Washington, DC

Ashley Donovan is used to starting off her ultramarathons with a low-key command. “Go” usually suffices. But the start of her latest 24-hour run was accompanied by sirens. 

At 6:01 a.m. May 9, as she started on a day’s worth of solitary 0.2-mile loops around the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad building and parking lot, an ambulance rolled out on a call. That service, and her fundraising run, hammered home the 24-hour nature of emergency response and demonstrated why she was doing this. The secretary on BCCRS’ Board of Directors, Donovan, of Upper Northwest D.C., has been a volunteer EMT since 2015. 

“People have been surprised when they hear I’m still volunteering,” during the coronavirus pandemic, she said. “This was a fine opportunity to highlight the role of volunteers in our emergency response system.”

The fundraising effort around her feat totaled more than $11,000, which will be split between the rescue squad and Feed the Fight, a nonprofit that feeds emergency and healthcare workers meals from local restaurants and caterers. 

Nationwide, more than 935 fire department employees, including firefighters, EMT and paramedics have been laid off as a result of COVID-19-related budget cuts, according to data compiled by the International Association of Fire Chiefs. An IAFC survey projects job losses that could top 30,000 over the next two years.

“Volunteers do exactly the same training and respond to the same calls, it’s a fully integrated system and I don’t think people necessarily understand that volunteers have to show up,” he said If we don’t show up, the ambulance won’t be able to respond. We always need a fully staffed department to get out the door,” where we are.

Donovan totaled 86.5 miles over the 24 hours, though she slowed when the impact on the cement sidewalk started to get to her. 

“The legs were feeling great up until 55ish miles when I started to feel it in my left IT band,” she said. “By 75 miles my shin started hurting, and then my right knee started hurting. I knew my hips were a little out of alignment when this all started.”

She managed the entire 24 hours, alternating directions around the property on the corner of Battery Lane and Old Georgetown Road at the top of every hour.

“After 100 miles in the mountains, your whole body hurts but it almost feels like it’s evenly distributed,” she said. “Pavement is tough.”

Donovan did take a few power naps, usually about 15 minutes, which recharged her more than she had expected.

“I felt like a new woman,” she said.

On top of the gels that were a constant over the 24 hours, she ate a combination of roasted potatoes with salt and pepper, bananas and tortillas with peanut butter.

“I’ve done 100 miles with a bad stomach before, but luckily things went smoothly this time,” she said.

She had some company from afar — BCCRS personnel on duty, friends and neighbors who stopped by to wave. She listened to music at some points — something she never does during trail ultras, but for the most part, there was enough going on in her small corner of the world to keep her amused. Despite the repetition, a day and a half later, the moments had not blended together.

“I remember all of it,” she said. “I really need to write a journal, I don’t want to forget how a lot of that felt.”

Formerly a long-term substitute teacher at her alma mater, the Edmund Burke School, Donovan works in the education division of the American Chemical Society, where she develops professional development programming for college chemistry faculty. 

She developed an appreciation for emergency responders when she and a friend ran across the country in 2014, sleeping in an RV that more often than not would park in fire station lots. 

“We realized people in the fire service are on the front lines,” she said. “We wanted to get to know the communities we were running through and some of the best stories were from volunteers and career emergency responders.”

When the run was over and she settled back in D.C., Donovan ran up to BCCRS and started volunteering. As she kept up her distance running and developed as a volunteer, her two passions converged and helped her team and Feed the Fight, thanks to community members who donated.

“I have this skill that I can be very stubborn for an extended period of time,” she said. “I’m glad I was able to make something out of it.”

 

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