Riding Strong: Finding Confidence and Courage in the STP

Dana Hilz has experienced a lot of moments that define a long and impressive athletic journey. But none of them define her. And while 2019 will mark Dana’s 11th consecutive Seattle to Portland (STP), it’s a milestone that represents just one part of her journey. 

While she’s been cycling and running in endurance events for more than 13 years, Dana’s connection to the STP dates back to 2008. At the time, she lived in Centralia, which made it easy to volunteer at the STP midpoint food stop. It was there that she met a rider who provided the encouragement she needed to consider riding the STP herself. “At that time I never thought I would be physically able to complete a ride as lengthy as the STP,” Dana recalls. But the rider assured her that if she could ride 50 miles—which she had done many times—she could work toward completing the ride. Inspired by his encouragement, she signed up for the 2009 STP, and she hasn’t stopped since.

Dana says that riding the STP over the years, as well as participating in half-marathons, has taught her perseverance and helped build confidence in herself. She adds, “perhaps most of all, I feel blessed to have a strong and healthy body, something that I had allowed the eating disorder to at one time take from me.” 

It started when she was 19. “It was like someone turned off the light switch in my head and everything was dark,” she recalls of her struggle with anorexia. Dana remembers the feelings of emptiness, hopelessness and fear, explaining that for her, it was never really about food. “For me, anorexia was rooted in depression and was all-encompassing and consuming, a desperate attempt to try and disappear,” she explains.

For six years, Dana went in and out of treatment centers until she was ready to find her voice and regain her true self. Working with a team of dedicated therapists and medical professionals helped Dana regain her footing, both mentally and physically, and ultimately step out of the shadows of anorexia. “Although it is still something I fight every day to some extent, the eating disorder is not who I am anymore. It gets easier every year as I gain confidence and faith in myself,” she says, and adds that gaining physical strength has been a critical part of her recovery. “The endurance events that I participate in, especially the STP, have been an integral part in regaining my joy in living and have taught me that I can do more than I ever thought possible!”

As the STP marks its 40th anniversary, Dana will be celebrating her 11th year on the ride. It’s a milestone that represents so much more than just finish lines crossed or riding badges earned. It’s a reminder that, like many things in life, recovery is a process. “It wasn't until I was 25 that I was truly on the road to recovery,” she says. “I am now 41 and still consider myself to be in recovery.”

As for what she’s looking forward to the most about the 2019 STP, Dana points to the start line jitters, the lively rest stops and even the dreaded Puyallup Hill. She also enjoys talking with other riders to learn more about where they come from and why they’re riding. “Everyone has a story,” she concludes. 

We’re looking forward to seeing the next chapter of Dana’s story unfold at the 2019 STP finish line. 

Registration for the 2019 Seattle to Portland is now open. 

Enjoy reading about Dana's story? Read about Yurguis, another STP rider sharing his cause. 

Diana Bryant's picture
Diana Bryant