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Women Who Move: Paula Arevalo

"Running saved me from a heart condition that threatened to take my life."
“Running saved me from a heart condition that threatened to take my life.”

AGE: 29

My freshman year of high school, I signed up to run cross-country for one reason: to meet guys. As the only coed sport my school offered, I thought it would be a fun, somewhat frivolous activity—but it ended up saving my life.

During the physical required to join the team, the doctor discovered I had a serious heart defect. Up until that point, I had been unknowingly living with a hole in my heart the size of a nickel. If the doctors hadn’t caught it, I almost certainly would have died by the time I was 30.

My condition required surgery, but I was lucky enough to heal quickly, and was given clearance to start running just two months later.

This experience altered my life. It was a huge wake-up call. At the young age of 14, I understood that life was fleeting. I made a conscious effort to take better care of myself.

Running turned from a social activity to a lifelong passion. I’ve been running for the last 15 years, and I hope to continue for the next 50. Now it’s important to me to pay it forward by helping others improve their health. I volunteer to lead running groups four times a week in the D.C. area. It’s a big commitment, but I could not think of a better way to spend my time.