“Was I on sports teams? Yeah. Did I actually play? Rarely. My sister was the athlete, I was the actress, and that's just how it was.”
To say my friend Melanie is a woman of determination and multiple talents is an understatement. From her powerful voice on stage, to her inspiring voice leading a Weight Watchers meeting, to her loud cheers from the side of a road race, Melanie has an infectious energy that can fill a room. It’s also highly likely that if you hear someone running behind you singing something from an Andrew Lloyd Webber show, odds are, it’s Melanie. But Melanie wasn’t always a runner.
"I'm not quite sure why I like to run, to be honest. Sometimes running makes me feel like a complete badass who can do anything, and sometimes it makes me feel like a complete slug. Sometimes it makes me sexy and sometimes it beats the crap out of me. Most of the time I live somewhere in between. The thing that drew me to running was the simplicity of it—just throw on your shoes and go. But I have to be honest—some days I'm still working on "finding my love of exercise." But that's okay. They can't all be awesome.
About nine years ago, I had lost about 40 pounds through Weight Watchers. I knew I needed to find something sustainable to do to stay in shape but I HATED the gym. It smells bad, it's expensive, and the lighting always gives me a headache. Worst of all, you work your tail off on a cardio machine and don't actually GO anywhere!
Then one day I realized I could just break up with the gym, save myself $75 a month, and just start walk/jogging around my neighborhood instead. So that's what I did. I would turn on my headphones, listen to "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamboat" (early Andrew Lloyd Webber really gets me going) and then when the mega mix came on, I would make a beeline home. A good friend who was an experienced runner encouraged me to sign up for a 4 mile race, and when I got my free bagel and t-shirt, I was hooked. I was so tickled that I was able to make myself go that far, I wanted to see what else I could do and how much further I could go. Since then, I've run 15 full marathons, a 60K ultra-marathon, and countless other races.
The crazy part is that I wasn’t much of an athlete when I was growing up. Was I on teams? Yeah. Did I actually play? Rarely. My sister was the athlete, I was the artist and that's just how it was. In high school, gym class was an attendance-based pass/fail sort of deal. I would usually change into my gym clothes, get counted for attendance, and then when the class would go outside to play soccer or whatever, I would turn around and go back to the locker room, change, and enjoy an extra-long lunch period. I never got caught.
My favorite race, hands down, was the NYC 60K in November 2013. It was 9 loops in Central Park, and the longest distance I had ever run at the time. It was the first time that I toed the line and honestly didn't know if I was going to finish. Since it was the same loop over and over again, people took turns hopping in the race with me. In fact, out of the 37.28 miles of that race, I only ran about 1.5 miles solo. And even then, I made friends with the guy running next to me and we finished holding hands.
I recently received my running coach certification and am now working as a running coach in Brooklyn. When I watched the NYC Marathon this year (I didn't run since I did the Marine Corps Marathon the week prior) I remember watching for some of my Weight Watchers members at the back of the pack. You could tell a lot of the runners were first timers. They were just so happy to be there, amazing themselves with every step. I thought to myself, "I want to learn to make those. I want to make marathoners." So I did.
In addition to her time on the road as a running coach, Melanie will soon be appearing as Maria in the off-Broadway production of My Big Gay Italian Funeral on August 2 and August 9. Not to be missed!
“Whenever I exercised, I always felt like I was winning against cancer. As long as I could move, I was okay.”
For my cousin Sue, getting back onto her bike while battling cancer was not just about the time for herself, away from her busy life as a teacher and mother of three teenage girls. It was the path to recovery.
“I found my love of exercise after [twin daughters] Isabel and Emily were born and I started Weight Watchers. It became not only a way for me to lose weight, but one of the few things I could do for myself when the girls were so young. Eventually I did it as much for my mind as my body.
I always tell people that working and exercising were the two things that got me through chemo. When I had to make the decision to have chemo or not, one of the deciding factors was that not only could I exercise during it, but that I should exercise because it helped with side effects and reduced the risk of recurrence. I walked about five days a week throughout and also got into riding my bike, which was a lot easier on my body than running. Whenever I exercised, I always felt like I was winning against cancer. As long as I could move, I was okay.
I hope that my love of exercise has influenced my girls. Isabel and Emily will be cross country captains next year and they're very into fitness. Caroline also goes to the gym and has done spinning classes, which I like to think has something to do with me!!
My dad was very athletic but he never really encouraged me and my siblings to be athletic. He's had more of an influence since he's been gone, actually. There are times when I'm hurting or don't think I can do it, I think of him and his incredible strength and know that somewhere inside of me I have his strength too.
I’ve now run a few races and done several rides but I do have two favorite events—the NYC Half Marathon and the Smilow Bike Ride. The NYC Half was my first half and it was so amazing to be running through the city, especially when I hit 42nd street. My other favorite was my first Smilow Bike Ride (Smilow is the cancer center at Yale where I was treated). It was 3 months after I finished chemo and I was still fairly bald, but I made it through the 25 miles and even passed some people on a hill. It was such a great feeling. The picture here was taken right after I finished that ride.
Here’s a funny story from my early days of running. I had to have an upper endoscopy. When the nurse took my vitals before the procedure, my pulse was low and she said, "You must be a runner." That was the first time someone said that to me. I was knocked out for the procedure and when I came to, I told [my husband] Ron the story. He said, "I know, you've told me this three times already. YOU’RE A RUNNER!”