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Dalila Yeend wasn’t remotely interested in running 10 years ago. But she was looking for free childcare for her then 1-year-old son, her second child. She was also involved in an abusive relationship at the time and needed a reason to get out of the house. So when her caseworker from Unity House, a human service agency in Troy, New York, told her about its new partnership with Strong Through Every Mile (STEM), Yeend signed up.
Yeend hadn’t run since middle school. Lacing up was rough at first, she said. Upon meeting the other women who had registered for STEM, Yeend thought to herself, “Well, we look like a bunch of misfits and this is going to be terrible.” The women wore whatever clothing they had—leggings, sweatshirts, pajama pants, and jeans. Three women, including Yeend, were smoking.
But over the course of 10 weeks, the STEM group met three times a week to train for its first 5K. “As the weeks went on, I just started liking it,” she says. “I looked forward to meeting with this group of women and running and walking with them. It was a safe environment, and we could talk about all the stuff going on at home and not be judged by other people.”
Soon, this group of women and the STEM trainers became an indispensable support network for Yeend. When she missed three days due to a domestic situation at home, the STEM trainers were worried that Yeend was going to drop out of the program. They came to her house to check on her and encouraged her to come back. Another time, she was trapped inside her house with her abusive partner. One of her friends from STEM came to get her, saying that Yeend had to go to training.
As she started to feel better mentally and physically, Yeend began to look at herself in a different light. Ultimately, it was the high of finishing her first race that changed the trajectory of her life. “It’s a feeling I will never forget. I started something and went all the way through and finished it,” she says. That newfound self-esteem gave Yeend the courage to walk away from her abuser. “Without running and without STEM, I don’t think I would have had the confidence to walk away from my domestic situation as early as I did. Running gave me the strength to say, ‘I’m stronger than this.’” Yeend went on to run seven 5Ks during her first year of running.
Now 38 years old, Yeend is a manager of a restaurant and role model for other domestic violence survivors. She was also one of the main advocates for New York State’s green light law, which passed in 2019 and provides people equal access to driver’s licenses, including undocumented immigrants. Yeend is originally from Australia and was detained for three months by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in 2018 after rolling through a stop sign. She’s now a green card holder. She never imagined that she’d have the courage to speak on the legislative floor of the New York State Assembly and Senate.
Yeend still runs, too. “It’s part of who I am, who I will always be now. Whenever I feel like I’m lacking something in life, running is what I can do to make myself feel better and accomplished,” she says. “If you go for a run, you’ll be OK. You’ll be able to breathe. You won’t be as stressed,” she says.