Braxton Lee, 13, has had a checklist of his goals on the refrigerator for as long as his mother, Maryanne Fary Lee ’04, can remember.
That’s not so unusual, but what’s on the list definitely is.
Take the item he checked off recently after it had been on the refrigerator for three years: run seven half-marathons in seven days on seven continents.
And Braxton’s mom was running right along with him—well, actually she was running a good bit behind him—as they completed the seven 13-mile runs in the course of a week, one each in Antarctica, Africa, Australia, Asia, Europe, South America and North America (in that order).
I’ve always told my boys that you can’t lose until you quit.Maryanne Fary Lee ’04 Tweet This
“We run races all the time locally that raise money for various causes. Braxton heard about the World Marathon Challenge about three years ago, so he was 10. From then on, he was saying, ‘I want to do that!’” said Lee.
She resisted when he was 10, and she continued to resist when he was 11. But Braxton kept up the pressure.
“He kept saying, Mom, I know I could do this.” And, as moms often do, she finally gave in. “I’ve always told my boys that you can’t lose until you quit,” said Lee, who lives in New Kent, Virginia, and has two other sons, Bryton, 10, and Boston, 8. “Braxton has a strong belief that, if you set your mind to it, you can do anything.”
So the two of them got busy figuring out how to make this particular dream come true.
There was the physical challenge, of course, which would require months of training even though both were already avid long-distance runners. Braxton followed a regimen of 5-7 miles each weekday with a long run on the weekends. Lee ran 2-5 miles during the week and 10-13 miles on Saturdays.
More daunting was the expense: It would cost $70,000 for both of them to make the trip, for which a charter plane served as transportation and lodging.
No stranger to helping others raise money by running in races for important causes, they organized a race of their own in Williamsburg on Braxton’s birthday in July 2022. It was hard to ask people for money for themselves, said Lee, but about 100 runners were happy to support Braxton’s quest. (The plan is to hold the race every July to benefit a local nonprofit.) Additional support came from about 10 businesses in Gloucester, where Lee is from, Williamsburg and Richmond.
The remainder, a sizeable portion, came from Lee, who manages a 1,300-unit senior living complex as president of BSA property management and also has her own property-management company focused on senior communities.
Longwood taught me skills that I can adapt to any area.Maryanne Fary Lee ’04 Tweet This
With the financing secured, Lee and Braxton flew out of Washington, D.C., in January of this year headed for the first race of the World Challenge, which took place in Novo, a small community located within the Antarctic Circle. Though it was “summer” there, the temperature was 25 below zero and the wind was gusting at 40 mph.
“That was absolutely brutal,” Lee said.
Next was Cape Town, South Africa, where temperatures were a comfortable 80 degrees, and then Perth, Australia—also brutal, but at the opposite end of the thermometer. Lee hit the “wall” that long-distance runners know so well in the 95-degree heat down under.
“At about mile 7, I felt like I was going to throw up. I was lightheaded. My legs felt like concrete. I started walking, and I was able to push through it and keep going,” she said.
But the biggest challenge was when she felt her ankle “pop” while she was in Spain. It was painful and swollen, but she rejected any thoughts of quitting and finished the last two races. It took the ankle five weeks in a boot to heal after she got home.
Lee has been a tough competitor since her days on the rugby team at Longwood. “I got my face cracked and a couple of other injuries, but the team became so close. I still talk to several of them regularly,” she said.
As for the marathon challenge, Braxton and Lee came in second among the 25 runners in the half-marathon category on their trip, Braxton with a total time for the seven races of 16 hours 6 minutes and his mom with 20 hours 44 minutes. And Lee says Braxton was the youngest runner ever to complete the half-marathon World Challenge. Submission of his accomplishment to Guinness is pending.
World record or not, what Braxton learned from this experience is not in question.
“He says he wants to use the experience to tell other kids they should pursue their dreams. That you can accomplish anything if you don’t quit,” she said. “And he wants to write a children’s book about it.”
Maybe that will be the next item on the refrigerator checklist.