August 4, 2010 might seem like just another day for you, but for me, it was a day that was the beginning of a whole new outlook on my life. It started just like any other summer day in Savannah- a hot and humid 92 degrees. I got up that morning and walked three miles around Daffin Park and went to Fleet Feet Sports and bought my first pair of good walking shoes. While I was there, the owner, Robert Espinoza, was so excited sharing with all of us in the store that the Rock N’ Roll Marathon was coming to Savannah. The more he talked about the run and all of the bands, cheerleaders and entertainment that would accompany it, the more excited I became. Mind you, I am no runner or at least I wasn’t at that time, so I still don’t quite understand why I was so drawn to this race.
When I got to work hours later, I still could not forget about the race. Brooke Kelley covered the news conference that day. I must have drilled her off and on for half an hour trying to get every little detail. She and everyone else around me in the newsroom could tell I was interested, but I must admit, I was scared! Honestly, I worried I would not be able to do it. Even though I had already started walking and losing weight, I doubted that an overweight, non-runner could ever dream of running 13.1 miles. Without hesitation, Brooke told me, “You can do it!” Even though she is a great runner who has even raced in the Boston Marathon, I still was not buying it. I called Robert at Fleet Feet and asked him. He also said, “Of course you can. You have more than a year to get ready.” He went on to tell me that he would come up with a plan and get me with a trainer.
My excitement was building, but I still was not sure. My next call was to my primary physician, Dr. Paul Bradley. I asked him what he thought. I wanted to make sure that I was healthy enough to attempt this race. He also said, “Yes, you can. You are talking about next year- November, 2011, right?” I said, “Yes.”
After getting my doctor’s approval, I called Robert back and he came up with a very ambitious plan to help me get in shape. I can remember having my first anxiety attack when the new trainer, Lydia DePue, sent me an e-mail with the plan. Although I knew I would be enrolling in Fleet Feet’s boot camp, along with 26 of my co- workers who are now known as “Team WTOC,” I had no idea that Robert and Lydia’s plan for me included boot camp as well as their “No Boundaries” program. For two months, those classes would overlap which meant I would be training five days a week – six hours a week. Yikes! I immediately started panicking. How was I supposed to do this? I work nights. I do not sleep well. I have quite a few speaking engagements planned on weekdays for the next several months. How was I going to do it all? I must have read over that e-mail ten times, hoping I had misunderstood it and I would uncover a different message- an easier plan. What were they expecting from me? I thought to myself, “Girl, you have really done it now. What have you gotten yourself into?” I also remembered what my grandmother used to say, “Be careful what you ask for… you just might get!” And, boy was I getting it – too much of “IT”. I sent Lydia and Robert an e-mail asking them if I had somehow misunderstood what they had written although I knew the answer to that question. No, there was no misunderstanding. They really wanted me to train five days a week – six hours every week from February 19th to April 16th. It seemed impossible, but guess what? I did it! I only missed a few sessions and that was only when I had a legitimate excuse. I am very proud that I was able to do it. Now, I know more than ever why my dad calls me “the pitbull”. He is right. When I set my mind to something, there is no stopping me. I always complete the task no matter what. I can laugh about that now.
I will admit, those weeks Lydia challenged me unlike anyone else had ever done before. Saturdays were the worst. It started at 8:30 A.M. with an hour long boot camp. Immediately following that work out, I had my beginning running class called “No Boundaries”. Many times, I was so pooped that I really did not have any energy left for the running class, but I never gave up. I kept on giving it my all. During the last few months, I have learned to love group activities and I am excited about running. I never thought that would happen. When I signed up for this program, I just thought it would be yet another task I would have to do. So, the fact that I have enjoyed all of it, is like having my cake, eating all of it, and not gaining a pound!
April 16, 2011 is another one of those dates I will never forget, not just because it happens to be my birthday, but this year, it was the same day as the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. That race brings together survivors, patients, families, caregivers and supporters from all walks of life who want to help find a cure for breast cancer. It is such a beautiful tribute. This year, I decided to run that race. Although I have taken part in several charity 5K races before, this was different. It was my first attempt at running a 5K (3.1 miles). Making the run even more emotional for me, two very special friends who were battling the disease, a good friend from college had just finished chemotherapy the week before the race and a high school friend lost her battle to the deadly disease just three days before the race. That day I carried them with me. With their photographs pinned to my t-shirt, I set out to do what I had never done before.
I had a lot of help- great training from Fleet Feet Sports Savannah and several work outs on a NASA developed anti- gravity treadmill known as the Alter G – thanks to Ledesma Sports Medicine. To make sure I reached my goal, the owner of Ledesma Sports Medicine, Ernest Ledesma, and one of his physical therapists, Clinton Crawley, volunteered to run with me. It was an unbelievable experience for this beginning runner. There I was running alongside two seasoned runners who took a special interest in me. They let me set the pace and they didn’t just run with me, they coached me all the way through to the finish line. I will never be able to thank them enough for what they have done for me. They were right by my side when they very well could have taken this race as a time to reach their own goals. Instead, they made sure that my dream came true and helped me achieve my goal of running the entire race without walking even once.
While Robert, Lydia, Ernie and Clinton were certainly invaluable to me becoming a runner, especially on that day, I truly believe my courageous friends, those strong, young women battling breast cancer, also helped pull me through. I must admit that about two and a half miles into the race, I could feel myself fading fast. It seemed as though that final half mile was harder than the first two and a half miles. Without even realizing it, I had placed my hands on my chest one on each side of my collarbone. As I approached Telfair Square, I felt something under my palms. When I looked down, I saw each palm perfectly positioned on top of each of my friend’s photographs. My eyes immediately filled with water and I could feel big tears begin to roll down my cheeks as Ernie yelled, “This is it, Dawn! Give it all you got!” Clinton chimed in, “Go, Dawn!” As if someone or something else was controlling my short legs, I started running faster and faster toward the finish line. I saw the crowds that lined the streets, but it was as though I were running inside a bubble. I could not hear anything. I remember seeing the finish line and then passing under the huge Fleet Feet balloon arch. At that point, I was crying like a baby. It was as if I could not move. I just stood at the finish line crying and I grabbed the first person I saw and held on tight, hugging some friends from my “No Boundaries” class- Michelle Walker Daniels, Sara Marby, Danette Kerr and finally my two newest friends, Ernie and Clinton. I will never, ever forget that feeling. For the rest of that day, it was as if I was floating in the clouds. I cannot remember ever being so happy. My high from reaching that personal milestone remained with me for more than a week. It is true what they say… “Running changes everything!” I cannot even describe how powerful it is to set a goal that you just are not quite sure you can reach and then to not only reach it, but exceed it beyond your wildest dreams. I will never forget that day. Now that I know I can run 3 miles without stopping, I hope to build on that momentum and add more miles to my workout as I build up to run the half marathon in November. One lesson I have definitely learned from these last few months of tough training that is just about to get even tougher is something that Robert Espinoza always tells us, “I will keep my chin up for strength and down for prayer.” With that faith renewed, I know that with the right preparation, I really can do anything!