managing editor



Rhonda Stewart, 47, of Mt. Pleasant at the finish line of a grueling trail run. Once Stewart says she was “about as active as a toadstool,” but she fell in love with running and she says it has been a huge source of healing in her life.

“I picked up an addiction in drug court.”

Rhonda Stewart of Mt. Pleasant jokes about that, because, at the time, her work as a therapist in the drug court program started her down a road that led her to a new life of fitness and activity—a healthy obsession if there ever was one.

“I was hooked the moment my sneakers hit the dirt,” says Stewart, 47.

She was working in the county’s Drug Court program at the Central Utah Counseling Center when she decided she wanted to set a good example for the people in the program by being a role model and becoming active in the pursuit of fitness.

“At that time I was about as active as a toadstool,” Stewart says. “My most traumatic memories always had to deal with school sports, but I wanted to show them anyone can change a habit. It was totally outside my comfort zone.”

Stewart says, initially, her goal was to reach the point where she could run with her son, who was an active and athletic person. She trained for six months before she reached her first goal of being able to run a 5K with him.

She never knew that within a period of two years, her obsession with trail running would not only improve her own life, but send her more than 636 miles down the trail.

“I don’t know if it made a difference for anyone else, but it did for me,” Stewart says. “The process is spiritual for me. Lots of therapy happens. I work out my bugs and my mind is processing everything. It’s beautiful.”

Since starting down her long and winding road two years ago, she has ran eight half-marathons, five full marathons, four 50K races and one 55K. On Saturday she will run her longest race yet—a 40-miler.

“It’s probably a little too early,” she says, since she is healing from an injury. “But I am looking forward to being able to push myself again.”

Stewart is no stranger to pushing herself while running.

“There have been a couple trails that have pushed me hard,” she says. “In the end you realize: I made it. I was responsible for me. I walked the same pathway as everyone else even if they were faster or more experienced than me.”

She prefers running on the trail instead of a road. She also prefers running solo now. She brings headphones, but she says she rarely puts them in.

“I feel like I am missing something with my headphones in,” she says.

Before she started running, Stewart was dealing with chronic pain issues of her own. It was only getting worse before it was getting better. Over a period of a year, she says she pushed herself through the pain, and as her fitness level increased, her pain waned.

She gives a lot of credit to her a colleague Dr. Bruce Burnham for encouraging her to go further. He told her she could handle the longer distances.

“He was right,” Stewarts says. “I would have stuck with the half-marathons the rest of my life and been happy. I owe it to him.”

Other doctors had told her she couldn’t—or shouldn’t—run long distances while dealing with her pain or healing from injuries.

“It really just made me want it that much more,” she says.

Even though she has now gotten into long, organized races, she insists she is not competitive. In fact, one of the reasons she prefers trail running to road running is because she feels it’s more of a community, and less of a competition.

“I may be the one who is usually at the back, “she says, “but I still belong to the pack. People wave as they run by and tell each other ‘good job.’”

That support has helped keep her out on the trail, she says, even in the face of dangers.

“There are parts of trail running that are scary, and I am a cautious human being,” she says. “But it’s about personal goals. It’s about challenging yourself.”

Stewart says although she has had injuries, she has completed every race. Once she fell and hit her head, but got back up, dusted off and kept going 12 miles to the finish.

“Even with the pain, there is so much healing that goes on,” she says. “It’s about where you are at and where you are going. You are the only person who can set out, and the only one who can finish.”
She plans to move up to longer races gradually, with her sights set on 100 miles one day.      “I would love to think I have a 100-miler in me,” she says, “but I am going to appropriately work my way up.”


Rhonda Stewart took this picture during the Antelope Canyon 55k race. When the trail runners aren’t pushing themselves through the pain of running over rough terrain, they have beautiful vistas to take in.