I’M A RUNNER: Patricia Sullivan

by Michaeline Nelson

Patricia Sullivan started running on August 17, 2008. She had always been athletic. In her youth Patricia raced on the track until 8th grade, but her high school years were pre-Title Nine, when she says, “Women had to play half-court basketball because it was too dangerous to exert too much effort, and so becoming a competitive runner was definitely forbidden.”

And sports weren’t the only place women didn’t have a foothold in the field. In the professional world there were almost no women lawyers at the time when Patricia entered law school at Georgetown University in Washington D.C. As she puts it, she was “riding the wave of changing the world.” She thought law would be a good fit because she is competitive and likes to write and talk. For the past 33 years she has worked with Edwards Wildman Palmer, LLP on cases emphasizing antitrust law, including commercial law, criminal antitrust matters, constitutional cases and class action lawsuits. Working in a private practice with a large firm, she enjoyed helping people, challenging herself by taking a tangled problem and fixing it, and being intellectually stimulated on a day-to-day basis.

Her job, kids, and two knee surgeries deterred Patricia from running for many years. That first day in August, she jogged for about 1.5 miles and was surprised that she liked it. Now she has more trouble taking a day off from running during the week than getting out the door. She doesn’t have a lot of time to read for pleasure so she combines running and reading, listening to novels on her iPod. Having done lots of traveling, she has runs and places that she connects with books and scenes from those books. She says that one of her most memorable runs took place during a trip to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba where she was representing detainees. While she was there she went for a run on the windward side of the bay. She was listening to “The Trial” by Franz Kafka, which tells the story of a man arrested and prosecuted by a remote authority, a tale where the nature of the man’s crime is never revealed to him or the reader. In describing the run she says, “Cuba is a Caribbean island, but nobody is trying to make it pretty. The water is a gorgeous blue, the land is a cactus desert, and during the whole run there were buzzards circling in the air.”

After she started running more regularly, the next surprise for Patricia came during her first race. She liked it. She wanted to race faster. Running began providing another outlet besides her job for her competitive energy. She says that the beauty of being 61 years old but only a 3.5 year-old competitive runner is that she keeps getting better. And she has learned a lot from picking up running, something new and physically challenging, at a time when many people are dropping things in their life. It is energizing. This realization was one of the factors that translated into her decision to apply for the position of federal magistrate judge, a post for which she was recently selected, becoming the first woman to serve in this position in Rhode Island.

She is excited to rise to the plethora of responsibilities and challenges her new position will bring. She will have to distance herself from her former law firm, and its partners and associates. As with her previous job, now as a federal magistrate judge, she looks forward to the dynamic environment and constant learning that will be required. In terms of running she just set a new PR in the Half-Marathon in Providence. She is still figuring out her next goal, but in July she will be traveling to Russia and hopes to run through Red Square in Moscow. She also has recently started going to RMHP club practices once a week. Her husband Jon, the most inspiring runner in her life, got her a club membership last year. Involvement in the club has added a new social component to running she is starting to appreciate along with the book pleasure, alone time, and the post-run glow that lasts all day.