Marsha Ward heads the College of Health, Education and Human Development Campaign Cabinet

Official Ironman announcer Mike Reilly and Heather Wurtele (right), winner of the female professional division, greet Ward at the Ironman finish line.

Official Ironman announcer Mike Reilly and Heather Wurtele (right), winner of the female professional division, greet a jubilant Ward at the Ironman finish line.
Image Credit: Contributed

Ward, pictured with College of Health, Education and Human Development Dean Larry Allen. Ward is chair of the Will to Lead's College of HEHD Campaign Cabinet.

Marsha Ward ’79, pictured with College of Health, Education and Human Development Dean Larry Allen, is chair of the college’s Will to Lead campaign cabinet.

Sometimes you need help to cross the finish line.

Never was that more true, says Marsha Ward ’79, than this summer, when she was competing in Ironman Coeur d’Alene, in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

After swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles, and completing 21 miles of her 26.2 mile run, her back seized up – a complication of an injury sustained in a bike crash three weeks earlier.

Unable to stand straight – much less run – a volunteer approached Ward to help. “She told me, “You’re not quitting; I’ll walk with you. You are going to be an Ironman!” Ward recalled.

So she propped Ward’s arm over her shoulder and walked with her for two miles, then turned her over to a succession of volunteers who supported her as she walked.

As the accomplished distance runner dealt with her injury, she faced another challenge – the clock. With one mile to go, the deadline to finish the race was fast approaching. “We knew things were closing up, so two volunteers propped me up under both elbows and off we went,” she said.

Just as they had the finish line in sight, one more obstacle came Ward’s way. A race official walked up, informing her that she had to walk or run the last block by herself.

“With the support in the stands from Atlanta friends, fellow competitors and the wonderful folks of Coeur d’Alene, I made it,” she said. “As I started on my own for the last block before the finish line, I took a hard left, and it appeared I was going to have an issue even getting to the finish line. But as luck and the ongoing support provided by the race volunteers and participants would have it, up ran the top female finisher, who helped me to the finish line, and with whom I celebrated my finish.”

“I was in severe pain, but it was the best experience of my life,” she added. “So many people wanted to help, and that made all the difference.”

Ward is familiar with the role of teamwork in meeting important goals. A stalwart supporter of Clemson, she was recently appointed chair of the College of Health, Education and Human Development Campaign Cabinet for the university’s Will to Lead campaign as it enters its second phase toward a goal of $1 billion.

In this role, she will partner with HEHD and Clemson administrators and other volunteers to engage the college’s alumni and friends in the campaign, she said.

Especially notable about Ward’s appointment is that she isn’t a graduate of a HEHD department or school. She graduated with a degree in accounting but fell in love with the programs of HEHD as a member of the Clemson University Foundation Board, where she first learned about the work of the U.S. Play Coalition.

Housed within HEHD’s parks, recreation and tourism department, the coalition of individuals and organizations promotes the value of play through conferences and other initiatives. Inspired by their work, Ward established a fellowship for doctoral students in parks, recreation and tourism management who intend to study play’s value in society.

“I have always enjoyed athletic activities, and I appreciate the value of play, so I was inspired to support the study of the value of play when I learned about the growing impact of inactivity on children,” she said. “It was a no-brainer that I needed to do something to help.”

When Ward rolled off the Foundation Board this summer, she asked if there were other ways she could serve the university. About the same time, the Will to Lead campaign announced its campaign extension toward a $1 billion goal and began to form volunteer cabinets for the new phase of the campaign.

“I wanted to stay engaged, so when I was approached about this opportunity it made perfect sense, given my affinity for HEHD and the U.S. Play Coalition, and the ways they have made me feel like a part of their family,” she said. “I am looking forward to working with the college in this capacity.”

“It’s an exciting time to be a part of Clemson and the campaign,” she added. “Wonderful things happened in the campaign’s first phase, and keeping the ball rolling to raise $1 billion is absolutely the right thing to do.”

A graduate of the University of South Carolina School of Law, Ward is an attorney with Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan LLP in Atlanta, where she focuses on state regulatory issues for telecommunications and energy companies. While she dabbled with running and fitness in college, her love of triathlon sport emerged some time later. In addition to finishing her first Ironman distance race, she regularly competes in sprint and Olympic distance races. She is also active in the USA Triathlon organization and competed as part of the U.S. team in London this September.

After a sufficient period of rest following her Ironman race, Ward plans to enter more competitions – perhaps even another Ironman.

In the meantime, she will help Clemson cross a finish line of its own.