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Two Tara Elementary teachers join coast-to-coast Florida running team

Katelyn Fulghum and Vanessa Sloman, who are third grade teachers at Tara Elementary School, loved seeing Jennifer Klein, Nathan Klein, Christian Klein and Catherine Klein cheering them on during their run.
Katelyn Fulghum and Vanessa Sloman, who are third grade teachers at Tara Elementary School, loved seeing Jennifer Klein, Nathan Klein, Christian Klein and Catherine Klein cheering them on during their run.
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When Holmes Beach was in sight, Vanessa Sloman and Katelyn Fulghum had one final burst of adrenalin.

After taking turns with seven other team members running 162 miles across the state from Fort Pierce to Holmes Beach in 37 hours, their journey almost was over. 

With only a few miles to go, Sloman and Fulghum, and their teammates, had a police escort to the beach. As they approached their finish, traffic stopped to let them through, with the drivers all wondering what was so special to deserve such treatment.

Their friends and family cleared a route on the beach to give them a direct path to the water.

“It was like slow motion for me as we were all running down the road,” Sloman said.

Sloman and Fulghum, who are third grade teachers at Tara Elementary School, kept running across the beach, and then into the water.

“It was the most refreshing water I’ve ever felt in my life,” Fulghum said with a laugh.

The two have been running partners on and off for the past decade. They’ve run 10Ks, 5Ks, marathons and a 50K. 

Katelyn Fulghum and Vanessa Sloman, who are Tara Elementary School third grade teachers, make their way across the state on foot.
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Fulghum said they were looking for a new way to push themselves mentally and physically. Cue the idea to run across the state from coast to coast. 

Fulghum shared the idea with Sloman on Jan. 20 to join seven fellow Crunch Fitness club members in the run. Three days later, Sloman started training. 

Sloman, Nick Dompierre and Karoline Las are all East County residents. Fulghum and her husband, Joseph, who joined the team, live in Bradenton.

The group was rounded out by Jase Deemer, Jason Deemer, Meghan Moger, and Esdeina Gonzales.

At 4:34 a.m. April 27, the group touched the Atlantic Ocean in Fort Pierce and began running west.

The 162-mile journey had begun. 

The group would run in pairs to ensure safety while the others rested and napped in the RV. 

When the active runners needed a break and there was a safe place for the RV to park, the runners would switch. Those actually running would do so for about an hour on a shift before being replaced.

As night fell on April 27, Fulghum and Sloman were prepared. They wore green, blue and purple lights on their bodies as well as headlamps. 

“We all looked like Christmas trees,” Fulghum said. “We had lights everywhere on us.”

For a large portion of the night, they ran through country areas with farms and with stores, gas stations and homes far and few between. 

Often they were the only things on the road, especially between 2 and 4 a.m. 

Even with all the lights on, Sloman and Fulghum said there were a few close calls with cars as they flew by the runners, coming close.

Fortunately, no one was injured or even fell during the entire route, Sloman said. 

The cars weren’t the only dangers on the road. 

They also encountered wildlife, including a bobcat. 

Sloman had just started one of her runs in the middle of the night. The RV left, driving out front, out of sight, and she and her running partner saw the bobcat, and stopped in their tracks. 

They froze as the bobcat watched them. Sloman said she wasn’t sure whether the bobcat was more interested in them or the five deer that weren’t too far away. 

“It was pitch black outside, and all you see are the eyes watching you,” Sloman said of the bobcat. “They don’t let go.”

Sloman slowly started backing away, taking a few steps at a time, until they were out of sight. 

“I definitely felt very brave in that moment,” she said. 

Jase Deemer, Jason Deemer, Nick Dompierre, Esdeina Gonzales, Meghan Moger, Karoline Las, Vanessa Sloman, Katelyn Fulghum and Joseph Fulgum celebrate finishing their 162-mile run across the state.
Courtesy image

The fact the runners had to be even more aware of their surroundings while running at night was overwhelming, exhausting and mentally taxing, Fulghum said. 

Fulghum said it was the excitement, adrenaline and fear that kept them moving forward. On top of that, every time the runners came up on the RV, they would see and hear their friends cheering for them. Fulghum said it was like a recharge that gave them the energy to make it however much longer they had to go to reach the RV.

Although it was dark, exhausting and sometimes scary to be running in the middle of nowhere throughout the night, Fulghum said there was beauty. It was quiet, and the sky was clear enough to see thousands of stars. 

Around 4:30 a.m. April 28, Fulghum felt she was hitting a wall. She was exhausted from not sleeping and being uncomfortable in the RV, but once she saw the sun come up, she was re-energized. 

As they were closer to home, Sloman and Fulghum ran into familiar faces. When they ran past the Circle K on State Road 64, they saw Tara Elementary students Nathan Klein and Catherine Klein and their parents Jennifer Klein and Christian Klein holding up signs saying “Run Sloman Run,” “Go Fulghum go” and “Go go go.”

Knowing their students were there to support them on the road gave Sloman goosebumps. 

At 1:40 p.m. April 28, the group splashed into the water. 

They made it. It was the first part of the journey in which they all ran together. 

By the end of the 162 miles, Sloman had run 50 miles and Fulghum ran 37.5 miles. It was the most miles either of them had ever run. 

In the moments after they completed their run, the idea of ever running that many miles or across the state again brought them dread, Fulghum and Sloman said. Each of the runners said never again. 

But when the next morning came and the soreness lessened, Fulghum and Sloman changed their mind. Rather than “Never again,” it became “What are we going to do next?”



Liz Ramos

Liz Ramos covers education and community for East County. Before moving to Florida, Liz was an education reporter for the Lynchburg News & Advance in Virginia for two years after graduating from the Missouri School of Journalism.

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