Susan Hadl is used to hitting the proverbial runner's wall and reaching inside for something extra. After, she's a veteran of six marathons, and runs about seven miles daily with friends at 5 a.m. Despite all this conditioning and preparations, nothing could have prepared Hadl for her once-in-a-lifetime experience at 7:15 p.m. on a sunny and windy evening on May 16.
Churning with butterflies and adrenaline, and decked out in her official Olympic shorts and shirt, Hadl started her leg of the .7-mile run at Ninth and Ohio streets. Hadl was selected as one of the community heroes to help carry the torch and flame of the 1996 Olympic Games through Lawrence. With a crowd of more than 200 people -- including friends and family -- cheering on both sides of the street, Hadl journeyed west on Ninth Street, and ran south into a strong headwind up Mississippi Street and toward Memorial Stadium.
"I remember I was very happy and got caught up in all the excitement, because it just seemed to be such a motivating experience," she said. "I realized about three quarters of the way through it that I was running faster than I cared to be running so I slowed down a little bit. You get caught up in the moment."
Hadl has been caught up in many moments since high school, devoting her lifetime to helping others and improving the Lawrence community as a student, professional and volunteer. Currently, the 38-year-old Lawrence police officer volunteers with numerous organizations, boards and committees, including Douglas County Rape Victim Survivor Services (RVSS), The Shelter Inc. and Leadership Lawrence. Hadl also has helped coordinate the Special Olympic Fun Run for the past four years, as well as being involved with The Trinity Lutheran Church and the Kansas University School of Social Welfare.
"I don't have enough hours," Hadl laments.
She has found time in her busy schedule the last six years to serve on the board of directors for RVSS, helping with policy-making and fund raising. The agency provides a confidential 24-hour crisis intervention service, educational and training programs, peer-support groups and resource/referral services. As a member of the Lawrence Police Department for almost 16 years, Hadl had come into contact with RVSS in working a number of sexual assault and battery cases.
"I had seen the advocates respond to rape victims in the field," Hadl said. "I've done the investigating and we worked side-by-side on a number of occasions. I know they do good work and don't receive near the recognition that they need. I'm a strong supporter of everything they do for victims in those situations, and they speak out to students on sexual harassment.
"It's just uncanny what a small band of people can cover in terms of not just Lawrence, but they stretch themselves out to Douglas County."
Hadl said that while the police department and RVSS have different missions, their common bond is trying to help the community. For Hadl, learning more about rape victims and crisis intervention is an extension of her college education. Committed to learning and having a thirst for knowledge, Hadl earned a master's degree in social welfare from KU in 1983. She said this was an invaluable experience in improving her communication skills and expanding her social conscience as a professional and volunteer. Hadl saw her education as on-the-job training for the LPD, considering that she attended graduate school at the same time she worked as a police officer. She learned in school about how women can become trapped in a vicious cycle of sexual abuse and violence.
"It definitely raised my awareness level and interest in areas I had never considered," Hadl said. "It shed light on things I was dealing with."
Hadl now combines her wealth of education, police work, and own genuine compassion in helping others with RVSS.
"I have a finer appreciation of all the emotions and trauma that victims experience, and I definitely have a huge admiration to the attendance and compassion that each advocate offers," she said. "I think that has rounded out my perspective on such a situation."
Hadl is not content to rest now that she was publicly recognized as a community hero. Falling in love with law enforcement as an 8-year-old watching Mod Squad every Tuesday night at 6 p.m., Hadl aspired to and became a police officer. Now she dreams of attending law school, theology school and volunteering with many more organizations. After spending countless hours of work aiding people, she still doesn't feel right calling herself a volunteer, and was shocked at being selected as a hero.
"To me, it's everybody's responsibility to be involved in their community," Hadl said. "I don't think of myself as a volunteer. I'm a worker and very involved in Lawrence America and many of the organizations here, but to go out and do volunteer work, I probably don't fit that bill."
Sarah Jane Russell, director of RVSS, doesn't buy into that. For Russell, no amount of money can replace the service Hadl provides to the agency and the community.
"Susan is one of those board members who always stands ready to give support," Russell said. "Susan cares a lot about this community and takes her role as a volunteer very seriously. She's some kind of a person. She is a very caring and honest person, and understands and respects what she does. We all have a lot to learn from her."
-- The volunteer profile is written by David Garfield of the Roger Hill Volunteer Center.