Saturday Spotlight- Heather Ackerly

When Lou asked me to be the next spotlight I told him I wasn’t sure how exciting my story may be but I am very happy to share and as always as those who know me well know, I will be sure to keep it real.

I have always been active in some way or another. There was definitely a hiatus in my 20’s when I spent more of the time actively drinking and sleeping but once I got married I settled into a routine at the gym but I never gave running a thought. By 28 I was pregnant with my first daughter and by 30 with my second daughter. After that, my babies became my world. I still worked out on a daily basis at the gym but I became consumed with them which any young mother does. The year after my second daughter was born I tinkered with the idea of running a 5K. The company I work for participates in the Jones Beach workplace challenge and I thought it would be fun to run it. I remember I ran one lap one day and had to stop. Then I ran 2 laps… then 3… I started to get excited and encouraged about how much easier it got. Then I ran a mile and then I ran the workplace challenge. I slowly and surely fit running into my exercise regimen and really loved how it made me feel. More so mentally than even physically.

I had felt for a long time I was missing something in my life. I had no hobbies and while I like my job it’s not something that makes me feel whole and complete like some people have in their careers. Running gave me a sense of pride and accomplishment that I had truly been missing. I had spent many years feeling empty and ashamed that I did not have anything I felt I was particularly “good at” and this filled that void more than I imagined.

I spent most my time running alone in the beginning. Anyone that knows me knows that being alone is not where I get my mojo from, I am a “social butterfly” as the teachers used to write on my report cards or notes home when they used to have to move my seat to the front of the class. I come alive around people. Meeting my girl Maryann on the streets of our neighborhood one day running was one of those instant friendships that form and you look back at so thankful that it did. The support and friendship we give each other is great and we share the love of running which is the icing on the cake. So we took to the streets of the NYC marathon together our very first full marathon and it ignited a second place I get my mojo, long distance running and racing in general.

After that first marathon I had the taste for it, I immediately signed up for another marathon 6 months later and raced and ran as much as I could to try and improve. That fall I was registered to do NYC again which would have been my third marathon in just a years’ time. As I took to the streets of the Entemanns half marathon, about 4 weeks before NYC I thought nothing of pushing it and giving it all I had just like I had been doing in every race. My body had some other plans in story for me. About 2 miles in I felt a searing pain in the back of my calf that I can only describe as if someone slashed me with a knife. I stopped mid race, friends passed, Sue and Jean in particular stopped and asked me if I needed help. “No no I am fine go on” I said, as I limped over to the curb and stretched it out I thought to myself “you need to suck it up and get back on the road, you are being a wimp and you need to fight through the pain”, again this was my first introduction to any type of injury with running so in my mind I was being a quitter. I ran another excruciating painful half mile or so and realized that something was truly wrong. I limped to the corner and found a medic who brought me back to the finish line. Deflated and defeated I remember how much of a failure I felt like that day. A visit to the dr showed a pretty severe calf rupture and some crutches introduced me to whole new aspect of running. Being injured.

For the next 2 years I struggled with this injury and the concept of being injured in general because I continued to train a way my body couldn’t handle. I’d run hard and race and reinjure and rest a bit, then charge back out the door and reinjure. I didn’t know any better and I didn’t know how to be injured. I just wanted to run.
When I finally limped home crying from long training run cut short I had had just about enough. A friend suggested I see Dr Lembo and he began to work on my calf with active release therapy. It really helped and I got back on track slowly. Heading into 2013 I knew I didn’t want to have the same years I had been having. I trained smarter, I didn’t sign up for every race, I picked and choose my goals more carefully and I listened to my body and when I felt pain I stopped. Seems so simple but I had to learn to get there. Being injured is a part of running and you have to learn how to adapt to it and accept and respect your body if you want to meet your goals. 2013 was my best year by far, I stayed healthy with a few minor rest periods throughout the year when my injury would act up but I had some good PR’s and I know it is because I finally learned how to train and run smart. I stopped being stubborn and accepted and embraced the limitations my injury gave me and worked within the capacity I had and it made all the difference for me.

What I have learned from other runners is the other reason why I am able to train smarter and accept my injuries today. So many friends and runners who continue to drive and inspire me to be better with support and encouragement I never imagined existed, you have all given me so much inspiration and I appreciate it more than you know. It doesn’t matter what color your shirt is, what pace you are or who you’re passing or who’s passing you at the races. It’s about solidarity, support and love only a runner knows how to give back to another runner. Oh and to those of you who don’t show that support to others and sadly there are some out there (we see you), just remember that person you think you are better than or faster than now, may be flying by you in a few years. It’s about respect and kindness and you have to give it, to get it.

Every morning when I wake up I look forward to the next highlight running will bring me, especially these days. I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the passing of our friend Jim in this first spotlight since his senseless death last week. He was hilarious, kind, caring and just a great person .I know he will continue to look down at us smiling. Probably from the tippy top of Adirondack at times. Be well, be safe and run happy.

One thought on “Saturday Spotlight- Heather Ackerly

  • January 25, 2014 at 12:47 pm

    Awesome Heather! Beautifully written & Real! Happy to know you?


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