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Real Runners: I Regained My Life After Extreme Loss

Debra Milano bounced back from extreme loss and became her best runner self.

When my 31-year-old husband died in an accident, leaving me with 3 children ranging from 4 years to 2 months old, I was overwhelmed with grief. Devastated by the loss of my husband and the father of my three children, I found myself falling into a depression. I couldn’t eat, sleep or exercise (which I had done my whole life). I would just stare at my children, cry and pray this was all a bad dream.

About three weeks later, I finally woke up, realizing it was not a dream— this new and unpleasant reality was real. My three brothers, two of whom are physicians and the other my childhood Track and Field idol, came over to speak to me about getting back to the person I used to be: a strong and loving mother and runner. That day changed my life. I was ready to start to heal.

The next morning I woke up at 3:45 a.m. to start my new life. I put on my sneakers and headphones and ran until I felt completely exhausted. In that moment, I felt amazing and knew I could take on anything the day might bring. I made a promise to myself that I was not only going to make it through this tragedy; I was going to do it with strength, love and determination. I wanted my children to learn by example that with any tragedy or tough time in life, you can find the strength within yourself to push through and never give up. Very much like running, you must find the strength within yourself to push through the exhaustion and hardship. I began training hard again for half marathons and marathons. Each time I gained more focus and motivation. The feeling of peace and confidence lasted longer and longer. Eventually, I able to fall back in love with an amazing man and add another child to our beautiful and loving family.

Now four years after the accident, I am an USA track and field coach, fitness trainer and dedicating my time to coaching a youth track and field team. I am still running everyday, training for half and full marathons, including the More/Fitness/Shape Half-Marathon on April 19 and two full marathons this fall—the Chicago Marathon and NYC Marathon (I qualified during last year’s race). I hope my story motivates and inspires women to find the willpower, resolve and commitment to train harder than they ever imagined they could and to excel, not only for themselves, but for the people they love.

Are you a “real runner”? Email your running or race story in 500 words to editorial@womensrunning.com to be considered for a future post!