Can This Ultra-Orthodox Mother of Five Run All the Way to the Olympics?
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because athletic feats can come in unlikely packages.
In Michael and Beatie Deutsch’s home, the professional runner and mother of five has become a figure of speech. “It’s a verb — to ‘Beatie’ something means to just force it until it goes,” Michael says. “Beatie sets her mind to something, and she does it.”
Whether she is tackling training runs in full clothing in 90-degree heat or entertaining her children — ages 9, 8, 6, 4 and 2 — at the beach while also squeezing in a workout, that philosophy has guided the 30-year-old Israel marathon national champion throughout her life, including her most recent pursuit: professional runner.
At 5-foot-3, Deutsch has a muscular, compact build, with strong shoulders, back and arms, resembling more of a gymnast than a distance runner. Her long torso means very short legs, another disadvantage in distance running.
A devout ultra-Orthodox Jew, Deutsch always runs in a knee-length skirt, leggings, a shirt with sleeves past her elbows and her hair covered. She is one of a handful of professional Orthodox Jewish athletes — and yet, she is among the top three female distance runners in Israel.
And she didn’t even start running until four years ago. Deutsch wasn’t an athlete growing up, save for youth gymnastics and taekwondo (she earned a black belt). Her deeply religious family didn’t own a television, so she didn’t watch sports either.
As moms, we sometimes put ourselves last, thinking we’re doing everyone favors, but we do a much better job when we take care of ourselves first.
Now, the Nike-sponsored marathoner is hoping to compete for Israel in the 2020 Olympics. Given her rapid ascent thus far, don’t be surprised if she ‘beaties’ her way there.
Deutsch immigrated to Israel at age 19 and met Michael soon thereafter; they married in 2009. While they had both grown up in the United States, they chose to live in Israel for the simpler lifestyle “and as a religious Jew, it’s considered the holiest place you can live,” Beatie says.
Deutsch worked for a nonprofit international Jewish organization; between motherhood and working, she had little time for physical activity.
One day in 2015, she started running to get into better shape. “I just totally transformed. I was a better mother and wife,” Deutsch says. “As moms, we sometimes put ourselves last, thinking we’re doing everyone favors, but we do a much better job when we take care of ourselves first.”
Still, even as fun runs progressed to marathon training, they became family affairs: Deutsch would push the youngest in a stroller, while the oldest would jog along for part of the way. She had only begun training five months before her first marathon in Tel Aviv in February 2016. She and Michael had initially guessed a four-hour, 30-minute time. She ended up at 3:27, finishing as the sixth woman overall. “It was really empowering,” Deutsch says.
She then set two goals: to run a marathon while pregnant and to win the hilly Jerusalem marathon. She achieved the first feat in Tel Aviv in 2017, at seven months pregnant and after a frantic scramble on a rented city bike to make the race after a transportation mishap. She still finished in 4:08.
After taking a few months off following the birth of her youngest daughter, Deutsch joined a running group. The coach often remarked how she “must be boiling” in her full attire. But others told Deutsch how encouraging it was to see her running in full clothing, balancing her dual passions of faith and fitness.
She’s since hired former professional runner Amit Ne’eman as her coach. He worried Deutsch’s long sleeves and full skirts would slow her down and cause her to overheat, but he respected her wishes. “This is Beatie, dressed as she is, built as she is, with five children, OK. OK! Let’s go on and work with what we have,” Ne’eman says.
They have plenty to work with. In March 2018, Deutsch set an Israeli course record in the Jerusalem Marathon at 3:09:50, completing her second goal. The feat was even more impressive considering that a month and a half prior, she had learned that she was severely anemic and was diagnosed with celiac disease. She quickly adopted a gluten-free diet and worked to increase her iron levels.
She dedicated the Jerusalem victory to her cousin, 14-year-old Daniella Pardes, who had committed suicide three months earlier after suffering from anorexia. Deutsch continues to raise funding and awareness toward Beit Daniella, a rehab center for youth with psychological disorders founded in honor of her cousin, which she talks about after every race.
This summer, she turned professional and is hoping to qualify for the Olympics. She spent several weeks training at altitude in Mammoth Lakes, California, with her family joining her. While there, she met Olympic medalist and American record holder in the marathon, Deena Kastor.
“The traits of Beatie’s success can be attributed to many things, but the support from her family and her own determination stand out as superior,” says Kastor. She also says Deutsch could well make it to Tokyo: “The standards to qualify are high, but she has no limits.”
The guaranteed qualification time is 2:29:30, which Beatie is unlikely to reach, Michael says. (Her personal best of 2:36:41 came in September in Cape Town.) A ranking system fills out the remaining spots for up to 80 international athletes (about half as many as 2016), meaning Deutsch will have a shot as she continues to improve.
She runs 90 miles per week, typically completing two workouts a day. Beatie runs at 5:30 or 6 am while Michael watches the kids and then schedules her second workout for either late afternoon, with one of her children riding a bike alongside her, or late evening after her children are asleep. “Motherhood itself can be a full-time job,” Michael says. “Being a pro athlete definitely is.”
She has a few small sponsorships and she also receives funding from the National Olympic Committee, but the total doesn’t equal what she would make working a full-time job.
Through it all, Beatie smiles and encourages those around her, both in person and via her active ‘marathonmother’ Instagram account — where she’s open about the difficulties of her dual life.
“I’m a little bit disadvantaged [due to clothing], but every marathon, I’ve totally exceeded my expectations,” Deutsch says. “I feel blessed to do something I love, and I don’t know when I’d have this opportunity again.”