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CHICAGO IS FOR RUNNERS - ANDREA IWANIUK

 
I was born and aged in Chicago. Like Kanye West says, “... I’m a Chicagoan till Chicago ends...” but creating an identity has always been a challenge for me. I’ve considered myself to be a lot of different things throughout my life: cheerleader, soccer player, Ukrainian dancer, Girl Scout, dog & cat Mom. I’ve performed in many musicals, volunteered for several charities, taken classes at Second City but I never considered myself a “runner”. In middle school my track career was limited to the 800-meter race. I only joined the cross-country team in high school so I could hang out with cute boys (sorry Mrs. Jordan!). After my first race (I came in second to last place) I thought long distance running wasn’t for me so I didn’t join the team the following year.

So what caused me to signed up for my first marathon even though I hadn’t run around the block since high school (a 10+ year hiatus)? Watching one of my best friends, Ashley, finish her first. Chicago loves their runners. The cheering crowds and support really stuck with me. I remembered the energy and the overwhelming “you can do it” attitude. It was electrifying! So my journey began.

I faced greater challenges in life than running a marathon. In 2000, I lost my Mom to breast cancer. I was 15 years old at the time. That experience taught me so much about life and resilience. In many ways it prepared me to run that race long before I realized it. I already knew how to push through more pain than any blister could give me. I was stronger than I ever thought possible and persevered through difficult times maintaining an unbroken spirit and positivity. What chance did this marathon have against me? My favorite memory from that day was running behind someone who had a sign on their back that read, “I’m running for Irene” which coincidently was my Mom’s name. I knew in that moment she was with me and I was doing exactly what she had taught me to do, “Set your goals, fulfill your dreams”. I finished that race with negative splits and haven’t stopped running since.

After completing two marathons, 6 half marathons, one Ragnar Race, an Avon Walk for Breast Cancer (2 days, 39.3 miles), 8K & 5K I still didn’t consider myself a “runner”, crazy right? It wasn’t until I joined this crew that my opinion of that changed; how I should identify myself finally made sense. I have been a “runner” all along. This crew made me realize that. We push each other, celebrate new PRs, offer advice, laughter, a sweaty hug, a cold beer, ride up the Waterfall Glen... It’s amazing what like-minded people can do together. They bring out the best in me and I am really grateful for that. Unlike high school where I was bothered by coming in second to last place, now no matter what I know I have a crew of people behind me and I’ll gladly join this team again next year.
— Andrea Iwaniuk