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One of my earliest childhood dreams was to be a soldier. When I was 18, that dream became a reality when I raised my right hand and took an oath to protect this country. By doing so, I entered into the Army world—a world where, for the first time, I felt that I truly belonged. Two years later, my unit was deployed for Operation Iraqi Freedom. I was assigned a large belt-fed machine gun that was almost as big as me (I’m 4’11”), and my duties morphed into combat. I survived firefights, IED’s, extreme heat and total exhaustion. By the time my deployment was done more than a year later, I weighed 75 pounds and had to be treated for malnutrition. I felt like a ghost of my former self, and I struggled with severe depression and suicidal thoughts.
I was medically discharged, and the Veteran’s Administration gave me the diagnoses of Gulf War Syndrome, PTSD and unspecified neurological damage. My world caved in, but a little voice inside of me kept urging me to not give up. I decided I could either let myself go and die young, or defy my illnesses and refuse to be another veteran suicide statistic.
I took up long-distance running for several reasons. I’d always been an athletic and active person and wanted a challenge. I also found it to be a great form of therapy. And I ran to prove to myself that I was more than a sad little pile of health problems. I signed up for my first 5K and was inspired to go further. Eventually I ran my first marathon.
Running helps me stay calm, fit and focused. I still use it to help me process things I have witnessed and experienced, and I still suffer from the same numerous health problems. I have found great joy in sharing my running passion and have helped several friends (including my husband!) achieve their running goals.