Deb Shissler is everywhere.
Show up to a group run, and Deb is there. Look on social media, and you’ll find a selfie of Deb, with her eyes sparkling and a comment about how it was a great day for a run – no matter what the day was. And stand next to her somewhere for long enough, and you’ll find yourself in an exuberant and lovely conversation about whatever comes up.
Shissler, 62, is originally from Texas and moved to Sioux Falls about a year ago, by way of Maine, where she lived for more than 30 years. She’s an IT system analyst for Avera – and she’s so passionate about her hobby that she’s enticed more women in her office to spend part of their lunch break running.
She started running in 1979 – during the first big pop culture running boom, but at a time when it was still unusual for women to identify as runners. She was in the Army studying to be a Korean linguist at the time, was a single mom and went on her first run after asking someone on a date.
“I didn’t have running shoes,” Shissler says. “I had fatigues and Army boots. I ran 3 miles with him and dated him for a year and a half.”
They’re still friends on Facebook.
She had run a little bit in high school, but later she tried again and discovered she had some natural talent – winning every race she signed up for between 1979 and 1984, including her first marathon in California.
“My first prize was a cardboard tray of fresh vegetables,” Shissler says.
In the military, there were women she ran with. But she was faster than all of them and found herself running with the men. “I never really thought about being a woman runner,” Shissler says. “I just loved to run.”
After the military, she stopped running for a while. Then she moved to Maine and picked it up again, mostly running alone. It was 1985, and she found herself winning races again, or taking her age group. It was a good feeling for Shissler.
“I’ve been competitive since day one,” she says with a laugh. “I’m still competitive. I’m addicted. Is there a 12-step program for running?”
She’s grown slower over the years – far from her marathon personal record of 3:13, and she worries that change of pace will keep her from doing things she wants to try – like more ultras – because she might not make the cutoffs.
But at some measure it doesn’t really matter to Shissler – it isn’t only long-distance running that she loves. It’s endurance and competition. To that end, she’s been focusing on the half-marathon distance and another love: Triathlon.
“Long-distance running is my first love,” Shissler says. “And I have to put swimming in second.”
When she first began swimming again, she couldn’t do 25 yards without stopping. She began a training program and quickly realized she could do 2,200 or 2,500 yards and get the same satisfaction as a run. “It’s a good workout for me,” Shissler says.
Biking carries a different feeling for her.
“It’s the ability to go far without as much energy,” Shissler says. “I’ve done 120 miles one day on a trail and spent the night and did 120 miles back the next day, and you can’t do that running. Well, I can’t do that running.”
That’s how it works for Shissler – she finds something she loves and then just does it. And keeps doing it. And encourages others to do it.
“It’s never too late to try,” she says. “Some people just aren’t meant to be runners. They’re meant to be walkers or cyclists or rowers. But whatever it is, find that happiness out there.”
Keeping that joy has meant a lot of things to Shissler over the years. It helped her stay steady as a single mom. It helped her stay healthy enough to donate half of her liver to a friend. And it helped her to encourage her sister, who hasn’t always been active, to embrace a different lifestyle.
“She runs a 15-minute mile, and she’s run a half-marathon,” Shissler says. “She gets out there and pounds the pavement, and now she’s swimming. We entered our first triathlon a few weeks ago, and she loved it.”
It’s easy to see. Talk to Shissler for 10 minutes and you want to swim, bike and run with her, too. Her laugh is contagious, she talks a mile a minute and she’s just so absolutely friendly. When she tells you to find your happiness, you can take one look at her and realize here’s a woman who has found hers.
Deb Shissler is what joy looks like.
Jacqueline Palfy is a longtime runner, reader and writer, marathoner, mom and board member of the nonprofit Sioux Falls Area Running Club. Her contributions to the 605 Running Co. blog will appear each Tuesday. You can follow her on Twitter @runnerJPK or reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Story ideas are encouraged.