Ultra-Orthodox “Marathon Mother” Beatie Deutsch from Jerusalem has had a stellar career full of firsts, since discovering her talent for running at age 26 and wowing crowds by completing a full marathon while seven months pregnant.
She has won the Tel Aviv and Jerusalem marathons as well as the national championship. This week she became the first ultra-Orthodox woman to win an international athletics competition, finishing first among the women in Sunday’s 21-kilometer (13-mile) half-marathon race in Riga, Latvia, clocking at 1 hour, 17 minutes and 34 seconds.
Deutsch, who is known for running in modest clothing including a skirt, sleeves below her elbow, and headscarf, is now eyeing her next goal: the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
But for Deutsch, her career is about much more than running and smashing stereotypes.
Since December 2017 — when her husband’s cousin Daniella Pardes, 14, died by suicide after a struggle with anorexia nervosa — Deutsch has been using her running to raise awareness and funds for a new day center called Beit Daniella, a rehabilitation facility for adolescents with eating disorders and other psychiatric disorders who have been hospitalized or dropped out of school.
Beit Daniella — which is situated at a horse farm in Tzur Hadassah, a small community west of Jerusalem, and has been treating patients for several months — officially launched last Friday with an opening ceremony in which family members related the tragic story and spoke about their mission to help other kids who struggle to integrate back into society after a long-term hospitalization.
Deutsch also spoke at the event, before rushing to the airport to make it to Latvia before Shabbat and prepare for her race.
‘Who is this lady?’
Deutsch, 29, immigrated from New Jersey in 2009, then got married and had four kids within six years.
“Three and a half years ago I was just another out-of-shape mother,” she told The Times of Israel in a recent interview, near her home in the Har Nof neighborhood of Jerusalem.
Deutsch, the oldest of five siblings, says she has always been naturally athletic and played sports as a kid. Her family would have races on the beach and she was usually the fastest. But in 2015, the family held another race and she came dead last.
“I couldn’t even recognize myself. I was, like, ‘what happened to me?'” she says.
It was then that she made the highly unusual decision — especially in the ultra-Orthodox community — to “go all in” and run a full marathon.
Deutsch says she trained for her first event in a very basic manner. When she signed up for the Tel Aviv Marathon in February 2016 she didn’t know what to write when asked to fill in her estimated time for the 42-kilometer run. In the end, after consultations, her husband filled in four hours and forty minutes.
She ended up clocking in at 3:27:26 hours, placing sixth among the women.
“Four months before I couldn’t even run six miles and didn’t think I could run four and a half hours. Had I not pushed myself out of my comfort zone I wouldn’t have discovered this talent I have,” Deutsch says. “And I was obviously hooked on running after that. I hadn’t even realized how badly I needed that.”
The following year she amazed organizers and crowds by completing the Tel Aviv Marathon while seven months pregnant with her fifth child. In 2018 she was the fastest Israeli woman at the Jerusalem Marathon, and last January she became the national champion, winning the official championship in Tiberias with a time of 2:42:18 — the fifth-best result for an Israeli woman in history.
Deutsch — whose moniker on social media is “Marathon Mother” — has also been running shorter distances. In December she won the national half marathon championship in Beit She’an, “and they didn’t even know who I was, people in the Israeli league were, like, ‘who is this lady?'”
This year she has won the Tel Aviv half-marathon and came second in the Jerusalem half-marathon, as well as being the runner-up in the national 10k and 15k championships.
(In all cases, this means she won among female competitors.)
The string of successes has convinced her to shift from an amateur to a full-time professional runner.
Her aim is to be the first ultra-Orthodox athlete to compete in the Olympics, which will be held next year in Tokyo, Japan. That will be tough, though, since the International Association of Athletics Federations has made the qualifying standards drastically harder than in the past. Instead of 2:45:00 — the marathon threshold in the 2016 Olympics, which Deutsch has achieved — the automatic qualifying time will now be 2:29:30. Only 80 women will qualify, with a cap of three per country.
