For Alumna Nikki Sanford, Cross-Country Relay to Benefit MS Research Is Chance to Go Big or Go Home

  • Nikki Sanford JD '16
    Nikki Sanford JD '16  Sanford, an associate at Baker & Hostetler in Seattle, found a chance to combine her passion for running with a desire to help others in the national relay to benefit multiple sclerosis research.  
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From April 13-20, Sanford will be running a 195-mile segment of the MS Run the US relay

Nikki Sanford, a Class of 2016 graduate of William & Mary Law School, practices law at Baker & Hostetler in Seattle and is one of 19 runners who will participate in the 2018 MS Run the US cross-country relay which begins later this month. She will run her 195-mile segment—from Barstow, CA, through the Mojave National Preserve, to Las Vegas, NV—between April 13-20.  Her race page has more details about the event as well as opportunities to help her raise funds through her run for multiple sclerosis research. Nikki recently answered some questions about the relay, her time at William & Mary, and her current practice at Baker & Hostetler. 

How did you hear about/get involved with MS Run the US? What is your motivation for running the relay?

I saw an article about the relay on Facebook last summer and was fascinated by the distance and scale of the run. I had never seen a 3,100 mile, cross-country running event like it, and I really admired the fact that the primary motivation behind the relay is to raise awareness for multiple sclerosis and support those living with the disease.

At the time, I was looking for a way that I could use my running and fitness interests to support a cause or help others, but I wanted to do something different, that I couldn’t or wouldn’t do by myself, and something that would have a huge impact. Basically, go big or go home. The run itself and the opportunity to run across multiple states seemed incredibly awesome, but what really sold me was the nonprofit’s authenticity and dedication to the cause.

The founder of MS Run the US, Ashley Schneider, ran the entire relay distance, from California to New York alone back in 2010, in support of her mother who had MS. Since 2013, a relay team has been selected each year to cover that distance and raise funds and MS awareness. In addition to supporting MS research, the organization uniquely provides support programs to directly help individuals with MS and their families learn to live with symptoms and disability due to MS. This may be anything from educating the individual and their families, providing wheelchairs and/or mobility accommodations, or connecting them to support groups. Everyone from the organization is so passionate about the cause and that inspired me to apply to be a part of the 2018 Relay Team and do what I can to support the mission.

Do you have any personal connections to MS?

Two of my friends have a parent with MS, and I know several people through running that have the disease. After I started fundraising and sharing about this run, I learned that most friends, co-workers, and acquaintances either know someone with MS or are personally affected by the disease in some way. It constantly surprises me how prevalent the disease is and how little it is discussed.

What was your running experience prior to this event, and what training have you been doing to prepare?

I started running about 5 years ago and began distance running during law school with my friend Kristin Poole JD ‘16. I enjoyed the challenge of distance running, and it was a fun way for us to hang out and explore Williamsburg. We ended up running several half marathons, and our first full marathon in Charleston our 3L year. Since then, I’ve kept up with the distance running and have run in several more marathons here in Seattle.

To prepare for this 195-mile relay segment, in which I’ll be running about a marathon (26.2 miles) a day for 8 days in a row, I run about 50-65 miles per week, with 1-2 long runs of 20-25 miles on the weekend. I also strength train 3 times a week, foam roll daily, and eat a TON of food.

Given that you now live and work in rainy Seattle, how are you preparing for days of running through what looks to me to be mostly desert?

This has been tough since Seattle’s been pretty cold and gray recently. I try to run with an extra layer or jacket to simulate running in warmer weather. As someone who typically runs in cold, rainy weather in a t-shirt, it’s not fun. But I think it will be pretty helpful when I’m in the desert and won’t have all the extra weight on me.

Is there anybody who has been especially helpful in support or preparation for the run?

My family and friends have been incredibly supportive from the start. They’ve helped me fundraise and host numerous events over the last several months. My trainer Rod has been awesome in helping me maintain strength, stay healthy/injury-free, and maintain motivation. Baker Hostetler, my law firm, has been very generous in helping me towards my fundraising goal, and everyone here in the Seattle office has been so supportive and understanding of the intense (and time-consuming) training regimen.

What is your favorite memory of law school?

There are so many! I had a great time in law school. 3L year was definitely my favorite: winning the law school softball tournament, Barrister’s Ball, ski trip weekend, playing on nearly all the intramural teams with friends, having my Environmental Law and Policy Review journal article published. I really enjoyed journal that year, too. We had a great ELPR board/team in 2015-2016 (Vol. 40), and even if cite checks and article edits weren’t incredibly exciting, the people were awesome to work with and made it fun.

How have you developed your Intellectual Property expertise through law school and your career?

I started developing my current IP expertise back in college through a solid scientific foundation. I double majored in physics and mathematics, conducted research in a range of fields (e.g., nuclear physics, organic chemistry, biophysics), and gained work experience in a variety of scientific environments. This breadth of experience has been the most helpful in my IP practice, where I primarily do patent prosecution and have to quickly understand, explain, and distinguish various technologies.

Law school helped to give an overview of IP law and how it fits in relation to other legal fields. I had, for example, the opportunity to intern in different legal areas such as criminal and corporate law, and study abroad in Madrid. So far in my career, I’ve tried to develop my IP expertise in a similar manner, by gaining exposure to a range of legal areas and issues, e.g., patent prosecution, litigation, etc., and working on a variety of technologies. I’ll also attend bar association or professional organization meetings to network with other lawyers and professionals in the tech industry.

What is the best thing about your current job at Baker Hostetler?

The people here in Seattle. Everyone, both attorneys and staff, has a huge depth of legal and scientific knowledge that they’re willing to share, and everyone’s genuinely friendly and approachable. Our Seattle office has such a collegial atmosphere and I appreciate the fact that I can openly ask questions or get help if needed, and that we all take a professional and personal interest in each other. It makes work much more enjoyable, and I think the great working relationships result in a stronger work product for clients as well. We’ve got a great group here, and it’s definitely the best thing about the job.

Do you have any advice for law students?

Keep things in perspective. Work hard and learn what you need to know to be competent at what you do, but don’t lose sight of the fact that grades and GPA are just a number that neither defines you nor your abilities. One B (or even a lot of them) won’t necessarily prevent you from passing the bar or getting the job you want, and it’s much more important to develop problem-solving skills and social skills than memorizing black letter law.

What is next for you in your life after finishing the run?

Catching up on my billable hours…

But outside of work–absolutely nothing! I’m really just looking forward to having some free time again. After that wears off, I’m sure I’ll find a new goal to tackle. I’ve got a couple marathons lined up this summer, and I may try some triathlons or do an Ironman next. We’ll see.

About William & Mary Law School

Thomas Jefferson founded William & Mary Law School in 1779 to train leaders for the new nation.  Now in its third century, America's oldest law school continues its historic mission of educating citizen lawyers who are prepared both to lead and to serve.