Mueller keeps busy winning, inspiring others

Sunday, July 21, 2002

What do you get when you combine an iron-clad will, competitive drive and a passion for fitness?

A non-stop blur named Barb Mueller.

Over the past 15 years she's more than circled the globe in running shoes. She's logged more than 35,000 miles, competed in 30 marathons, about 40 triathlons, 40 duathlons and three grueling half-Ironmans.

She's stopped just long enough to marry her husband, Cody Fulkerson, in 1999. But only after he discovered how to make the relationship work.

"The only time I could see her was when we were running," Fulkerson said. "I just plugged along with her."

He's been plugging along ever since. Fulkerson, 38, now has eight marathons under a much smaller belt. A Missouri Highway Patrolman, he shrunk from 245 pounds to 190 during the courtship.

A football player in his days at Dexter High School, Fulkerson used to mainly lift weights and did some jogging before meeting Mueller.

"If you asked me six years ago, or told me that I'd be running a marathon, I'd have had you committed to a mental hospital," he said. "I just thought no way."

He now finds himself sometimes rising at 4:30 a.m. with his wife to run 3 to 5 miles.

"It's as much of our daily routine as getting up and brushing your teeth," Fulkerson said. "Running is just part of it."

Fulkerson is just one of numerous people Mueller, 40, has helped to a more fit lifestyle. A registered nurse recently promoted to manager of the intensive care unit at St. Francis Medical Center, she's made helping others to better health a way of life.

Mueller and one of her marathon disciples, Bernadette Huston, also an RN at St. Francis, will serve as co-coaches for the upcoming Joints in Motion for Arthritis, a two-marathon fund-raising event sponsored by the Southeast Missouri Chapter for Arthritis Foundation.

Huston ran her first marathon in 1994 in St. Louis under the tutelage of Mueller and finished third overall, one place behind her mentor.

"She has a lot of knowledge about marathons and training," Huston said. "She took me under her wings and showed me how to do it."

Huston has become a veteran of marathons since, running in 19 more, including three Boston Marathons.

Mueller, a 1980 graduate of Jackson High School, has always been involved in sports, but she didn't begin running seriously until living in Dallas in the late '80s. While there, her oldest sister, Paulette Frazee, encouraged her to become involved with road races and duathlons, but her marathon days did not arrive until '89 when she was impacted by Dr. Robert Vaughn, who coached Olympic athletes.

His training regimen and his commitment to athletes have stayed with Mueller over the years.

"Not that I'm that quality or caliber of an Olympic athlete, but it goes to show this individual takes the time out of his life to coach anybody that wanted to be coached," Mueller said. "This is one way where I can maybe do something for someone else."

She encouraged her sister Mary Harriett Talbut to quit smoking and has since run a couple of 5K races with her.

"She would help anybody," Fulkerson said. "My gosh, she's done everything from customizing programs to nutritional advice, to actually meeting with people and going out and running with them."

Her own running accomplishments include two overall victories in the Columbia (Mo.) Marathon in '98 and 2000. In placing second overall in the St. Louis Marathon, she ran a personal-best time of three hours, five minutes. She placed third overall in the Smoky Mountain Marathon as recently as this past spring.

She's finished all but two of her 30 marathons, dropping out of both due to injury.

Her determined nature was on display in her only attempt thus far at a full Ironman, which consists of a full marathon (26.2 miles), a 2.4 mile swim and 115-mile bike ride. The failed attempt, on a unusually cold September day in Ohio, had to be halted by her support team when hypothermia began to set in.

"When her lips started turning blue, it was time to take her off the course," Fulkerson said. "She didn't have much of a choice in that one."

Her bike training for an Ironman has since been on hold after she was hit by a car while cycling last summer. While her $5,000 racing bike was ruined, she came away only bruised while her will to compete emerged unscathed.

"I will do one," she promised, "once I get a bike."

jbreer@semissourian.com

(573) 335-6611, extension 124

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