Using fitness to deal with adversity: Much more to this race than just running it

Another day, another trophy.

How many times throughout an athlete’s career does one take for granted the special accomplishment of receiving recognition in sports? A trophy, a medal or just a spot in a team’s starting lineup. Or at an even simpler level, learning a skill like hitting a baseball or how to make a lay-up.

But what about someone who’s basically never participated in athletics? Someone like Angela T. Sometimes when they reach an athletic goal, it’s as awe inspiring as the heroics of any pro athlete or high school Superman.

Angela completed the Rock ’N Roll Marathon in San Diego on her 27th birthday in 7 hours and 29 minutes. Of the approximate 17,000 runners , she finished 11,158. Running in a marathon (26.2 miles) is the last thing Angela would have thought she’d do a year ago.

“I grew up with some interest in sports, but I wasn’t raised in a sports-oriented family.”

Angela received a flier in her mail from the Leukemia Society of America regarding a marathon, and the mailer may have gone into the trash if she hadn’t noticed the race would fall on her birthday.

“I attended a meeting to find out more about it and it just felt like something I needed to do,” she said. “Not only for myself, but because it was for a great cause. Plus, with it falling on my birthday it seemed like it was meant to be.”

For the majority of the Leukemia Society Team In Training’s 4,000 runners from throughout the US., the race wasn’t about winning or losing, or placements in their age group. By running in the race, Angela, and the rest of her team, had achieved a victory before they even started. Each runner was required to raise $3,400. Throw all the volunteers together and they raised $12 million toward the fight against leukemia.

Additionally, each runner ran in honor of a specific leukemia patient, with Angela competing in the name of Tom, a 14-year old high school student in a neighboring county.

“People told me not to do it,” Angela said. “They said it was too much money to raise, that I wouldn’t be able to finish, that I might even injure myself. I just kept thinking about Tom and how he didn’t quit and decided I had to try. Even if I didn’t finish, I could live with it if I’d tried my best.”

Angela, who admittedly doesn’t have close to a natural runner’s physique, started strong and ran for the first six miles. After that, running and walking were mixed in, along with several bathroom breaks – “ I drank lots of water” – and two stops to have a trainer wrap her aching foot and shin.

By miles 22-26 her pace was that of a turtle, the pain excruciating, but none of that mattered. Finally, she saw the finish line and her sister, who had made the trip for support, and began to break out in laughter as her improbable goal was becoming a reality.

Angela was actually finishing a marathon!

The time wasn’t anywhere near a good one for an experienced runner, but for someone who had never run more than four miles in a workout prior to that year, it was incredible.

“For me to set a goal to run in a marathon and to go out and achieve it was the biggest single accomplishment in my life, “she said. “By accomplishing something so great, I feel empowered to live life to the fullest.”

It was a short four months of training, and Angela had to do a lot of endurance training in the pool or in the gym due to a knee injury. However, Angela only had to look at Tom’s old hospital band, which she never took off her wrist during that period, for inspiration.

“A marathon is hard, but I can’t imagine how tough it must be to endure chemotherapy treatments,” she said. “That’s the No. 1 reason I ran it, helping to find a cure. I don’t want anyone, especially children, to go through chemotherapy. I’ve seen how hard it’s been on Tom and also my grandfather.”

It’s only with that kind of attitude that the cure for diseases like leukemia will be found. And sports heroes will be made, no matter how seemingly big or small their achievements in the grand scheme of things.