Sisters, Cousins Complete Virtual Race Across Tennessee, Via O.C.

Sisters, Cousins Complete Virtual Race Across Tennessee, Via O.C.

Marathoning sisters and cousins, shown at a recent half marathon in New York, are (from left) Valerie Desch Fasy, Laura Fasy, Lizzie McCullough, Sarah Donohue, Jane Desch Donohue and Monica Desch Sheets. (Photos courtesy of Valerie Desch Fasy)


In today’s COVID-19 world, people are coming up with creative ways to spend their extra time and to accomplish positive goals.

Three sisters with ties to Ocean City, and their daughters, recently completed one such adventure, taking part in the Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee, logging most of their actual miles right here in Ocean City.

The brainchild of Laz Lake, race director of the Barkley Marathons series of road races, the Virtual Run replaces actual races canceled this summer as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tennessee was chosen because it is Lake’s home state. Participants signed up and paid a small entry fee, which was designated to several charities, and plotted their course on a map by electronically entering each day’s runs.

The former Desch sisters, originally from Cheltenham, Pa., certainly fit into the group of serious runners who were disappointed by cancellation of a planned race. The sisters, 61-year-old Valerie (now Fasy), 55-year-old Jane (now Donohue), and 54-year old Monica (now Sheets), had planned an extended family trip to Ireland, centered around a race there.

Unfortunately, a nasty virus had other plans. But the running sisters had a plan of their own. Each would virtually run the more than 1,000 kilometers across the Volunteer State. Joining them would be Valerie’s daughter, Laura, 32, as well as Lizzie, 25, the daughter of a fourth sister, Maryann, and Jane’s daughter, Sarah, 23.

“It was disappointing to have our trip postponed,” said Valerie, a middle school technology teacher in the Hatboro-Horsham (Pa.) school district. “But when we heard about this virtual race, it was exciting to know we could still all participate in something, and keep the competitive part of it going.”

Almost all of the group’s actual miles were logged in Ocean City.

With an actual distance of 1,021.68 kilometers for the course, the sisters and cousins would eventually log a total of 6,130.08 kilometers or 3,809.06 miles.

Needless to say, that’s a lot of virtual running.

The sisters, cousins and extended family gather for a group shot on the beach.

The Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee began May 1 and ends on August 31. The sisters and cousins finished early, with five of the six wrapping up last Sunday, within hours of each other.

Sarah, who lives in Louisville, Colorado, and had several work commitments, is still logging some miles, but is expected to finish next month.

“It was pretty (satisfying) to be in this together and to see it through,” Jane said. “Because of all the events canceled around the country and the economic situation brought on by the pandemic, a lot of people were put out of work. We actually heard from folks thanking us for participating because it helped keep them employed during the crisis.”

The sisters have been competing as a group for more than 15 years.

“Each year we’ve trained for and run a half marathon or a marathon,” Valerie said.

Each sister has an impressive resume. Val has run a dozen full marathons (26.2 miles), Jane has run nine and Monica tops the siblings with 20 marathon finishes.

“We always try to find an interesting or different race,” Jane said, such as the London Marathon.

The most unique and toughest, she said, was a race in Greece that re-traced the route of the first ancient marathon there.

Legend holds that the original marathoner, a messenger named Pheidippides, ran from the city of Marathon to Athens to deliver news of a Greek victory over Persia in the Battle of Marathon – and then died.

“I can understand, because the last 10 miles of that course is uphill,” Jane said.

Thankfully, so such calamity would befall the sisters or the cousins during their virtual runs, but there was still some drama attached.

Needing a little more than two miles to complete their races across “Tennessee,” Lizzie and Jane plotted their courses to a finish line at Ocean City’s Tennessee Avenue.

Lizzie McCullough and Jane Donohue celebrate their finish at Tennessee Avenue in Ocean City.