Saturday Spotlight- Melissa Danchalski

Name: Melissa Danchalski
Age: According to Jenn Saltzman I’m 25, but I’m actually 35
Marital Status: single
Grew Up In: Born in Whitestone and moved to Ridge in kindergarten
Currently Lives In: Manorville
Occupation: Special Education Teacher/Bed Bath and Beyond Associate

Well, how do I start? If there’s anyone out there that truly knows me, they know I’m definitely not one who loves being in the spotlight. In fact, when Lou LaFleur messaged me, my instant reaction was “What?! No way” as my heart started beating faster and faster. I was literally standing on a hill during recess watching students run up and down, at times rolling down the hill, (I should probably mention I teach at an elementary school and seeing kids pencil roll down the hill is not rare). One of our students actually came up to me and said “I thought it was easy running up a hill, but it’s not, your legs get tired.” Wow, was she right and her timing was perfect. And at that moment, I knew I would have to accept the challenge and honor of being Warrior of the Week. I’m not going to lie, when I received the invitation my first instinct was to run (no pun intended) because being in the spotlight is totally out of my element. But as I looked around, I saw John Street (One of the streets that we run on during the Slaughterhouse) a run that goes right past my school. (John Greene can attest to this since he’s the one who pointed it out to me in the first place) As I started to calm down, I thought to myself this is so much more than being in the spotlight. It’s about recognizing all of the warriors that have made a significant impact on my life. In fact, I realized it’s a chance to honor every Warrior I’ve met along the way. Finally, one last thought about accepting this great honor…the invite happened to be a month away from my first marathon (Suffolk) and I took it as a sign. Everything seemed to be falling into place.

A little background about me…I wouldn’t be anywhere if it wasn’t for my two amazing parents, Angela and Edward. My mother was a Nurse and my father, a Navy Veteran, worked for Verizon for 40 years. They are the most compassionate, understanding and generous people I know and have always been there for me through my ups and downs. They exemplify the true meaning of dedication and taught me the definition of perseverance. And if things do get tough, I always remember my mom’s famous quote, “Never let them see you sweat.” In addition to my amazing parents, I have one brother, Eddie, who is 4 years older than me. Although we don’t talk every day, he is definitely my go-to. He always has my back and I have his. I have four beautiful and energetic nieces, (two 12 year olds fraternal twins and a 2 and 3 year old). They have been a blessing in my life and always bring a smile to my face. Recently, my two older nieces joined Cross Country and I couldn’t be more excited to share a love of running with them. I definitely plan to run a 5K with them soon and of course take them to the Selden Hills.

As for me, I am a proud graduate of Longwood HS and Dowling College. Up until becoming a runner, I’d say my biggest accomplishment was graduating college. I can still remember the feeling of accomplishment as they called my name walking to receive my diploma in Nassau Coliseum. Although, I think completing my first full marathon will surpass that feeling.

As for my athletic background, I played basketball since the 7th grade. It was my passion and I was fortunate enough to have the most amazing coaches and make so many friendships and memories. In 2000, my senior year, my HS team was undefeated and won the championship. A few years later, during my junior year of college, my team won the championship and made it to the NCAA tournament in which we were quickly defeated. Our preseasons at Dowling consisted of distance running; our coach even signed our whole team up for the Cow Harbor race two or three years in a row. To say it politely, we did not enjoy running long distances; we wanted to be in the gym with a ball and a hoop. I never loved running; I never went for a run just for fun. It just wasn’t for me. Crazy how life changes… My parents signed my brother and me up for summer track when I was in elementary school. During my 1st meet I even placed 3rd in a 100 meter sprint. I hung that medal up in my room and remembered feeling so humble even at that age. I didn’t run again until I was in high school when my basketball coach had us running distances during preseason. If you told me years ago that I would be running almost every day, by choice, and signing up for races, half marathons, and now even a full, I would’ve laughed and called you crazy. But here I am, 2017, having the time of my life, with a passion for running and everything that comes along with it.

