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A Runner’s Resilience

Julie Vona /
Photo of Julie Vona by MarathonFoto.
Photo of Julie Vona by MarathonFoto.

I had April 15, 2013, marked on my calendar for more than a year. I had spent months training, and I was ready to hit the pavement. When Marathon Monday finally arrived, not only was the weather perfect for running, but my loved ones were there to support me. I was making good time, and the dedicated runners around me were in high spirits as we raced toward the finish line on Boylston Street. What happened next was the last thing I ever expected or even imagined would take place. April 15, 2013, has since been a day I will never forget—a day that has haunted me.

I remember the shock, panic and terror that followed the two explosions. My mind went immediately to my husband and children, who were a few hundred yards away from the finish line. Fortunately, they were not injured, but they were subjected to the horror that took place around them as first responders rushed to the scene, and they joined the other family members frantically searching for loved ones.

Since that day, I’ve had difficulty letting go of those moments of terror and an especially hard time running again. Case in point: In 2014, the Boston Athletic Association invited the runners who were directly impacted at the 2013 marathon to race again. I was more than excited to get back out there and finish what I’d started the year before. However, despite spending months training, I could barely walk within two weeks of the marathon. Running a marathon is just as much a mental challenge as it is physical, and my doctor said my mind and body were not ready to forget about that tragic day.

In the four and a half years since the Boston Marathon bombings, my children frequently asked me when I would run another marathon. Not if, but when. The moment I heard about PowerBar’s Clean Start contest, I knew running the New York City Marathon was my chance to prove to my children—and to myself—that I could be resilient and finally overcome that day in my past. As PowerBar was embarking on a new chapter for the brand, its contest encouraged people to submit their story on why they deserved a clean start for a chance to win a bib for the NYC Marathon. Seventeen athletes, including myself, earned those coveted spots.

When the week of the marathon arrived, I received phone calls from concerned family and friends asking me to reconsider running due to the terrorist attack that occurred in Manhattan just five days earlier. I hardly slept those nights thinking about all the bad things that could happen, but I ultimately decided that PowerBar had given me this amazing opportunity, and I couldn’t turn it down…and I’m so glad I made that decision.

The NYC Marathon was a beautiful, diverse and incredibly challenging 26.2 miles. There are no words to express how emotional it was to see the streets jammed with people of all ages screaming and cheering us runners on. I could feel the self-doubt and fear leave me because of this support. This time, I saw my children and husband at three different points along the route, and they finally saw me cross the finish line.

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