Oops — it somehow disappeared, sorry to repost –but this definitely made my day. The BEST part of my race on Friday –…
Since fewer than 80 women have run a marathon in less than 2:29:30, approximately half of the qualifiers will be selected through a new, complicated ranking system, which prioritizes how runners place in relation to others and the quality of the race over the times achieved. That is how Deutsch will try to qualify, since improving her personal best by 13 minutes at this level within a year is highly unlikely.
Her first international full marathon is likely to be in September, although she hasn’t yet decided which one she’ll attend.
‘No other professional runner looks like me’
Asked about difficulties she faces as a religious athlete, Deutsch says: “For a while I didn’t see any difficulty — as a runner it’s really not a big deal — but the more I get into the field the more I see there are certain challenges that come up.
“First of all, when you focus on your time, your clothing makes a difference. I’m running in twice as much clothing as any other runner. I’m sponsored by Nike but what they send me is stuff I can’t wear, so it’s kind of frustrating. I’m an anomaly; there’s no other professional runner out there who looks like me.”
She says she has yet to find an outfit that is both appropriate for an ultra-Orthodox woman and light enough to run in comfortably.
Then there is the issue of Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest. Many of the major international competitions are held on Friday night or Saturday, meaning Deutsch cannot participate.
“I don’t feel like I’m giving up something. There isn’t even a question in my head. It’s a choice I own that I am proud of,” she says. “But I’m very respectful of everyone else, and I don’t think anyone owes me anything extra because I’m different.”
Another challenge is raising five small children while maintaining the intense lifestyle of a professional runner. Deutsch says she often comes home exhausted after workouts and training sessions and it is “a constant juggling act,” but she is also thankful that she is getting paid to do what she loves.
“I want to set an example for [my kids] that whatever they want to pursue in life — they can. It doesn’t matter if it’s in the box or out of the box.”
‘We all miss Daniella’
The Jerusalem Marathon last year came several months after Daniella Pardes’s death, with the family and friends already envisioning Beit Daniella and seeking ways to raise funds.
Deutsch says that she agreed to run the 42 kilometers wearing a Beit Daniella shirt, despite it not being dri-fit. She opened a makeshift online fundraiser using her own bank account, and raised $25,000 within a year. “That’s when I realized my running was a great platform to share Beit Daniella’s mission.”
“For me I see a lot of connection between the mission of Beit Daniella and the whole idea of running,” she says, explaining that running for her is about empowering herself and discovering inner strengths she never knew she had, while Beit Daniella “is specifically to help kids who have come out of the hospital and are at a place where they haven’t yet integrated back into their lives, and the whole mission of Beit Daniella is to empower them and to give them the skills and tools to go back into their regular daily life and be able to handle it.”
The new therapeutic center treats patients aged 12-18 and provides schooling; work with animals such as dogs and horses, as well as in agriculture; psychological group counseling, supplementing each patient’s private ongoing treatment; and help in doing regular daily chores outside of the center, with the aim of integrating them back into their lives within 6-12 months.
“After a kid has been in the hospital for three, four, five months, they’ve been cut off from their lives,” says the center’s founder Hadassa Jakobovits Pardes, Daniella’s mother and the aunt of Deutsch’s husband, Michael.
“In addition to their illness they have the trauma of hospitalization, they often have no friends left, or at least not friends with whom they have a common language,” Jakobovits Pardes says. “They’ve changed, they’ve been thinking about life and death and very tough things for the past few months and then they go home and their friends are talking about normal things.”
“Our daughter tried to go back to her school and after two-three weeks we saw that it wasn’t going to work,” she says. “So she stopped going to school and there was just no alternative for her. She needed to be with her family because she was very close to her family, she had to be at home but she needed to have a reason to get up in the morning, a structure, people who would help her eat all the meals of the day, and there really is no such thing in Israel.”
Now, she says, her center provides a daily structure for the patients and a reason to get out of bed, since they are in charge of work and feeding the dogs. For those suffering from eating disorders it has a therapeutic kitchen, specially renovated with the money raised by Deutsch, and featuring a unique approach to meal support under the guidance of Koli, the Jerusalem Center for Eating Disorders.
“We all miss Daniella,” Deutsch concludes. “She loved my kids, she was very good at taking care of other people. Every race I run, I have Beit Daniella on my shirt. For me there’s nothing more amazing than being able to do what I’m already doing — running — and channel it to something positive.”
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