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

The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT) - - FRONT PAGE - By Cas­san­dra Day cday@mid­dle­town­press.com @cas­san­dras­dis on Twit­ter

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.

CON­TRIB­UTED PHOTO

CON­TRIB­UTED PHOTO

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.

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