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"She is always talking about how important downtime is for her, but time always seems to slip away from her," says Diane's older sister, Lynn, who dances and works as an education consultant but was never "on the superstar track" like Diane.

"Stillness is a theme she wants to point towards," adds Lynn, "but I don't know if I've ever seen that in her. She is still working on herself big time. I don't know if she has that sense of 'I'm okay just as I am.' That would be the greatest gift I could hope for her — that she could love herself just how she is."

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Diane Israel (right) with her partner, Lindsey Hansen-Sturm.
Jim J. Narcy
Diane Israel (right) with her partner, Lindsey Hansen-Sturm.
The young Diane Israel (left) excelled at road races, but they almost destroyed her health.
Jim J. Narcy
The young Diane Israel (left) excelled at road races, but they almost destroyed her health.

Four mornings a week, Diane walks up to Chautauqua and goes running in the foothills, hitting the trails alongside the pros. Then, after 45 minutes, she returns to the serene expanse of green outside of the Chautauqua Dining Hall and takes off her purple-laced running shoes.

She's been running without shoes for as long as she can remember, since long before the best-selling Born to Run made barefoot running the latest extreme-athlete craze. For Diane, it's not about showing off; it's about leaving all the technology, pressure and restrictions behind. As she pads around in the grass, she feels her legs loosen and her spine uncurl and she begins to run, like she did when she started racing, in her barely there blue-and-yellow Adidas, like she did as a little girl. She runs like she did before all the joy and sorrow, the elation and pain of competition, swallowed her up.

For a few turns, she feels utterly free. And the calm stays with her when she stops, puts on her shoes and makes her way home to get on with her day. But then, after an hour or two, the feeling of peace begins to drift away.

Diane remembers everything she's chasing — and everything chasing her. And she recalls what, for a brief period, she'd forgotten: She still hasn't reached the finish line.

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