Gabriela DeBues-Stafford was joking Saturday night about losing a bet and having to buy Bowerman Track Club teammate Sinclaire Johnson drinks after winning a women’s 1,500-metre race at the Texas Qualifier. It didn’t take long for the generous runner to make use of $ 750 US in prize money — but not at a local watering hole.
On her way back to the hotel, DeBues-Stafford decided during a phone call with husband Rowan to donate the winnings to Austin Mutual Aid, a citizen volunteer group that provides direct relief and housing to those on the streets.
Two weeks earlier, failing electrical infrastructure led to many Texans losing power, heat, clean water and having little access to food during below-freezing temperatures from Winter Storm Uri. DeBues-Stafford, who had previously donated to AMA, liked the fact the group offered a variety of services and support to the community.
Austin Mutual Aid was launched last March to assist Texans experiencing homelessness in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Following Winter Storm Uri, it accepted monetary donations to help the city’s unhoused population while volunteers also collected donations of blankets, coats and non-perishable foods.
“I wasn’t looking at this race as a pay-day,” the Toronto native told CBC Sports, noting Beer Mile Media came in late to sponsor Saturday’s 1,500. “It didn’t feel right to fly in [from Portland, Ore.], make [money] off the hospitality of Austinites devastated by a storm and fly out.
“I thought about Texas and the devastation of the storm a lot in the weeks leading up to the race and feel very lucky the running community was still able to host us at a meet. I’m happy the money will go to rehabilitating the community.”
DeBues-Stafford has set a March 8 deadline after receiving 30 entries in the first 24 hours.
During her short stay in Austin, DeBues-Stafford didn’t have the opportunity to speak with anyone who is unhoused.
“I did see several groups of tents [homeless camps] during drives and runs,” she said, “which unfortunately isn’t uncommon in any city I’ve visited, especially since the start of the pandemic.”
Serious Olympic medal contender
On the track, world No. 4 DeBues-Stafford will be a serious medal contender at her second Olympics this summer in Tokyo.
Surprised by the slow pace of Saturday’s race, she clocked a time of 4:10.09 in her first outdoor 1,500 since the world championship final on Oct. 5, 2019 in Doha, Qatar, where the 25-year-old lowered her Canadian record to 3:56.12.
WATCH | DeBues-Stafford runs 3:56.12 PB at 2019 worlds:
DeBues-Stafford pointed out her two previous 1,500s — each indoors in Scotland (4:05.89) and Liévin, France (4:05.27) in February 2020 — were huge disappointments.
“I could barely walk, let alone run, without a limp,” said DeBues-Stafford, who joined the Bowerman group last summer. “I felt so weak and powerless in those races [and it] really hung over my psyche. On top of that, a relapse of Graves’ disease — an autoimmune condition causing the thyroid to become hyperactive — [in the summer of 2020] left me very weak going into the fall.
“Questions like, ‘Will I ever be the same athlete as I was in 2019 [when I set eight national records and 11 personal-best times]’? fuelled anxiety.
“The biggest takeaway [on Saturday] was the relief of feeling strong and in control in a race again,” DeBues-Stafford continued. “I feel like my old self and that is huge for my confidence.”
And when will she get around to buying Johnson drinks?
“Likely sometime after [Johnson’s] race this weekend,” DeBues-Stafford said. “The weather has been very nice in Portland lately, so we’re hoping for an outdoor drink.”