So how did I get to become a Warrior? Well, I owe this amazing honor to Graceann Leupp Kieffer and Brian Kieffer. I believe it was a text the night before from Grace that read, “Hey, I’m running the hills tomorrow morning at 8, you want to come?” I’m never one to turn down a run with amazing company so my instant reaction was I’ll be there, and my life has never been the same. Grace and Brian, who are so completely selfless, offered to pick me up that morning. I remember being so nervous on the way to my first run on the hills. Conversations included a key phrase that Grace and I use all the time, “Whose idea was this anyway?” And suddenly, there we were in the parking lot. It was February 5, 2017, I was completely overdressed and still freezing as a fellow warrior looked at me and said, “Is that what you’re wearing?” I’m still struggling to get the wardrobe straight. And as usual we took off right around 8, I didn’t know what to expect, which always works in my favor. I got separated from the group and tried to keep up and not get lost. I remember feeling so determined and excited at the same time. I was nervous to get lost but stayed in eyesight of all the runners. I remember overcoming the hills on Adirondack and texting Grace, we got this, it’s all downhill from here…wow was I wrong. Eventually, I met up with Grace and Brian and Robyn Hiller McGee. There was one moment on a hill on Berkshire when I tried to stay with Robyn and she called me an animal as I vowed not to stop running up the hill. And that phrase has stuck with me ever since. You see, it’s the phrase or little boost of confidence that someone will never forget. Since that moment on I’ve had nothing but unforgettable experiences with the most unbelievably amazing individuals. Finishing my first run on the hills was more rewarding than running my first half marathon. There was something more to it, it was this higher level of accomplishment that I felt and in hindsight it was a day that would change my life forever.

Ever since that first 10K, I’ve been hooked. It’s gotten me through one of the most difficult moments in my life. About two weeks after my first Hills run, I began going through the end of a 4 year relationship, a relationship that involved 3 amazing “step-children”, a beautiful golden retriever named Chesney, a home and many family members and mutual friends. A relationship that I thought would last forever was suddenly over. When this ended, I found myself lost and broken. All of this happened as I was starting a leave replacement as a Resource Room teacher. I was new to this position and all of the responsibilities that came with it. There were moments when I didn’t know how I could get everything done. Of course, I remembered what my mom always told me, “Never let them see you sweat.” I decided to stay with a friend for a week so I could pull myself together and then spent a month with my parents before moving back to a studio apartment in Manorville. I wasn’t sure what to do during the first couple of days…I’ve never experienced pain like that before. I bet you can guess what I decided to do next…run. Since I lost my usual runs in Patchogue, the runs that were in my comfort zone, the runs that would eventually lead to my home, a home that was no longer an option, I had to figure something out quick. So…I did what any Warrior would do, I turned to the Hills. And for about two weeks, I ran those hills almost every day. I ran them in physical and emotional pain and it was the best decision I could’ve made. I forced myself out of my comfort zone and decided to start meeting up with different groups. Eventually, thanks to KC Brett , a huge inspiration in my life and who gives the best advice, I even left my earbuds behind. I never ran a course without music until I started running the hills. But it was evident that I’d be missing out on amazing conversations and advice that were far better than listening to any country song I had playing on Pandora. Advice from Bob Haughn, Martha DelGado, Ray Downes, KC Brett, John Greene, Kristyn LaMura Lineman, Jenn Saltzman, Michael Oliveri , Rafa Molina, Triin Lawrence and more!

In my last thoughts of being Warrior of the Week, I do have to say that there is something so heroic about being a Warrior. The selflessness of everyone on the hills, that one person who keeps up with you at your pace so you won’t have to run alone in the dark on a Wednesday morning, the speedy runners who circle back to shine their lights on your path and refuse to have you run alone during a Vamp run, the one runner who insists you’re faster than you actually are and helps you PR and take first in your age group during a half marathon and sacrifices coming in first place himself, the runner who you realize was your cooperative teacher and student taught for who suddenly becomes more like family to you and a huge motivation in your life, the individual who paces you during the Prediction Run and then you win, a warrior who asks you about the toughest moments of your life during a 20 mile run down Middle Road and then gives you advice that will stick with you forever and on top of it gives you your first Selden Hills sweatshirt for free, the warrior who motivates you in the car to run fast during the Ocean to Sound relay or you won’t be allowed back in the car. These people are the reason I run the hills…the reason I’m able to keep going and achieving. So Warriors, although this week the spotlight is on me, I want to share it with you…to everyone who has lifted me up without even knowing it…from a kind word, a high five/fist bump, an invite to a race, advice on how to successfully run my first marathon, an invite to a breakfast instead of running a double, a free hills hoodie, a free watch, some Nuun, a brand new fuel belt, marathon training book and collection of Runner’s World magazines (Dawn Robson), or endless amounts of advice, inspiration and motivation…this week’s for you. Being a warrior has changed my life and for that I will forever be thankful.

Last but definitely not least, a final shout out to my Hoptron Family. Robyn,Ed Paquette, David Northridge, Kenny Janosick, Diana, Grace, Brian, Matt Sirotkin, Dawn, JoJo McCarthy (one of the first people I talked to after a Hoptron run) and so many more amazing people. Thank you…you have all been there for me and lift me up and make me so happy. I don’t know what I’d do without you. Like David Northridge said, it’s the best when two running clubs can come together and motivate each other. Thank you Lou, for this honor and for that tangerine after my first double slaughterhouse, really means a lot to me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *