In her own words: A running family tradition

Assistant Director of Alumni Communications Kristin Simonetti ran her first marathon in October. She shares her thoughts on what the experience meant for her in this column.

I didn’t grow up a runner, but I did grow up the daughter of a runner.

Kristin Simonetti and her father, Tom, after he completed the Marine Corps Marathon in 1992.

I remember many a Saturday or Sunday morning in my youth, standing near the end point of a 5K or 10K race waiting to cheer my dad, Tom, across the finish line. Eventually, he got really into running and decided to try his hand at a marathon. Living in Northern Virginia, we just happened to have one of the nation’s largest, the Marine Corps Marathon, in our back yard. In October 1991, my mom, Nancy, my younger sister, Kaitlin, and I stood in the shadow of the Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington, Va., and watched dad complete the first of what would be eight Marine Corps Marathons.

Fast forward 20 years and I again stood near the Iwo Jima Memorial with dad – only this time, I’d be running and he’d be watching.

Like I said, I didn’t grow up a runner. I became one in my teens when my childhood aspirations of becoming a professional soccer player died during freshman tryouts at Potomac Falls High School. Running was a way to stay in shape; it also was one of the few times when it was just dad and I. He’d slow his pace so I could keep up, and gave me tips on how to hold my arms, how to breathe and how to push up a hill without getting tired. We started a tradition of running a Turkey Trot race every year on Thanksgiving morning – a tradition we’ve kept for more than a decade. When I left home to attend Elon in 2001, I kept running. Getting to log a couple of miles with dad around our neighborhood was always something I looked forward to on visits home.

In 2009, though, things changed a lot. That March, dad had a heart attack. He came through it with few complications – in no small part because his running regimen strengthened the muscles of his heart. But his long-distance running days likely were over.

Without really meaning to, I picked up the Simonetti family running mantle. I went from running my first 10K in 2009 to finishing a 15K and a half marathon in 2010. When I visited my parents for Christmas last year, I sat by dad and asked him: What’s the Marine Corps Marathon like? Is it a good race for a beginner? Could I finish it? He answered the last question with an unequivocal “yes.”

I registered for the race in February and, with the help of dad and some other resources, I embarked on a six-month, first-time-marathoner training plan. When the mileage got tough in August, encouragement from dad and my Elon colleagues, especially veteran runners like Erica Roberson and Dan Anderson, was invaluable.

Kristin Simonetti and her father, Tom, after she completed the Marine Corps Marathon in 2011.

Before I knew it Oct. 30 – race day – had arrived. It was a frigid morning – it had snowed in the D.C. area the day before. Yet dad stood next to me in the bitter cold for two hours, until the Marines fired the howitzer that started the marathon, and off I went.

He took the Metro to the National Mall where he stood to cheer me as I passed mile 15 and then met me again at mile 20, just before the course crosses the 14th Street Bridge over the Potomac River into Arlington. He jogged about a mile with me before telling me to go on ahead. It was one of the most enjoyable miles I’ve ever run.

Less than an hour later, I passed mom, Kaitlin, my boyfriend, Curtis, Kaitlin’s boyfriend, Drew, and one of my best friends from Elon, Angela Herrick ’03, who’d all braved the cold to cheer me on. I finished in 4 hours, 44 minutes and 47 seconds, and after walking the gantlet of Marines handing me food, water and a finisher’s medal, I met up with my family. There was no one I was more excited to see than dad.

Later that afternoon, he took me aside and said he’d brought something for me. He handed me his medal from his first Marine Corps Marathon 20 years ago. He didn’t intend for it to be a sappy, emotional moment, but for me, it was. I have a picture of him and my 8-year-old self from his first marathon. I also have a picture of him and I from this year’s marathon. I’m framing those two photos with my race bib, his medal and my medal.

And when I look at it, I’ll remember why it is I keep running.