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EMU Student Profiles

On the Run

EMU student Heather Irvine overcomes obstacles in life, in school and during marathons

Ypsilanti resident Heather Irvine, 46, knows what it’s like to overcome obstacles and put in hard work to make it to the finish line.

Irvine, a student at Eastern Michigan University, has learned such lessons from her life experiences and a philosophy she developed running marathons.

“I started running six years ago, because it gave me a mental clarity I was looking for,” Irvine said. “Also, it taught me that when you say ‘I can’t,’ you are really saying ‘I won’t.’”

She ran the Boston Marathon in April and is now preparing for the New York marathon while majoring in Electronic Media and Film Studies at EMU. She is also an active member of E-TV, the student-run television channel at Eastern.

Irvine’s career story began in 1987, when she graduated from Ann Arbor Pioneer High School and got a job. A few years later, she married her high school sweetheart.

“Back then, you could get a well-paying job out of high school,” Irvine said. “So, I just fell into different jobs, and held two or three at a time.”

By 1991, she decided she wanted to continue her education and took some courses at Washtenaw County Community College. However, a softball accident cut her college experience short, as she required multiple knee surgeries. By the time she had recovered from the surgeries, she had discovered she was pregnant with her first daughter.

Wanting to give her children the time they deserved, she put her education on hold to take care of them until they grew up. They are now in college themselves, one at Michigan State University and the other at Concordia University in Ann Arbor.

By 2009, Irvine felt she had hit a ceiling at her job at the Washtenaw Intermediate School District, where she worked giving desktop support. Her logical next promotion would have required a college degree, so she decided to resume working on her education. She began taking night classes at EMU in 2010, and decided to quit her job to devote her time to school.

“I want to do it right,” Irvine said of returning to school. “I want to be able to say yes to things I normally couldn’t or wouldn’t say yes to. I even auditioned for a play my first semester here.”

Irvine joined the electronic media and film studies program, which gives students a grounding in audio and video production, radio and television news, and film theory and criticism. The program provides both textbook and practical exposure to the field, in lab classes and doing E-TV.

“I’ve had a lot of fun last semester and this semester working on projects with my friends in the E-TV club,” she said. “I’m so happy and excited to be a part of what they are doing. There are so many projects, and that’s how you learn. I’m having a blast.”

Irvine says she feels very much at home on Eastern’s campus, and feels inspired by the energy and insight of her younger classmates.

“I’m really proud of EMU, and our beautiful campus,” she said. “As someone in college in the middle of my life, EMU has been superbly helpful. And I have the chance to work with a bunch of great students who could be lifelong friends and future coworkers.”

Irvine is involved in numerous production-focused projects on campus. In December, she was part of the crew that filmed commencement. Other projects include the ETV Weekly show, a “Meet the Candidates” segment on the recent student body elections and some “Why We Write” interviews.

While she is enjoying her time as a student, Irvine continues to push herself in her running.

Despite her surgeries, Irvine decided she wanted to continue pushing herself in her running. In 2011, she ran in her first half-marathon, at the Detroit Free Press marathon. A year later, after spending the summer training, she returned to compete in her first full marathon.

She spent the next few years running marathons in Chicago, Minneapolis and Novi, and qualified for the Boston and New York City marathons. Since then, she has been training through the winter—only running inside on the days when the weather was its worst.

She is not sure if she will keep running such long distances after New York City—perhaps if she goes to the London marathon. However, she does know her post-graduation plans: production in radio, television or film.

“I love being part of a team that is energized and makes things happen,” she said.

Irvine hopes to graduate in 2017. Until then, she is focused on working hard and finishing strong in everything she does.

“Running and school are the same—It’s about finishing,” she says. “Each credit I check off is like another mile closer to the finish line.”

David Konarske

Heather Irvine

Heather Irvine and her dog won the Wicked Halloween 5K Run (Plymouth) in 2014 with a time of 19:24.