Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Why I Run: A Staff Member with a Cause

Today's post is by Paula Lamanna, a staff member at YAI's Manhattan Day Services.

For as long as I can remember, I hated running. Running was what they made us do in gym class. It made my knees hurt, gave me shin splints and most importantly, it was boring. So, throughout my life I found other ways to exercise. I took dance, gymnastics, martial arts and yoga classes. I avoided running whenever possible.

I was a fund-raising captain for my first Central Park Challenge and went as a volunteer. I stood on the side lines and cheered the runners on but for the first time; I started thinking that it might be something I wanted to try. I started running on the treadmill and training myself to run the following year. I figured it was only 5K. I could survive that. As I was training, I found that I actually liked to run. I liked the peace that I could find. The rhythm of my feet moving was soothing and gradually I was getting stronger and it wasn’t hurting quite so much anymore.  It was around this time that I got a post card in the mail from The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Team in Training. They train volunteers to compete in endurance events and raise money to fight blood cancers. What do the volunteers get for all of their effort, you may ask, well, besides professional coaching, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society also pays for your transportation to the event of your choice. In my case, the event was the Paris Marathon. Yes, that’s right the girl who hated to run was going to run a marathon! While training for the Paris marathon I ran several New York Road Runners events with Team in Training, including the Fred Lebow Classic, the Bronx Half-Marathon and the Colon Cancer Challenge 15K. I trained for only four months, raised over $6,400 for LLS and on April 6, 2008 I ran 26.2 miles in Paris. It was around mile 10 that I decided that I LOVE running and that Paris would not be my last marathon.

Ironically, two months later I was sick and was not able to run the CPC, which was my motivation to begin running in the first place. However, a year later in June of 2009, I was finally ready to run the Central Park Challenge.  This was an especially poignant race to run because we were running in honor of my coworker Will, who is fighting pancreatic cancer. Will was one of the first people who welcomed me when I started working for YAI. He helped to train me and made me feel more comfortable, right from the beginning. I considered it an honor to run for him as part of team “Will Power!” The day of the race, the weather was perfect. It had rained the night before, cooling everything down and washing away a lot of the pollen. It was still slightly overcast, so the sun was not blinding. We had a large team and it was exciting to have so many of us, in our matching “Will Power” shirts. Many of us started out running together but eventually spread out as each of us found our own pace. I ended up running most of the race by myself, but I never felt alone because of all the volunteers lining the course and cheering all of the runners on. My coworkers were lined up near the finish line and I got to run past them twice. On the second lap, as I approached the finish line, I heard all of my coworkers cheering me on and telling me I could do it. It gave me the motivation to pick up my pace and sprint the last few yards. It felt great to complete the race with so many of my friends and co-workers running with me and supporting each other, while raising money and awareness for an agency that does such amazing work. I am excited to run the CPC again this coming June and hopefully, a lot of my co-workers will be running with me again! It is not an exaggeration to say that running the CPC has changed my life and opened me up to a whole new world! Currently, I am working towards qualifying for the 2011 ING New York City Marathon and have run the Gridiron Classic and the Run for Haiti.

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