GREAT FALLS TRIBUNE
Lizz Coyle hasn’t always been a road racer. But she’s never run away from a challenge.
And now she’s found a way to combine running shoes and a charitable organization dedicated to providing shoes – and more – for an impoverished nation.
The Great Falls woman with an unusual career and an unusually acute interest in helping her fellow man will be running the New York City Marathon in November on behalf of Shoe4Africa, an organization dedicated to helping poor people in East Africa.
“Running has had a profound impact on my life,” Lizz says. “I’m thrilled to have found a way for it to help others, too.”
INTERESTING CAREER? That’s for sure.
Lizz graduated from Great Falls High in 2006 and from the University of Montana in 2009.
“I’ve always been pretty into learning and went through undergrad at UM pretty quickly,” she says. “So I decided to take some time off from school before applying for graduate programs. That was a really good decision. My parents (Donna and Mark Miles) had moved to Alaska to try something different, so I moved there and was there for two years.”
Then it was back to school. And the pursuit of an uncommon degree.
She earned a specialized master’s degree in Forensic Psychology from the University of Denver. Lizz then applied for the doctoral program. She’s about to graduate and is spending a little time in the Great Falls area preparing for the marathon.
And explaining her career.
“It’s technically Clinic Psychology,” she says of her doctorate, “but I specialize in Forensic Psychology and have plans to double in Neuro Psychology and Forensic Psychology.”
And what exactly is that?
“When I say it, people think “Criminal Minds” and think I’m running around with a microscope analyzing criminal stuff,” she says. “I wish that were what it is, but it’s not nearly that exciting. Forensic Psychology is basically the intersection between psychology and the law. Any setting where you’d have civil or criminal proceedings or civil or criminal involvement.
“There are two areas of psychology to go into, generally speaking. One is treatment, individual therapy, couple therapy, group therapy … And assessment. I do a little bit of that.”
Make that a lot of Forensic assessment.
“For example,” she says. “Competent to stand trial? Not competent to stand trial? Or not guilty by reason of insanity?”
She does other interesting work, too. She’s an evaluator.
Always had an inquisitive mind, Lizz?
“It’s such an abstract job that it takes a very analytical mind,” she says. “It’s like finding the pieces and putting them together.”
SHE’S BEEN A puzzle-solver her entire life. The running career came later.
“I didn’t start running super young. I was 22,” she says. “It started as a stress-relief thing, and after I started I was like, ‘Wow, this is kind of great.’ When I did my first race it was like, ‘This is so cool.’ “
She was not a track or cross country athlete in high school.
“I was kind of a choir geek,” she laughs. “Delphian and all that.”
Which is awesome, too.
“Totally,” she says. “I took a little different route, and then I re-routed (to a running career).”
The upcoming NYC Marathon will be her fourth.
SHE LIVED IN New York City for a year.
“My pre-doctoral internship was at Bellevue Hospital Center. If you ever watch ‘Law and Order,’ it’s always the Bellevue they’re talking about,” she says. “We lived on the Upper East Side of the city and the marathon route went right by.”
She was introduced to “Shoe4Africa” through a running friend.
“I just really loved their mission,” Lizz says. “It was so cool. It’s an organization that’s so progressive, always moving and always growing. And I really like that.
“I have done some work in South Africa, too. So any issues from there speak to my heart. It’s such a beautiful place, no matter where you’re at, so it’s really cool for me to work for an organization that does so much.”
Shoe4Africa is involved in trying to improve conditions across the country.
“It’s schools, it’s hospitals, it’s programs for women who have been victims of domestic violence,” Lizz says. “It’s really a great organization. I think it speaks to work that I do professionally and also to work that I want to do personally.”
Lizz has a fundraising page at https://shoe4africa.org. It’s under “sponsored runners” and “Elizabeth Coyle.” All donations are tax-deductible.
AN EDUCATION in our town helped prepare Lizz for her life’s mission.
“I always liked writing,” she says. “One of the most influential teachers for me was Mrs. (Christine) Baroch at Great Falls. She was my (Advanced Placement) English teacher and taught me how to write.
“One of the things they don’t tell you when you study Psychology is how much writing you’ll have to do. You’re like a therapist mixed with a statistician mixed with an author. You’re doing so much writing all the time. For me, getting that in high school was super helpful.”
There is another reason Lizz is fond of her hometown. Her fiancé is also from Great Falls.
“His name is Chase Christiaens,” she says. “He was a football player, but more of a hockey player. His little brother is Brady Christiaens.”
They’re planning to be married next August.
MONTANA ROOTS mean much to many of us, and Lizz is no different.
“I’ve been to a lot of places, lived in a lot of places, traveled to a lot of places, and my fiancé and I have found it to be quite a story,” she says. “People ask where we’re from. Montana. And it instantly gets people very interested and excited. It’s cool to be able to talk about it and even more cool to have someone doing these adventures with me and telling the story with me.”
Chase is an agronomist. He’s been working at an exclusive country club in Denver.
“Golf turf management,” Lizz says. Then she chuckles.
“I didn’t even know it was a thing until he started doing it,” she says.
Does Chase run, too?
“He’s trying his hand at it,” she says. “He does a little running now and then.”
Lizz does enough for the both of them.
HER GOAL FOR the upcoming marathon?
“I’m going to try to break four hours,” she says. “So we’ll see how it goes.”
She’s in Great Falls for a few weeks before moving to Minneapolis to start a specialized post-doctoral fellowship.
“I’ve got this time off right now and I have no excuse not to be in shape,” she says. “So I need to be working hard.”
Running goals aren’t the major ones, come November. Raising funds for Shoe4Africa trumps everything.
“The minimum goal is $3,000 and I’d like to do upwards of that,” she says. “Anything I raise will be great. This work is a passion of mine and I’m really honored to run with this charity. I hope to do more work for it in the coming years.”