When 17-year-old Kelly Szalankiewicz started training for her first half, she developed some unhealthy habits.

Kelly (right) and her mom the morning of the Shamrock Running Festival half marathon
Kelly (right) and her mom the morning of the Shamrock Running Festival half marathon

When it comes to running, not only is Kelly Szalankiewicz’s mom her biggest fan, she’s her hero.

Every March, it’s been a Szalankiewicz family tradition to drive down from Glen Burnie, Md., to Virginia Beach, Va., and run at the Shamrock Running Festival. After several years of racing the 8K, the now 17-year-old Kelly decided to try her first half marathon at last year’s event.

However, training for her first half wasn’t easy. She struggled with body-image issues and started to eat less and less while ramping up her mileage. Kelly’s mom, Jennifer, a second grade teacher and longtime runner herself, saw her daughter’s habits turning dangerous and immediately intervened, encouraging Kelly to learn how to prioritize her health.

She made sure her daughter ate nutritious meals throughout the day, introduced her to Gu packets to take on the run, worked to schedule Kelly’s runs around swim practice and enforced rest on her days off.

“My mom is my hero, because she helped save me from becoming a victim of anorexia, and I believe she deserves to be recognized for this triumph,” Kelly says.

The mother-daughter duo ran the half marathon together. Thanks to Kelly’s fueled system, she raced ahead to finish in 1:59:05. Without her mom, the junior at Mount de Sales Academy, where she recently finished her first season of indoor track, would not have become the strong runner she is today.