Margaret Bradley

“She worked so hard and she inspired people”

Raksha Varma and Andrew Herrmann, Staff Reporters
July 13, 2004

(This article appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times on July 13, 2004.)

In a profile of her as a June athlete of the month, Margaret Bradley explained she “liked to be busy” because “I get bored quickly.”

“It’s good that I always have a lot going on,” she told Chicago Athlete magazine.

Indeed, Bradley’s life was full. A onetime All-America cross country runner at the University of Chicago, she still logged up to 90 miles a week and ran competitively in big races like the Boston Marathon — all while riding the rigors of medical school.

Monday evening, Bradley’s friends gathered at a North Side runner’s shop and in an apartment back in her native Massachusetts, trying to understand how the ultra-fit, 24-year-old known for enduring this year’s sweltering Boston Marathon to place tops among Illinois women could end up dead in the Grand Canyon, apparently killed by dehydration.

Her Boston success “may have given her the idea that she could beat the heat,” said Tom Derderian, her Boston coach. “I think growing up in New England and living in Chicago, she didn’t have an appreciation for the heat there.”

But in Chicago, her friends doubted Bradley was running and thought it more likely she was backpacking at a safe pace.

Grand Canyon National Park officials cautioned runners to steer clear of trails in the summer months when temperatures can soar as high as 130 degrees. Park officials said Bradley and a male companion tested their limits on a 27-mile day-run Thursday.

The companion told authorities that the run, which began mid-morning from the South Rim, was supposed to take the two to Phantom Ranch near the bottom of the canyon that night, said Ken Phillips, the park’s search and rescue coordinator.

“They would’ve been running single-file on this trail, which is in a very remote part of the canyon,” Phillips said. “It’s dangerous to be alone on this trail. There’s virtually no back-up or safety plan.”

Bradley’s friend, reportedly a fellow runner with Chicago connections, ended up separating from her, Phillips said, adding that the friend asked a park employee to leave a note at Phantom Ranch, telling Bradley he scrapped the run and was planning to return to Flagstaff about 85 miles away.

“It is possible Bradley may have veered from the trail to look for a water source,” Phillips said. Grand Canyon National Park averages 10 to 12 fatalities per year, with heat stroke as the leading cause of death.

The National Park Service launched an aerial search for the body after Bradley’s family, who was to meet her in Flagstaff on Friday, reported her missing to the Flagstaff police early Saturday.

Saturday afternoon, park rangers found Bradley’s body in a bone-dry drainage near the Colorado River far from the trail.

Monday evening, at Universal Sole runner’s shop at 3254 N. Lincoln, which was a sponsor of her racing, her friends were stunned that a woman so full of life was gone. “She was your quintessential all-American girl,” said Brenda Barrera. “Such a tragedy.”

Ryan Hall, a Universal Sole employee, refused to believe she would put herself in danger by running in the high heat. “She was too smart. I think she was just on a hike,” he said.

Bradley, originally from Falmouth, Mass., graduated from the University of Chicago in 2001 with a degree in biological and geophysical sciences and did research in genetics. She moved to Boston for a time where she worked with Derderian, of the Greater Boston Track Club. She enrolled at U. of C. medical school last year.

“In any group of people, you always have that one person who everyone is attracted to,” said Derderian. Though not a world-class runner “she worked so hard and she inspired people. People would tell me, ‘I want to be like Margaret,” he said. Her goal, he said, was to qualify for the Olympic trials.

Bradley placed 31st of all women at this April’s Boston Marathon at three hours, four minutes and 54 seconds.

Grand Canyon officials said they suspect no foul play, though the investigation is continuing.