The Inquirer is presenting a daily profile of participants in the May 6 Blue Cross Broad Street Run, considered the country's most popular 10-miler, with 40,000 people. See full coverage at www.philly.com/broadstreetrun.
Kate Zalesky, 25, was never an athlete. She was the girl in high school who dreaded the annual day in gym when she had to run a timed mile. She was the kid running a 15-minute mile and dying by the end. She was the typical video-game and book nerd.
After high school, as she married and had children, she remained that way. She never minded exercise too much, but hated running.
When she was 22, her 13-month-old son, Max, died of meningitis at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
"The day after we left the hospital without him, my sister-in-law dragged me to the gym to try to distract me," Kate said. "I jumped on a treadmill and started running. I still hated it, but I ran further and faster on that thing than I ever had in my life. I didn't need a psychologist to tell me I was running from something that day."
Her son was an organ donor, and every year the Gift of Life hosts the Dash for Donor Awareness. She created Team Mighty Max and registered for the 5K (3.1 miles).
"It was the farthest I'd ever run in my life, and the first time I'd run outside since high school," she said. "I trained entirely on the treadmill, and ran the 5K in April of 2010. A small feat, no great finish time, but it was a huge accomplishment for me to run the entire thing."
Kate lives in Harleysville. She works full time as a commercial insurance underwriter and goes to school at night at the University of Pennsylvania for cognitive science. She dreams of going to medical school. She is married, with two sons - an 8-year-old and an infant. Max was her middle child.
After her third son was born in August, Kate left the treadmill to start training outside, getting up at 4:45 a.m. to run around her neighborhood.
"Pretty quickly I realized that I was falling deeply into the running 'cult' I'd heard other runners reference so often," she said.
She registered for the Blue Cross Broad Street Run, her first.
"Running has changed my life in the last eight months," she says, "but it saved my life two years ago. When Max died, I ran because I could lose myself in music and mute the grief that consumed my life. Over the last half a year, when so much of my time is spent at work, in school at Penn, and taking care of my family, it's become the singular point in my life where I have time to just be.
"I remember Max when I run; I remember that he's the reason I started. I get to clear my head for an hour or so and psyche myself up for everything that's still ahead of me and my family. Running is a massive part of who I am now, and for me, the Broad Street Run is a culmination of that transformation.
"The process of training for it has taken me down almost 60 pounds at this point, and it takes me further every day. It's changed how I eat, how I take care of my body, and how I live my life."
"I somehow managed to wrangle a lot of my friends, also first-time runners, into registering as well, so it's going to be a big deal to me to cross the finish line and see a lot of important people in my life there."