Written by: Anja Hayes
In 2019, Lindsay Hannah Walter took part in the Rock n’ Roll 5k in San Diego. A special fan was in the crowd that day, cheering her on as she ran. It was her kid pen pal, whom she had met through exchanging letters about life with alopecia universalis, a form of alopecia that causes complete hair loss. As a form of thanks, Lindsay gifted her friend with the medal she won during the race. “She still has it in her room,” Lindsay revealed. “Though she has redecorated her room, she still keeps the medal on her wall.” To her pen pal, Lindsay is more than just a friend with whom she shares a common bond. Lindsay is a role model not just to her, but many others she has connected with through writing letters for her foundation, Lindsay’s Little Pals. A strong and confident woman, Lindsay chooses to forego wigs and see her baldness as a badge of honor.
A lot of stereotypes associated with bald women are typically seen as negative. Since it is a common symptom of chemotherapy, many often assume that if a woman does not have hair, she is likely sick or undergoing cancer treatment. While this may be a reality for some, it is not true for those with alopecia. The autoimmune disorder only impacts hair follicles and is not fatal. With baldness being its main symptom, however, many diagnosed with alopecia are more prone to psychological illnesses associated with stigmas surrounding being completely hairless like depression and anxiety. Lindsay seeks to reverse alopecia’s reputation and exemplify what it means to be a bald woman.
When she was her pen pal’s age, Lindsay did not view alopecia as she does today. “Wearing a wig was all I knew,” she remembered. “I never felt pretty, but I felt prettier when I had it on.” Lindsay was diagnosed with alopecia shortly after being born, losing all of her hair by the time she was two. Without resources like social media, Lindsay did not know anybody else in her community with the same condition. Reflecting on her lack of support as a child, Lindsay recounts how she “associated the wig with who everybody else wanted me to be and who I was expected to be.” Hair represented a beauty standard she could only achieve when wearing wigs. By taking one off, her secret would be revealed, resulting in being outcasted for defying feminine standards. Her wig was also a means of cloaking her from the ignorance of her peers, who consistently harassed her throughout her childhood.
As Lindsay grew up, she gained self-assurance through playing basketball. A gifted player, she found that people began focusing less on her appearance and more on her athleticism. However, she was not comfortable with alopecia yet and continued wearing wigs up until her early 20s. But as she kept excelling in basketball and grew interested in other sports, she began to see herself as more than her hair. It was through running that Lindsay first began ditching wigs. During her senior year of college, she aspired to call herself a marathoner. Her first marathon was invigorating, inspiring a new personal goal: to run 27 miles by the time she turned 27. It was in 2014, while training for first go at Rock n’ Roll San Diego, when she decided to remove her wig in public for the first time. “I didn’t go into the run thinking anything like that was going to happen,” she recalls.
Two factors led her to taking the wig off: the heat of the sun and her passion. “It was a true testament to how powerful running is to me.” Overcome with emotion, Lindsay remembers looking down at the sweaty wig that was balled up in her hand. “It was the first time I looked at it and didn’t see beauty,” she remarks. Later that day, Lindsay examined herself in the mirror. It was one of the first instances that she was able to embrace her reflection. “I never really liked looking at myself in the mirror,” Lindsay said. “I was so self conscious.” Seeing herself in a different light led to an abundance of new opportunities, like modeling for CoverGirl and establishing Lindsay’s Little Pals. Giving up her wig also motivated her to test her own limits and go beyond just running marathons. By the time she was 27, she had surpassed her personal goal by two extra marathons.
Lindsay shifted her focus to ultramarathons in 2020 after the cancellation of the Boston Marathon. “A 100 miler was always a lifetime goal,” she noted. “Once [the marathon] was canceled, I knew I needed a big goal to chase down.” Despite going into the year without plans of running an ultra, Lindsay was hooked. “With running… everybody kind of wins,” she explained. “So many people go in with a different goal, whether that’s to finish a hundred miler. Even if you are the first person to get to a 100 or you have barely made the cut off, everybody is still so nice and supportive.” Lindsay also loves the challenge they present her with. The thick skin alopecia forced her to take on grows tougher with each ultra she runs, giving her the ability to continue testing her personal strength.
Fresh off of winning first place in Upstate Ultra Sandhill’s 100 miler, Lindsay is setting her sights on her first 48 hour race. With less than 40 days until she competes in Upstate Ultra’s 48 hour option, Lindsay is determined to push her limits in a short crunch of time. “Me at my best is doing something that is mentally challenging,” she asserted. Beyond running for herself, Lindsay’s ultra career sets an example for people with alopecia. She proves to others like her that personal greatness is not defined by the hair on your head, but the heat of your heart and the will of your stride. “I still have moments where it’s really hard.” she reveals. “But [running] inspires me to work hard because I know people are always watching me since I do look different. Running has been so empowering and I feel the most beautiful when I am out, my bald head is shining, and I am wearing no makeup. That is who I am meant to be and who I am to my core.” For people like her pen pals, Lindsay shatters the concept of hiding alopecia and instead, takes on the world with a bald head and full heart.