I’m from Sandy Hook, CT. A town that was rocked to its core back in December 2012 when tragedy hit my son’s school, Sandy Hook Elementary. It was a very dark time. There was a heaviness and a pain that settled into every crevice of my being. With every tragic event, change awaits. Months later, I left my job to make myself more available for my kids. My priorities turned to focusing on my family and friends, some of whom were directly impacted by the loss of a child. I put exercise and any immediate form of self-care on the back burner. I remember being at my physical and my doctor asking the routine question about how much you exercise. I grappled to provide some form of an acceptable answer, but I simply replied “none.” My drive for exercise was, unintentionally, stunted. The doctor went on to explain how one’s forties should be a time when your exercise is still peaking. I kept thinking if only he could understand how hard it is just to sort through the pieces of what our days felt like. I certainly didn’t have time to figure out a fitness plan. What I did crave was a sense of some normalcy. I wanted to feel that lust for life once again.
And so began my metamorphosis.
In the fall of 2013, my husband, came home from an informational meeting about the Cape Cod 200 mile Ragnar relay event. It was hosted by our friends, Ian and Nicole Hockley. They was forming teams to run in the May 2014 Ragnar to raise awareness and funds for their son’s legacy foundation, Dylan’s Wings of Change (DWC). Dylan had autism and DWC helps children with autism and other related conditions achieve their full potential. My husband, another non-runner, had been inspired, over the course of that evening, to change his participation from driver to runner. He was hooked. So months later, I watched this beautiful event unfold over Facebook posts. It was like nothing I had witnessed before. I saw my community and beyond – some runners, some non-runners – take part in something breathtaking. It was like a transformation from despair to hope. I saw how it lifted everyone. I saw how each person played a role in helping one another to cross that finish line. They did it through laughter and tears and it was so very moving. They did it all while honoring a little boy taken too soon. My husband came home from his first Ragnar describing it as one of the greatest experiences of his life. I could tell it had changed him. Wow.
So, I bought a pair of sneakers.
I signed up for the 2015 Ragnar relay. I joined the Resiliency Center of Newtown team that was running for DWC. I started training in October 2014 donning my new birthday sneakers. I used the couch to 5k app and took my sweet time getting to my goal of being able to run 5 miles. Yes, indeed, as had happened for my husband, the Ragnar relay changed my life too. I was hooked. I saw how “real” people get when they are crammed together in a van for two full days. They look out for each other. They bond in a way that is only possible when you are brought together because your heart led you there in the first place. I ran a total of 10 miles that Ragnar. I remember finishing, on a high, and being hungry for more - more Ragnars and more miles. There was something about the combination of running for our friends’ foundation, raising funds and awareness, but also the healing aspect of moving, getting outside, breathing that fresh air, and, finally, some much needed self-care.
The fog had lifted.
Another year, another Ragnar. In 2016, I ran for another foundation very close to my family’s heart, Ben’s Lighthouse (BLH). BLH establishes programs that promote healing and coping, it has a “give-back” focus that provides outreach opportunities for our youth. I was given tougher legs than I thought I could handle, so I asked to have my legs switched. I got the 12 miles that I felt comfortable with. But then as with Ragnars the leg mileage changes unexpectedly. My miles went from 12 to 15 and in there was a daunting seven mile run. My team captain graciously offered to switch my legs, but something told me to go for it. I started training harder than ever. I was committed to not letting my team down. During one of my training runs, myself and a friend talked about the insane amount of mileage in a marathon. We couldn’t imagine doing that. But something poignant struck me about the number of miles. So I filed away the significance of running 26 miles for the 26 lives lost in Sandy Hook. My training really took off. I ran a lot of 10 milers and even did the half-marathon mileage of 13.1 in the week leading up. I guess the 26 miles idea was gaining ground in my head. I asked a marathon running friend, “hypothetically,” if I was to try to run a marathon, would she join me to run for a Sandy Hook foundation. Without as much as a blink of an eye, she was in. So another incredible Ragnar happened in May 2016; more bonding, more tears, more laughter, more love.
All the while, with the 26 miles idea “ticking.”
I have found running and raising money for different foundations in Sandy Hook, a way to distribute our love across these children’s legacies. With “itchy” feet, I signed up for another race. On October 9, 2016, myself and my friend would run the Mohawk Hudson Valley marathon, for The Avielle Foundation (TAF). TAF works to prevent violence and build compassion through brain health research, community engagement, and education. I had no idea about running that type of mileage or even what a training plan looked like. I committed and then did my research. The one quote that resonated with me throughout my marathon training, especially on those long runs when you are being pushed to your limit, was “Everything you ever wanted to know about yourself you can learn in 26.2 miles.” I am not recommending that people jump in and run a marathon, but somehow my instinct led me to try this great feat because the training would be much more of a life changing experience than the actual goal of the marathon itself. It was spiritual, it was healing, it was self-awareness, it was self-love.
On October 9, 2016, a day after my 44th birthday, I finished my first marathon.
The last 5 miles I struggled, I had blisters and a strained groin muscle, but I tried my best to ignore them. And I did. I had committed to the bigger picture of shedding some light on Brain Health and crossing that line. I wanted to add another little dose of love into our community. My point to all of this is to take that first step, buy a pair of sneakers and put one foot in front of the other. Then listen to your body and your mind, be led by your instinct. You will find yourself on a journey that is no longer about the race, but about building healthy connections with yourself and with an amazing community of like-minded, supportive individuals, so full of love. I have shifted from a state of feeling helpless to a strong, empowered mindset of living and creating change.
So what’s in the future. Definitely more Ragnars. Who knows, maybe an ultra marathon. But always taking it one stride at a time.
A special thanks to Ian Hockley for giving myself and my husband the gift of his friendship and a Ragnar.