WHAT IS YOUR ‘IT’?
East Hampton schools head, Portland combat medic’s inspiring stories earn them spot among 10 chosen for exclusive Hartford Marathon team
Danielle Marcue of Portland, a combat medic with the Army National Guard who has served two tours in Afghanistan, is a part of the 10-member Hartford Marathon Foundation Aiello Inspiration Team this year. The Hartford Marathon full and half marathon and 5K take place Oct. 14.
This summer, Paul K. Smith set himself a straightforward goal: encourage the community to join him at the high school track three days a week to run or walk a 3-mile route.
The 56-year-old East Hampton superintendent of schools and a 15-year runner never fathomed this simple idea would galvanize so many around a mission to stay fit and encourage others — most importantly, children — to do the same.
Soon, students, teachers, staff and parents showed up from the last week of June through the first week in August from 8 to 8:30 a.m. to exercise along with him. The invitation was open-ended, said Smith, who lives in West Hartford.
“You could walk, you could run. I even said you
could crawl,” Smith said of the 12 quarter-mile laps. “I found myself really inspired because I don’t love running in the summer. I much prefer the cooler fall and winter weather to run. I found myself inspired by people who even tried running for the first time.”
About the same time over in Glastonbury, Beth Shluger, founder and executive director of the Hartford Marathon Foundation, was getting ready to put out a call for ordinary but exceptional runners to be part of this year’s 10-person Aiello Inspiration Team. Members, who wrote an essay centered on the theme Run With It and were eventually selected from 200 entries, will run the HMF’s 5K, halfmarathon or full marathon races Oct. 14.
“It really hit a nerve with people,” said Shluger, who has fielded between 50 and 75 entries for past Aiello team themes, like kids and community. None had the appeal of the “it” campaign, she said.
“What is the ‘it’ that gets you out on cold rainy mornings and at night?” said Shluger, explaining the theme. “It’s amazing when you look at a race and you look at a finish line, and it’s just people crossing the finish line, but every one of them has a story. The dedication and training it takes to get there — it’s really an inspiration what people go through and have done to accomplish that goal.”
The Aiello team “highlights runners who are never going to win the race but they are so inspiring in their lives and what they do,” Shluger said.
Smith got the email and knew right away he’d share his own “what I did this summer” story.
Shluger said she was thrilled when she picked up and read Smith’s essay.
“This guy is exactly what we need in this world as an inspiration to our kids to be healthy and adopt a healthy lifestyle,” she said. “He makes it just as normal as brushing your teeth every day. I immediately put him on top of the pile.”
In Portland, Army National Guard combat medic Danielle Marcue, 29, also answered the question, “What is your it?” Marcue, who has played basketball, soccer and softball and has been running for as long as she can remember, recalled how life-changing it was for her to help injured veterans cross the finish line.
The five-year resident, who grew up in Lebanon and served in Afghanistan in 2011 and 2012, is a parttime paramedic and fulltime veterans support specialist for Homes for Our Troops in Taunton, Massachusetts.
The nonprofit builds and donates specially adapted custom homes nationwide for severely injured post9/11 veterans, to enable them to rebuild their lives, according to its website.
She ran the RunDisney half-marathon in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, one year on the Homes for Our Troops team. It was “probably one of the most remarkable races I’ve ever done: the veterans that are running with me, that are missing a leg, that are doing hand cycling, that are missing both legs and run faster than me. It was just a truly humbling and amazing experience,” said Marcue, who helped one veteran, who lost his leg and used a running blade, cross the finish line of his first half.
“He did really well up to mile 11, then the sock that goes over his skin was not allowing him to bend his knee anymore,” Marcue said. “It got stuck. At that point, he was almost throwing his hip out.”
They got it working again and he managed to finish in two hours and 45 minutes.
“He just called me saying he’s going to do the Disneyland half again. He’s shooting for the 2:35 mark. I challenged him to meet my time of between [two hours] and 2:15,” said Marcue, who ran the Disney marathon in five hours. She was on pace for four hours, Marcue said, but her persistent knee pain, which is exacerbated when she runs at too fast a pace, kicked in.
That was just fine with Marcue, however, who said she was so distracted by the breathtaking 26.2-mile course that she abandoned her pace to fully enjoy her surroundings. “‘Wow! I’m actually running through the back door of the park and through the castle,” Marcue recalled thinking.
Smith adopts that same attitude when he runs his longer races, he said. “My goal is to finish the half in under two hours,” said Smith, who has run miles at a high 7-minute pace and 13.1-mile halfs at a 9-minute mile. “Most times, I make it. It’s a comfortable pace for a 56-year-old.”
Smith has never suffered an injury from the sport.
“My goal with a marathon is just to finish it, regardless of my time. To me, the goal is to run for the enjoyment of it and stay healthy,” said Smith, who will run his eighth marathon in Boston next year and already has 40 halfs under his belt.
On Sept. 7, Smith spearheaded the Run East Hampton for Houston at the high school, as part of the HMF’s virtual run challenge, RunHartford for Houston, which raised money for the victims of Hurricane Harvey last weekend. He asked people to show up at the track at 6:30 a.m. dressed in red to support Houston.
An unbelievable 80 individuals showed up, he said.
“It was a beautiful, crisp morning and people really had fun doing it and it was a good cause,” said Smith, who ran the 2016 Boston Marathon on the Dana Farber team, raising $13,000 for the cause. That dollar amount equals out to $500 a mile.
“‘OK. Every mile I’m suffering, $500 goes to cancer research,’” said Smith, who uses that fact to get him through difficult parts of the 26.2-mile route.
The foundation sent a $30,000 check to the American Red Cross with proceeds of all the virtual runs for the cause, Smith said.
“I sent an email around that said, ‘Isn’t it great that $2,000 of that came from our tiny event? A few people do have the power to make a big difference,’” said Smith, who practices the sport as a stress-reliever and chance to reflect on his day.
And he’s not done yet getting the students of his district to incorporate more exercise and healthy practices into their lives.
“I’d like to see a curriculum change from games to fitness and wellness,” said Smith, who committed a class of now sophomores last year to Heart Safe 2020, a project in which every student will receive CPR and AED training through the American Heart Association.
“To model that, my goal is to have every single teacher and staff member trained,” Smith said. Already in a year’s time, one-third have earned certification.
That sort of dedication is something Marcue knows well. As she awaits her next deployment next year to Iraq, she is — besides her two jobs — working toward her RN degree online.
While overseas, Marcue said she began to run more as a way to transition from the difficulty of her work as a combat medic.
“I was trying to do the gym thing, but it was too crowded and I just wanted me time — something for me to digress and release everything you see as a medic,” said Marcue, who every year runs the Susan G. Komen Race in the Park, different races whose proceeds go to cancer charities, and others for fallen firefighters and law enforcement.
Marcue’s four-legged partner helps keep her running and hiking jaunts challenging and fun, she said. Her German Shepherd Lab mix Bailey is pretty darn fast girl, she said. “I wish I could keep up with her,” Marcue said with a laugh.
East Hampton Superintendent of Schools Paul K. Smith has run eight marathons, 40 halfs and countless 5Ks over the 15 years that he has been a runner. This summer, he encouraged, students, parents, teachers and staff to join him at the high school track to run laps of any distance three times a week. He’s also a member of the team.