"I finished, but I was dead last. It was OK, because I was thinking, 'I don't know what's happening to me, but I have nothing to be ashamed of. I'm going to hold my head high and I'm going to keep going until I finish.'"
She eventually did finish, but she had some moral support on the way.
"One of my friends, who runs with me, came looking for me," McCowan said. "She passed me on the way back and she knew I was in distress, but she didn't know what was wrong with me. She went on and finished the race and she told my family something was wrong with me so she was going to go back. My sister came back for me too and we all finished the race together."
McCowan ran right through her first asthma attack, and she hasn't let it slow her down since. She's in good physical shape, having taught aerobics for 11 years, and she's continuing to run.
She credits Plummer
She credits former Danville cross-country coach E.G. Plummer, indirectly, for her joining the legions of road racers. McCowan was one of Plummer's statisticians for five years before graduating in 1985, and said she even came back and did it a few times after she had gone on to college.
Three years ago, McCowan picked up a Danville alumni magazine and saw an announcement for the annual E.G. Plummer 5K to be held in August.
"I thought to myself, 'I'm going to do that. I don't care if I'm the last person to cross the finish line, I'm going to do it' because I thought that much of Coach Plummer," McCowan said. "I started training in January, running two minutes then walking three. I gradually built up to it and by August, I was ready."
McCowan has continued to compete around the area and beyond. She lives in Frankfort now, but said she's in Danville several times a week either to go to church or to visit with her family.
She also loves to visit with Plummer, who returns the feelings. Plummer said McCowan is a one-of-a-kind person.
"She's extremely quiet and reserved," Plummer said. "But she also has an air about her that is regal and majestic. She's extremely determined, and I'm so proud of her."
McCowan said she has gotten a lot out of the road races. She enjoys the obvious health benefits, but said she also likes having something to do that isn't outwardly competition-driven.
"It's just a morale booster," McCowan said. "It's like, 'This is something I can do.' It keeps me healthy, and it's not that I'm competing against others. I'm just trying to better myself."
She's learning to do it in new ways. Every race is a challenge, and one that's wracked with worries.
"Ever since then I've had some issues where I think there was some fear of having another attack. I've had some problems off and on, but I finished today running the entire thing and I was proud of myself. That's progress for me."