Meet Cora, my unmet but loved friend. What a powerful story she tells.
I run so I can rewrite history. I run so I can transform a family legacy from that of poor lifestyle choices, chronic illness, and untimely death to one that celebrates life and wellness. I have witnessed many health catastrophes first-hand. My dad’s stroke at age 44. Finding him dead on the floor from a heart attack at age 53. My mom’s cancer, progressed to Stage 4. Watching her suffer on a ventilator after a heart attack. Then another heart attack. Then another. I’ve lost track of the number of times a doctor has put his hand on my shoulder and told me that she was about to lose her fight. And what is sad is that I was slowly but steadily heading in the same direction myself.
As a kid, I was not athletically inclined. I had taken gymnastics, played soccer and field hockey, but I wasn’t very good at any of them. In my teen years I traded sports for singing, and quickly became sedentary and overweight. At age 13, the school nurse discovered that I had high blood pressure. At 13! I was carrying several extra pounds, and I knew it, but I brushed it off. I thought, “I’ll never be an athlete. I’ll never be skinny. Why bother trying?” What I didn’t realize was that the choices I was making would set me up for a long-term struggle with my weight and my health.
By the time I reached age 25, I was obese, had asthma, depression, and my blood pressure was through the roof. I was in and out of denial, on and off diets. I dreaded physical activity. I believed I was destined to follow in my father’s footsteps, and that I was helpless to change anything. The negative self-talk would continue for another 10 years, and I would be placed on more and more medication to manage my illnesses, with the occasional lecture from a doctor to get my act together.
When I was 35, I gave birth to my daughter. Just before she was born, I looked at my enormous body and made a vow that I would get a grip on myself and on my health. And I did – I lost 70lbs. After that, I began searching for ways to become a positive role model. I did not want my daughter to grow up worrying for me as I’d worried for my parents, nonstop, for the past 20 years of my life.
A few years later, I watched a video about a guy who transformed his life through running. I was captivated by the look on his face – pain mixed with joy as he crossed the finish line of his first marathon, and the words flashing across the screen at the end: “if you want to do it, all you have to do is do it”. I went to a running store, bought a pair of shoes, and the next day, I hit the pavement.
From the first step, I was in love. I knew I was extremely slow and not very good at what I was doing, but for the first time in my life, I was having such a great time that I didn’t care. It was exhilarating, and I was hooked. I found a friend who also wanted to become a runner. We signed up for a 5K, trained, and ran the whole thing without stopping. When I crossed the finish line, I was ecstatic. I’d done something I never before believed I was capable of. It was in that moment that it occurred to me that even as I approached middle-age, I was not done changing and growing as a person.
And with that, my fledgling running career got under way. A year later, I’ve got several races under my belt: a number of 5Ks, a 10K, and a half-marathon relay. I’m now training to run a half-marathon on my own. I might not look like a superstar, and I am usually at the back of the pack during races – but I love that I’m running in the footprints of the elites. I feel like I’m part of a club that I always thought I was never allowed to join.
As for my health? My blood pressure is now normal. I’m at a healthy weight, and my asthma is under control. When my parents were my age, they were well on their way toward becoming seriously ill or dying young. Back then, they didn’t know any better. But I do, and it’s my responsibility to reverse the trend. I think about it every time I lace up my shoes: every step I take is running away from sickness and the sad story of my family’s legacy. Every step forward, I’m creating a new story that embraces life, health, and discovering one’s potential. Every step helps me to rewrite history.
Cora lives in suburban Philadelphia with her husband and four-year-old daughter. She works full time as a medical market researcher and can be found running happily at the back of the pack in short and long-distances road races.