Saturday Spotlight- Kristen Pagano

Name: Kristen Pagano (Acierno)
Age: 35
Marriage Status: Divorced
Occupation: HS Mathematics Teacher in South Country School District, and Math Instructor at Stony Brook University.
Hobbies: mathematics, baking, reading, yoga, lounging by the pool while someone waits on me and does my laundry and dishes (This list is what I would do in my free time should it become a reality. I am a single working mother. My kids and running are my hobbies and carefully crafting a schedule that gives me enough time to sleep.)
Kids: Audrey, 11, James, 9, Katherine (Katie) 7
Pets: Rat Terrier, Mocha, 14 years young; Cat, Ash, 16 months
Hometown: Marlboro, NY
Current Town: Mt. Sinai, NY

I think I really started running about 10 years ago. I always ran to help keep in shape for my primary sport, but never really more than 3-5 miles and it was always just for enjoyment or to keep my fitness up. As a child, I was a ballerina turned diver. I started swimming soon after I was born. Before my parents became parents, they were nationally ranked swimmers. They brought me and my sisters (2 full sisters, no brothers, I am in the middle) to the pool and we would play with one parent while the other parent swam laps. My dad likes to tell the story that I was jumping in the deep end and swimming across the pool by the time I was 2. Who knows if that is true, but I do remember being able to swim very young.

My parents were extremely disappointed when they tried to put me on a swim team (at the age of 4) and I kept getting in trouble for doing too much talking and not enough swimming. So, by 5 years old, they let me dance instead. I loved to dance. I felt free. At the age of 10, they divorced and told me I had to choose something at the pool. I knew I hated to swim, and the diving team seemed to have so much fun sitting in a hot tub, so that was the choice I made.

I loved diving. It was so much fun. It was definitely not as easy as the image I had of the divers sitting in a hot tub. We trained hard. I was competing on a USA team at the age of 11. By the age of 12, I was practicing twice a day. By 14, I had a strength coach and a diving coach and practiced 3 times a day most of the week. I only had 1 rest day. I was a mostly straight A student and I worked a part-time job to help my dad. So, I learned to multitask and organize my day pretty early on. My nickname in school was little Pagano. My dad was Pagano.

I was popular in school. I dated the older athletes and I was friends with everyone. I was never bullied. It was my nature to take care of others. I could never let someone get bullied in my presence. I was always helping. The bullies did not like me very much.

I was recruited heavily in high school, and I received a scholarship to Stony Brook University on their Division 1 swim team. Stony Brook was the perfect place for me because I love mathematics and it is an amazing school for mathematics students. I graduated with a degree in Pure Mathematics (theoretical mathematics). I still love math. It makes me happy. I read math texts in my free time for enjoyment. Once I start talking about it, it is hard to stop. If you ever want the endless buzz of someone talking during a run, ask me a question about math. I can make tangent lines and arch lengths fun (at least in my own mind). I find mathematics beautiful. Rene Descartes said, “Mathematics is the purest form of logic, the language of God”. I completely agree with him. I start every course with a lecture that begins with this quote.

I was married young, 23, and I had my first daughter at 24. I was 2 years out of college and I missed being active every day. My body craved movement. My diving days were over (I was diagnosed with epilepsy). So, I needed something else. I started running. I always knew I wanted to run a marathon one day. So, 6 weeks postpartum I decided to start my journey. I started from nothing. I could barely run a mile. So, I walked and ran until I built up my endurance. I had 2 more children and ran through 37 weeks of both of their pregnancies. I was up to 10 miles 3 times a week when I found out I was pregnant with my son. Within a couple years, I ran 4 marathons. I trained on my own and went to races on my own. My accomplishments were totally mine. My ex-husband did not understand my desire to run, so he didn’t come to many of my races. I felt selfish because I was a mother and wife and I spent some of my time running. Looking back, the guilt was unjustified because I did most of my workouts while everyone was sleeping.
Running has given me so many gifts. It has helped me to have the endurance to go to graduate school full time, while raising 3 beautiful children, and working 3 jobs. Running has taught me that the sky is the limit and not to underestimate myself. Running has taught me strength and calm. Anyone who has completed a marathon knows that we runners learn to keep going when it seems impossible. I learned the importance of running with friends. Having the support of friends can get me through tough moments. We have fun runs, and hard runs. We have long runs, and sprints. We run alone and together. We set PRs and we run slow. No matter what we keep coming back. We keep going. Why? Because nothing is permanent. When the times and stats and comparisons are taken away, we are amazing because we run. We are warriors.