By Ann Leach 

They are partners at work and partners in health. Friends Liesl Barcus and Kara Mello are stepping up the pace in Carl Junction, where they live with their families and work as family and consumer sciences teachers at the high school. 

“I love this town and the people in it,” Barcus said. “I’ve lived here my entire life and have worked in this job for six years. Kara and I realized we had a lot in common when we both signed up for not just one, but two, half marathons.” Thus began early morning runs and some accountability for both women as they worked toward a common goal.

Barcus is quick to point out that running has not always been her thing. “I remember I signed up for the mile run on track and field day in the third grade, and I was too scared to back out,” she said. “Little did I know Carl Junction would be hit by a tornado and school was cancelled so no mile for me. My nine-year-old self was relieved!”

In college, Barcus decided she wanted to start running for her physical health. She started out easy and worked up to running 3.1 miles a day. “It felt good to run,” she said. “And I felt confident in my workout regimen.” 

The 3.1 miles a day became a constant until Barcus announced to her husband Brad in October 2019 that “I am going to run a marathon in six months.” She worked up to running 19 miles in her training but then came Covid in March 2020. “Long story short, I mapped out a 26.2-mile route through Carl Junction and ran my own marathon. I had some help from friends along the way and from my family, who made homemade signs and a finish line at my mailbox to run through. I won first place!”

Once school resumed, Barcus and Mello began their running friendship. “This is our first year working together, but we became fast friends,” Mello said. “Having Liesl as a running partner and friend has been wonderful. There are a lot of days it would be easy to skip it, but when you have a running buddy for accountability, it makes it a lot easier to get it done; and we are always glad to have pushed through.” 

Barcus agrees. “We have fun and it’s a great way to get our mental health in check and set us up to be our best. She gets me through the hard runs and encourages me along the way. I couldn’t ask for a better running partner,” she said. “As time goes on, you push yourself to hit milestones and watch yourself progress. We can do hard things. All in all, it brings me joy.”

While morning runs are their favorite, the friends have been spotted running all over town morning or afternoon, whenever they can fit it in. “Sometimes I have to push both kids in the stroller to get it done,” Mello said. “But health and wellness are important to me. I want to feel good and have energy. I have been running for about 12 years and it has been a major benefit for my mental health. It always makes me feel better and makes me feel free. Running with Liesl has made it more fun, and I am thankful for her and the time we spend running together.”

See more photos in the June 2023 print or digital edition