Saturday Spotlight- Anny Espinal

Name: Anny Espinal
Birthday: June 20th
Family: Three amazing sisters, one brother, mi madre, the boyfriend and our energetic Airdale Terrier, Dean Dog
Occupation: HS Spanish teacher in HHH

I was born in the Dominican Republic. I have three amazing sisters/best friends and one brother. When I was young, my family lived in a very small town. I grew up with different family members because both my parents migrated to the US looking for a better future for us. My father left when I was five and my mother left when I was eight. My siblings and I grew up very close, taking care of each other.

We didn’t get to participate in extracurricular activities after schools, but we grew up very active on our grandfather’s farm. We ran everywhere we went. We played in the fields, bathed in the streams, climbed mountains, chased rabbits and our dog all around my grandfather’s farm. We played manhunt in huge fields, coffee fields and lagoons; the farm was so big that it used to take us hours to find each other.

Growing up I never heard of anyone running solely for fitness. The only sport that I knew of was baseball. Some of the most poignant memories from my childhood revolve around baseball. I lived with some cousins who were big fans of the sport. We played it every afternoon; even when I didn’t want to play. My male cousins would make me because they didn’t have enough boys to form two teams. We didn’t always have baseball bats and balls. Many times when we couldn’t find the ball and bat that the Three Kings (similar in spirit to Santa Claus) had brought my cousin, we had to make them. We would use a broomstick and make a ball of whatever material we could find. I was never good at it. I always struck out, dropped the ball or got caught running to the base. It was very frustrating for my cousins who usually ended up yelling at me!

During Dominican baseball season, my cousins and I would climb a hill close to the farm, sit on rocks and listen to the game on the radio in the dark just staring at the lights of the stadium many, many miles away. So I suppose playing baseball with my cousins was my first running experience. Well, fast-forward my life to June of 1994 when my siblings and I moved to the US. It took my parents many years to get our visas approved and then to save enough money to buy plane tickets for four kids. I was in the 9th grade. I didn’t speak a word of English. I didn’t know anyone here and I attended a new, big school.

Living with my parents felt strange since I hadn’t lived with them in so many years. Adjusting to my new life in the US was very difficult. I cried a lot during this time. I wanted to go back home, to see my friends, to be with my cousins, but that wasn’t a choice. In HS, I never played sports; I wanted to play tennis, but I couldn’t stay after school because I had to babysit my younger siblings.

After HS I went to college in LI. I decided to become a Spanish teacher because after some years in the US, I felt like I was losing a bit of my identity. I no longer felt 100% Dominican, but I didn’t see myself as an American either. I figured that if I became a Spanish teacher, I could stay close to my culture while living in a different one. I have been teaching for over 10 years and I love that I can keep and share my language and culture.

Fast-forward again to 2009. I was 28 years old and I noticed that my body was changing and I no longer could eat everything I wanted without noticing that my pants felt a bit tighter. I decided to start exercising. At this point, I lived behind Amityville HS. I saw the HS track every day. One day I decided to go “run” on the track, but to my surprise, I couldn’t run one lap without stopping. This experience motivated me to run a 5K. I made it a goal although it seemed impossible to accomplish. I downloaded Couch-to-5K on my iPhone and followed the 10 week program. I started with 90 seconds of walking and 30 seconds of “running” and built up from there. I ran my first 5K that October 11th of 2009 at the Deer Park Tanger Outlet parking lot. It was a really boring race, two laps around the parking lot, but I was so happy that I ran it. I ran it in around 29 minutes. It made me feel accomplished.

After that, my life changed a bit and running was not my priority. I was “happy and busy” so running was not on the top of my list. Then in 2011, I met my boyfriend, John. We ran few 5Ks, but I never trained for them. Once in a while I would go out there and run one to two miles but I was never consistent. I didn’t see myself as a runner; I didn’t think I could actually be a runner. On November 2012, I went to Philadelphia to see John run his first marathon. I was so inspired by it, but honestly, I didn’t comprehend how challenging it was. On our way home, I was driving, but I felt so tired from being on my feet all day, that John had to drive us home after he ran the marathon. I still hear about this! Nonetheless, after seeing my first marathon, I was still not interested in becoming a runner!

On May of 2013, I was talking to someone I had recently met and told him about my dream to someday run a 10K. He told me to forget about the 10K and go for a 13.1, go big or go home! That night I registered for the Hamptons Half. The idea was crazy! The farthest distance I had ever run was a 5K and I hadn’t been running at all around the time that I registered. I used an online training schedule and trained for my first half. I did most of the runs alone, at the same pace and in the Babylon-Belmont Lake trails. I didn’t know about speed workouts, tempo runs or running on pavement to get my body used to it for race day. On 9/27/13, I ran my first half and finished in 1:57! I was hooked after crossing that finish line. Five weeks later I ran the Philadelphia Half in 1:55. I still didn’t call myself a runner!

In 2014, I ran a handful of half marathons, 10Ks, 5ks and the famous Selden Hills. Last year I spent a lot of time running with Jennifer Mercurio,Lisa Spitaleri-Ospitale, Paul Van Guilder, Jacqueline Sweet, Roger Rem, Meaghan and a few others who took me to the Hills. I learned so much about running from these amazing new friends. I will never forget the day. It was July 3rd, it was hot and the hills kicked my butt, but I finished in one hour and four minutes. I remember that Jeremy Lally was our course guide that day because we didn’t know the course. I was amazed at how he could run the up hills. On many of our runs, Roger had told me about how amazing the NYC Marathon was. So I decided to sign up for the lottery although I still didn’t consider myself a runner. To my surprise, I was picked on the lottery! In November 2014, I ran my first marathon, the challenging yet inspiring NYC MARATHON!

This year has been a great year for me. In 2015, I can finally say that I feel that I am a runner. I feel proud when I say it because it took a lot of work and dedication to feel confident enough to call myself a runner. This year I PRed my half marathon with 1:46:45 and the Selden Hills with 49:40! I love running because it makes me feel accomplished. It has made me stronger not only physically, but also emotionally. Running has taught me to make peace with pain, something that I was never comfortable with. Running has given me the opportunity to meet some amazing people who constantly inspire and support me and always make me laugh (Hill Junkies). I am grateful for running because it has made me a more confident woman. Gracias, Anny

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