Saturday Spotlight- Debbie Ramirez

Name: Debbie Ramirez
Age: 53
Hometown: Bayside, Queens!
Current Town: Blue Point
Marital Status: Married to Tom Tyson
Children: Matthew, 7 and Kaia, 5
Pets: Tallulah, super mutt, 1, and Misty, cranky cat, 12
Occupation: Clinical Psychologist and according to my kids, “best mom ever.”

I was born to a Colombian Catholic father, 59, and a Jewish mother, 42, who fled Nazi Germany in 1939. My brother, 12, and my sister, 15, were surprised when I was born. I think my parents were too. I had 7 half-siblings from my father’s first marriage, all 20-30 years older than I was, and despite having all these siblings, I was essentially raised as an only child once my brother and sister left for college when I was 6. Living in a town where most families had one nationality, one religion, younger parents, and usually siblings much closer in age, I always felt out of place. I never really fit neatly into any category. Anywhere.

My mother was a very liberal, socially conscious levelheaded woman. Growing up, she introduced me to the things I love today, music, art, cooking, baking. We were very close until her death in 1997. My father was a very conservative, distant, not quite loyal, macho Latin man, with very strict rules for his young daughter. I wasn’t good at just going along with things that weren’t explained, and I didn’t agree with. I pushed back against my father, and lost, over and over. But I never gave up. And I think he secretly respected my spunk. He died the day I left to go away to college when he was 79.

The very bright lights in my very confusing upbringing were dance, music, and most importantly, my friendships. I spent my days devouring every bit of music I could get my hands on. After many years of ballet lessons, my nights were spent in music clubs and the great NYC discos of the 80’s, combining my love of music and dance. With my friendships holding my wobbly self-esteem together, I found excitement, acceptance and clues to who this Debbie person was and wanted to be.

I will not bore you with the myriad of embarrassing mistakes I made along with way (you have to run or drink with me to get those stories), but let’s just say there were many. MANY. Like, a lot. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my personal or professional life. In college, friends would come to me to talk about problems and even put a “the doctor is in” sign on my door. It took years and many interesting jobs before I found social work and ultimately pursued a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. I love my job. Love.

In 2006, I married Tom, a psychologist I met at Stony Brook University and had Matthew in 2009 and Kaia in 2011 when I was in my mid/late 40’s. Several injuries and two late in life pregnancies left me with pretty significant back and hip issues. I couldn’t walk more than ½ mile without severe pain. This went on for about 2 years. Finally in 2013, after relentless pursuit of treatment and relief, my chiropractor suggested that my back was well enough to try to exercise again. I said, “I’m pretty sure you don’t mean running.”

I was always involved in sports or exercise, but my introduction to running was in the early 90’s with a boyfriend who ran track in HS. He took me running with him all the time, and although I could never keep up (he was fast!), I loved the way I felt when I ran. I started running on my own. I took my bulky Walkman and I was on my way (maybe I ran a few miles? I don’t even know, didn’t keep track, I just ran until Pearl Jam was done singing). I spent my summers in the mid-90’s on Fire Island with my friend who was training for the NYC marathon. I thought she was insane (why would anyone want to run 26.2 miles? Voluntarily?), but went along on many of her long runs down Ocean Parkway and made it up to 7 miles. I was pretty impressed with myself, but soon became swamped with work and graduate school and caring for my mother who had been diagnosed with cancer. My short-lived love affair with running came to a screeching halt for more than 15 years, until that day in my chiropractor’s office in 2014 when he told me I should try to run. I thought he was insane. I was too old and too injured. But I was also really excited.

I don’t remember where I saw information on a coach in Sayville who helped runners go from couch to 5K, but I figured that was an safe place to start. I called Kiersten Burns Bartolotta the next day and joined her Saturday morning group in the spring of 2014. I started out very slowly walking/running and by summer, coach KB had me running 3-5 miles and feeling pretty good. I went back to Kiersten’s group in spring of 2015 and when the group ended in early summer, Kiersten suggested I work towards a goal, a race. I had never run a race before, so she suggested a 10k. (More about this memorable moment on Monday.)

Joanne Martin was part of Kiersten’s Saturday am running group. She asked me to run with her and quickly became my first real running buddy. She trained with me all summer in 2015, supported the crap out of me, and brought me to the hills of Selden on a sweltering hot Wednesday afternoon in July 2015. Joanne introduced me to June Luciano, who whipped me into shape, introduced me to my muscles, vampire hours and some of the most warm, welcoming and supportive runners who I am now proud to call friends. When I told June I was running a half marathon, she told me she looked forward to helping me train for a full the following year. I told her I had “zero” interest in ever running a full marathon. She just laughed at me and told me in time I would. I put my name in for the NYC marathon lottery in 2016 sure I would never get in. It was my lucky year for entries but not for running. I got a stress fracture early in my training last summer and between that and several other injuries, I deferred or missed more races than I ran last year. At some point I realized I had to completely stop running for awhile and heal. I volunteered at several races throughout the year and was glad to be able to stay connected to the great group of hillbillys I had just started to get to know.

After a long rest and lots of treatment, I decided I would regret not trying again to run NYC. So, two weeks ago, I began my very slowly and gradually progressing road to my first marathon, NYC, November 2018. Fingers crossed. One and done? Time will tell.

Thanks Lou for the opportunity to tell my story. And thank you for putting and holding together this amazing group. As I said, friendships are the glue that has always held me together. This group has certainly played a role in being my glue the past few years. It’s an honor to be part of the SHW!

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