Gail Walker Stansell ran to leave her mark in both Murphy and Atlanta.

YOUR FRIENDS AND NEIGHBORS: Gail Stansell

    This is one in an occasional series of articles about ordinary Cherokee County residents and their extraordinary lives.

    Murphy – Gail Walker Stansell grew up in Cherokee County, attending Murphy elementary and high schools. After graduation, she attended Mars Hill University, then pursued her master’s degree at Western Carolina University.
    “After I got my master’s, I taught for two years down in Duluth, Ga. Then I got married and moved to Nashville, Tenn., for a period of time. Then I moved back to Atlanta, Ga., and got a job at Berkmar High School and continued to teach there for 32 years,” she said.
    Stansell taught science, but mainly honors biology, plus anatomy and physiology.
    “My mother has some health issues involving her bones, so I started looking into ways to prevent that from happening to me,” she said. “A doctor suggested running, so I got into running.”
    Since Stansell began running in 1983, she has completed 23 marathons.
    “I can’t even begin to tell you how many half marathons and 10Ks I have completed,” she said.
    “This summer, I will be running in my 34th Peachtree Road Race in a row. That’s a streak. I can’t let anything ever interfere with the Peachtree race because I have such a streak going. I have never missed a single year.”
    Stansell says her toughest race was her first New York City marathon. It was so tough it was 11 years before she ran another marathon.
    “It took me that long to forget it,” she said, “because 26.2 miles is very hard.”
     Stansell has grown close to the group she trained with in Atlanta.
    “You become very close with the people you train and run with. You’re all putting in all those miles, learn so much about people and become close friends. We always keep in touch, and I see them pretty frequently,” she said.
    Stansell believes the most interesting thing about her life is that she has been running so long with no plans to stop.
    “I think running has molded me,” she said. “The perseverance, dedication and hard work really have molded me. It got to the point where the races were the easy part. That’s why you need that group of friends to talk and make up stories with!”
    Stansell hopes people will always remember her as a good person, friend and teacher.
    “I have students that are veterinarians and dermatologists,” she said.
    “I even have one former student who plays for the Harlem Globetrotters (traveling basketball team). It makes me proud to say I taught them. I keep up with lots of them on Facebook, which is the beauty of Facebook.”
    Stansell’s parents, Lillard and Ruth Walker, shaped her into the person she is today. Stansell’s dog, Lilly, is named after her father. Her mother taught reading at Murphy Elementary, while her father owned a body shop behind where Murphy’s Chop House is today.
    “Growing up in a small town has shaped me as well,” she said. “Having my career away from here, and then coming back to home to retire here, was great.”
    Stansell has made her mark not only in Murphy but in Atlanta as well.
    “In my community in Atlanta, I made my mark as a teacher and as a person who runs. I see former students now who say, ‘Mrs. Stansell are you still running?’ I think that’s one of the main things they remember about me,” she said.
    “I think my mark that I have made here in Murphy is this house. I am living in the house I grew up in. Everybody knows this house and remembers the Christmas tree that is out front every year. I live in my childhood home, and I love it dearly.”
    Stansell also is a NASCAR fan.
    “I take my RV to races and bring Lilly along. Usually I always go somewhere between two and four times a year. I have season tickets at Bristol Motor Speedway. I go there every year. My dad liked NASCAR, and my husband and I have always enjoyed it together. I have just continued to go to the races,” she said.
    “It’s just like running. You meet friends at these races and look forward to going because you’re going to see these friends. Lilly always comes along with me.”
    Stansell’s quote she continues to live by is, “Life is a journey, not a destination.”
    To nominate a local resident for Your Friends & Neighbors, call Editor Matthew Osborne at 837-5122 or email him at editor@cherokeescout.com.