Many athletes find satisfaction in running through the finish line but Vietnam veteran Paula Steinbach, 60, finds comfort in running through the past.
Steinbach has a passion for two things: running and her nation’s history. She served in the Navy from 1973 to 1978 as a torpedoman’s mate. She was injured in the war, fracturing her left leg and arm, causing her lingering arthritis. She also suffers from PTSD. Running, she says, has helped her manage panic attacks she started experiencing after Vietnam.
After her military service, Steinbach kept running—and in 1985, she started a new career in teaching. She currently works as a high school history teacher at Patriot High School in Jurupa Valley, California.
A self-proclaimed history nut, Steinbach uses her races to collect teaching tools. She’ll bring back her medals, shirts, and most important, pictures of the historical sites she visits, and she incorporates them into her lessons.
In November, at the Monumental Marathon in Indianapolis, Steinbach finished her 100th marathon.
Her goal now is to run a marathon in all 50 states, and in doing so, she selects races in cities that have a rich past. Her favorite eras are World War II and the Civil Rights Movement.
In October 2014, Steinbach went to the Marine Corps Marathon in Arlington, Virginia, which finishes at the Marine Corps War Memorial, the famous statue depicting Marines raising an American flag at Iwo Jima.
When she returned to Patriot High, Steinbach assigned a group of students to stage a re-enactment of the flag raising.
“I used my pictures to show them what it looked like,” Steinbach said. “I spend my time looking at the things that I know will enhance the curriculum.”
To cross off Missouri, Steinbach ran the Maryville Marathon. Then she traveled south to the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum in Independence, Missouri, where she picked up materials—and understanding—to aid her teaching of his decision to use the atomic bomb.
One of her favorite races: the Little Rock Marathon in Arkansas, which Steinbach ran in 2014. After the race she visited Little Rock Central High School, where nine African-American students were the first to desegregate the previously all-white school in 1957.
It resonated with her students, who are the same age as the nine. “The kids could really identify with that,” Steinbach said. “I think that’s one that probably really impressed them the most.”
Steinbach also recommends the Memphis Marathon, for its proximity to the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel. She’s also been to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library after the Boston Marathon and the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site in Buffalo, New York.
Steinbach says she’ll continue to work on her 50 states marathon goal—she has done 43 of them—while juggling work.
“I’m a full time teacher, so I have to be able to get to a race and get home over the weekend,” Steinbach said.
And what happens after she conquers the states? Steinbach says she’ll take on Canada.
“I’m just going to pick races that I really want to do,” she said.