Two and a half years ago, I could barely hit a mile. The thought of running a marathon seemed way down my bucket list until Monday, April 15th, 2013. However, after years of volunteering with American Liver Foundation (ALF) and their Run for Research team, it hit home after The Boston Marathon bombing. Up until this day, words still cannot express the anxiety, stress, and fear that this event instilled on the Boston and running community. And, Boston, for me was home at the time. I didn’t know how else to make sense of what happened, but I did know that I wanted to make a change.
On Friday, September 20th, 2013, that change came to light in the unlikeliest of manners. I met a patient while I was volunteering for ALF Flavors of Boston Culinary Fundraising event. He was the bravest and brightest soul I have met, and his story inspired me to fight back by doing good and crossing that finish line for those who couldn’t.
I didn’t have any training or running experience, but I had determination and strength of mind. So without hesitation, I immediately applied to join the Run for Research team for the 118th Boston Marathon. I didn’t know what to expect but I was overjoyed when I received my acceptance letter. Then and there, on Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013, my journey as a runner and marathoner began.
It has been over two and a half years since that day, and in this time, I have encountered and overcome countless challenges through training, injuries and emotional rollercoasters. The most difficult of which still remains as the process of training through the Boston Marathon. As a new runner, I was eager to jump on in. Without proper training, I skipped right into the Chilly Half Marathon a month into being accepted. Needless to say, it was not the smartest decision I have ever made. I crossed the finish line but at the cost of sustaining left hip bursitis in the process. Instead of progressing through my training, I set myself back. I was angry at myself, but even more so when my physical therapist expressed her concern on my ability to run the 118th Boston Marathon.
I told her, “Quitting is not an option. I am crossing that finish line by any means possible – run, walk, or crawl.” And just like that, my physical therapist heard me loud and clear and from that day on, we set a weekly routine to heal, strengthen, and retrain. For about two months, running was off limits while I was on crutches. I was itching to push myself each week that I felt progress, but both my physical therapist and Dr. Kelly from our team advised me to be patient. It was hard to listen to them, but it was with their support along with my family and friends that pushed me through recovery.
By mid-January, I progressed from crutches to walking without pain. This was a vast improvement but I was more discouraged than ever. April was right around the corner and I was nowhere near ready. I thought about dropping out of the race but quitting was not in the cards. It was as if the Run for Research Patient-Match event came to my rescue just in time. This opportunity allowed me to meet my patient, Anthony Milisci, and his family in person, and share my story and progress thus far. Aware of the challenges of my injury, his family still believed in me and their words of encouragement pushed me forward.
By late January/early February, I was training on the elliptical. By mid-February, I was ready for my first outdoor run. At this time, I connected with Coach Jorge and Dr. Kelly to restructure and customize a training schedule based on where I was. With their guidance and continued physical therapy, I set myself on my first outdoor run at 8-miles. From there, week after week, I increased my mileage based on my newly revised training schedule. By the time Saturday, March 29th arrived, I was finally able to join my team for the 21-miler! It was surreal.
Training season was brutal, but a journey that made me a stronger person. All of it led up to race day, and on Monday, April 21st, I finally crossed the 118th Boston Marathon finish line. It was illuminating and euphoric. It was the accumulation of all the pain, sweat and tears in training – all of which was worth every second. It was the proudest moment of my life as I became one of the 31,805 official finishers. It was, in essence, empowering and liberating. For many of us – or at least me – crossing that finish line symbolized taking back our beloved race, our city. In that one single moment, each of us were connected and unified. We were one. We were Boston Strong.
The 118th Boston Marathon launched my journey as a runner, and taught me a life lesson. Like a marathon, life is a journey with setbacks and uncertainties that challenges our willpower, strength and endurance. What matters is not how fast we cross the finish line but the matter in which we do and our attitude. It is with this in mind, that I approach each chapter of my life. And it is in running that I am reminded of why I run…
“I don’t run to win races. Nor do I run to get places. I run to escape this world. I run to find peace with myself. I run to feel free. And I run to feel strong.”