BOX ELDER COUNTY — Most people can’t imagine the pain of running 250 miles over five days, but DeShawna Joe said that was nothing compared to the agony of losing her daughter. Eight months ago, SoRaya Manakaja, was hit and killed by a garbage truck while riding her bike to school in Tremonton.

Now, the 38-year-old mother is turning to her love of trail running to help cope with the loss. That passion and hope for healing allowed her to compete last week in the Cocadona 250, a five day race in the desert and mountains of central Arizona.

Joe said running in the race is very expensive and something she could have never afforded. However, several of her friends encouraged her to sign up for one of a couple scholarships given out by the race director each year to cover the $1,600 entry fee.

“I’ve always wanted to do this race,” said DeShawna. “It was at the top of my bucket list before my daughter passed. I used to imagine what it would be like to run it and be in the mountains and then this opportunity came up for the scholarship. A lot of people also wrote letters of recommendation on my behalf that I am so grateful for.”

Running has been a part of Joe’s life ever since she was a child growing up on the Navajo Reservation. When she got married and started a family, she discovered there was a power in running to help cope with postpartum depression. Then, 9 years ago her family moved to northern Utah and she fell in love with trail running and being in the mountains.

DeShawna said discovering the power of running as a young mother has saved her life, as she has faced the constant pain of losing her daughter. In the early days after the crash it was the only way to feel some peace and keep going.

“I was completely numb,” she explained. “I didn’t know how to handle it. Sadly, I turned to certain aspects I shouldn’t have, drinking and doing drugs. The relief was only temporary and couldn’t help the feeling inside my heart that was so massive.”

Getting the opportunity to run the Cocadona 250 motivated DeShawna to put the running shoes back on. She began training for the grueling race that not only is one of the longest distances in trail running but also 40,154 ft. in elevation gain.

Joe said the race brought challenges that she had never faced as a runner, trying to keep going day and night. She would sleep along the trail, taking quick 10 minute naps when she was tired. Her husband and family would be waiting at each of the aid stations along the course as they tracked her progress. They were standing at the finish line when she completed the 252 miles, Saturday morning at 1:15 a.m.

“I love my family so much,” DeShawna expressed, “they have been through my highs and my lows. I am so grateful to have support like that. They would do anything, staying up all night, tracking me, feeding me, and taking care of my kids while I ran. I am so grateful to have a really awesome, loving support system.”

At one point in between aid stations, Joe ran out of water and had to filter water from a muddy pond that had tadpoles swimming in it. Around mile 215, she fell and started wondering if she would make it to the end.

As the pain in her feet, legs and body continued to worsen, DeShawna said she focused on her daughter and was able to feel her presence along the trail. She continues to hold onto her faith and hope that she’ll be able to be with her again.

“I will see her again,” said Joe. “She shows me every day that she is here, around me and protecting us. We see a lot of those things. That was one of the great things about this race.”

DeShawna is already setting her sights on another challenge as the anniversary of her daughter’s death approaches. She hopes to run in the Arizona Monster 300 in April 2025.

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