Saturday Spotlight- Lea Gjodesen

Name: Lea Gjodesen
Age:54
Husband: Bill
Married: 16 years – no kids
Occupation: Teacher of the students who are blind or visually impaired
I would like to say thank you to Lou for selecting me as the WOTW. I felt very honored and nervous because writing is really not my thing. However, I accept the challenge.
I was born and raised in Santos (1961), which is a coastal city in the south east of the state of São Paulo, Brazil. Santos contains the largest Port in South America, and our professional soccer club – Santos Futebol Club- contributed to great soccer players including Pele and Neymar. My hometown has the largest beachfront garden in the world according to the Guinness Book of World records. Everyday of the year, at anytime you can see people running, biking or engaging in some kind of beach/water sports. The average temperature is 75F.
I grew up enjoying and participating in all sports that my hometown had to offer. In 1978, during my first year in college studying to become a teacher of students who are blind or visually impaired, I had the privilege of starting to work in my field. Working with this population really challenged me and that is the reason I decided to pursue getting a degree and graduating in Pedagogy of different disabilities (mental, deaf, and blind), I then got a degree in physical education followed by my Master Degree in Adaptive physical education. During those years I had to learn to play many sports adapted to a specific disability. It was really an interesting experience playing basketball in a wheelchair.
Fast forward, in 1991(at 30 years-old), I was already teaching for twelve years and decided to take my first international trip to the USA. I wanted to see Disney world, the Statue of Liberty, and all the things that I was used to watching in the movies about America. It was really exciting walking in Central Park, going to the museums, etc, just fascinating! I fell in love with the city, and like the Sinatra song: “start spreading the news..I want to be a part of it…New York! New York! However, one of my biggest problems was that I didn’t know how to say a “single” word in English. I then met some Brazilians that lived in Bethpage – Long Island? Where is Long Island? I decided to stay and give it a try at a new life here. In the same year, I start to take ESL classes, and I found a Brazilian Lawyer in Manhattan, to work on getting me my green card thru a sponsor. I worked as a housekeeper, then cleaned houses, in order to pay my lawyer. Once a week I was a volunteer at the Helen Keller Commission for the Blind in order to get my green card. The entire process took 5 years (1996). During that time I was making books in Braille because I had learned the code in Brazil, I would translate the words in English into Braille even though at first I didn’t know the meaning of the word in English. During this time, I started looking for a running club and that is when I became a NYCRR club member. I used to go into the city every weekend to participate in all the races in the city. Through my races in the city I learned that on Long Island there were road runners clubs also. Around 1994/1995 I became a member of the Plainview-Old Bethpage road runners club. So I started to participate in many Long Island races. After I became a member of the POBRRC, they expanded so much that the president Mike Polanski decided to take a vote on a new name for the club and that is how the GREATER Long Island road runners was created. (that is how I recall)
In 1996 I got my green card, and started to work in my field, teaching students with visually impairment. In 1999, most of us heard about the year 2000 problems for both digital and non-digital storage data, and the buzz about turning to the new Millennium, so I made sure to realize my dream of running the NYC Marathon (1999 – 30,000 people) it felt AMAZING!!! So, if the prediction of the world ending was true I got to realize my dream! In 2000, I got married to an amazing American guy!
Fast forward, in 2008 I had a stroke (47 years-old) that left me with an immense emotional scar. Why me? I have been healthy my entire life! I don’t like red meat, alcohol, and I am always exercising. At least that helped me not having any physical issues. The stroke took a toll on me, however, I always had my nephew who looked at me as his role model of a great healthy life style. Every year when I went to Brazil for a visit we had fun running together. In 2013, when I checked my school year calendar and saw that for the first time I was having 2weeks vacation during the December holidays, I made sure to challenge my nephew to the 88th edition of the Corrida Internacional de São Silvestre, the classic race over 15km that marks the end of the year in the streets of São Paulo, Brazil. So, now I had to get serious again in my training because I couldn’t let my 26 years-old nephew down. When I ran at the Maria Regina road race in Seaford, and saw Marty Schimmele with the Selden Hills shirt, I asked him what was that about because it seemed to be great training for my big race in Brazil with my nephew. I contacted Lou, and Lou told me ” this is NOT a social group, it is a running group, are you a runner? “I guess so”. So, I started the hills on October 2013 – to get ready for December 31st, 2013 – São Silvester 15K in Brazil. My first time at the hills, Lou ran side by side with me and didn’t let me walk any hills! So, I did it in 1:03, I was so proud of myself and planned for the year 2014 to get it under 1 hour. Unfortunately, there is only so much we can control in our lives, and once more I took another punch, on February 5th, 2014 my nephew was murdered in Brazil, during a Summer night after playing volleyball with friends at the beach. He went to drop his girlfriend off at her house on his motorcycle, and got robbed, shot and killed. My world was upside down and if wasn’t for the Selden Hills family, my running days were over. It could have been part of my pass but I am so thankful for the Selden Hills family because it helped me to keep going at my own pace every week I show up. Whether I feel like walking, run/walk, or to talk… After all Lou, for me this is not just a running group… Like my husband says: It is a cult! Thank you, for letting me be part of it! Love you ALL!

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