On a crisp fall morning in Manhattan, New York, Christy Turlington Burns arrived at a photo studio for a familiar routine: hair and makeup, followed by a few hours in front of the camera. The 43-year-old supermodel has graced the covers of Vogue and Elle, as well as dozens of other fashion magazines. She has been the face of Calvin Klein, Valentino and Chanel. This morning, though, Turlington Burns was sporting Nike compression shorts and a blue sports bra while jogging a few steps toward the photographer on a narrow, white-washed set.
Turlington Burns was not simply posing as a runner. In less than 70 hours, she would toe the line at the New York City Marathon, her first. She wasn't nervous; after hammering out 21 miles in her last long run, she was ready. "I went to the George Washington Bridge, just beyond actually, and back down to Tribeca where I live," she said after the shoot. "It was a perfect fall day."
Although Turlington Burns accepts periodic modeling assignments, these days she is foremost an activist. The marathon and cover shoot are the latest ways she's using her famous face to raise awareness for maternal health.
Two years ago, Turlington Burns launched Every Mother Counts (EMC) to highlight the importance of women's health around the world. "If you have a healthy mom, you have a healthy family, a healthy society, and hopefully, a healthy nation," she says. Every Mother Counts' website (everymothercounts.org) features statistics, stories and offers opportunities to get involved, including donating time, money or old cell phones.
While Turlington Burns is fully immersed in the campaign, she is also pursuing a master's degree in public health at Columbia University, speaking regularly at conferences and working alongside other women's health advocates (including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton). She recently submitted for review her first paper on global health, co-authored with renowned physician Paul Farmer, who chairs a Harvard team that she sits on.
The issue of maternal health is a personal one for the longtime model. Moments after giving birth to daughter Grace, now 8, Turlington Burns began to hemorrhage. Luckily, she received immediate medical treatment and made a full recovery. She later realized she could have died that day. The revelation prompted her to look into maternal mortality. What she found was stunning: Of the approximately 350,000 deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth each year, 90 percent are preventable.
During her second pregnancy (son Finn is now 5), Turlington Burns traveled to developing nations with the humanitarian organization CARE. She witnessed the challenges pregnant women in developing countries face, namely, lack of access to quality healthcare. What if I'd been in labor here? she thought. The question was a call to action. "It's not enough that I had the care I needed," she says. "I want every woman to have that care."