From Injury to Ultra, Zoilabella Calo Takes Challenges One Step at a Time

Zoilabella Calo Smiles and holds out her arms as she runs

Zoilabella Calo of Glendale, AZ, is an ambassador for Latinas Run. Calo is passionate about trail running and hiking, and has completed races from 5K to 50K. But she wasn’t always a runner.

Nine years ago, Calo suffered from a back injury so severe that her doctor recommended surgery. Instead of going under the knife, she started a therapeutic walking regimen. Over the years, she discovered a love of the outdoors and pursuing new challenges. Fleet Feet caught up with Calo in a phone interview to learn more.

FLEET FEET (FF): Tell us about how a severe back injury eventually turned you into a runner.

CALO: Nine years ago I was making the bed and suddenly, my back locked up and I couldn’t move. At the time, I was doing a lot of Zumba, and I loved it, but I was doing it wrong. I also worked in retail and walked a lot in high heels. It was a combination of a lot of things, and I think it caught up to me.

I went to the doctor, got a scan and they told me I needed surgery. I had bulging discs in my back and an annular tear in my S-1. I was really depressed. I was always on the go for work, on my feet all day long … and I loved Zumba.

I was fortunate to have several friends in the physical therapy industry. They said, ‘You don’t need to get surgery. You can do therapy and start walking and you will be fine.’ I took their advice.

At the time, my company had just introduced a wellness program, and they gave all of the employees a free pedometer. I didn’t even know what a pedometer was or how it worked, but I used it and I started walking.

Literally, I started with a mile. One mile led to two miles, then to four miles. I would walk practically every night. I decided, this is the way I will do therapy. I started walking so much that within two years after my back injury, I completed my first half marathon with a combination of walking and running. I felt really good. I felt strong.

Then, I started hiking. When I was out hiking, I saw people running on the trails. I thought maybe I can get into trail running. My friends said you’re crazy, but I started slowly running little by little. And I loved it.

FF: How did you progress from there?

CALO: Two years ago, I did my first trail 5K. Then, in 2018, I entered my first Rock ‘n Roll full marathon. I walked, and finished with a really good, consistent pace. When I was finished it was such a great feeling, and I thought, OK, next year I’ll train, and I’ll run it.

My mentality is not that I need to finish it at a certain pace to be good. I just wanted to finish. So, the next year I signed up and I did the run, walk method. I completed the race an hour faster than I had the previous year.

FF: What running accomplishment are you most proud of?

CALO: While I finished a 50K for my 46th birthday, the run I am most proud of was finishing the New York City Marathon in 2019. I’d only been running for two years at the time. New York is home and I’d dreamed of running the race ever since I was a little girl.

As a child, I stood on the sidelines and cheered runners on as they passed. I took my little radio and held it out the window and played music for them.

FF: What drew you to the Latinos Run Community?

CALO: Last year in June I was scrolling through social media. I saw a video of Maria Solis [Founder of Latinos Run]. She was visiting all 50 states and doing pop up runs to encourage the Latino community to come out and run, to be together and bring awareness to being healthier as a group.

I don’t really see Latinos out on the trails running or hiking in Glendale. And I thought it would be fantastic if she came to Arizona. I sent her a message. And she said, ‘OK, if you can put something together I will come out and support you.’

With the support of a local running store, we were able to draw 30 to 40 people to a group run. Running isn’t just for a certain community; it’s for all of us, and we can all run together. Today we have a Facebook page with over 100 members in Arizona. We haven’t had group runs lately because of COVID-19, but we encourage each other online.

FF: What is the online community like?

CALO: We communicate through social media, with separate pages for different cities. Everyone reaches out to support each other, and help each other get out there.

FF: Are you doing a challenge in honor of Hispanic Heritage month?

CALO: Virtually on October 10, members of the entire community will do a run. I decided to host an in-person event for October 15 in my community. We will get together and practice social distancing and celebrate with a 5K run. I’m looking forward to it. It will be the first in-person group run for us since the pandemic started.

A group gathers for the Run for Justice

Rapid Fire Questions

What does it mean to you to be Latina?

It means that I am strong, resilient, confident, passionate and loving.

Why do you love running?

It helps me clear my mind and enjoy the beautiful outdoors.

Who inspires you?

My mom. She was recently diagnosed with osteoarthritis in her knees, and it has been very hard for her to accept.

What is the biggest lesson you have learned from running?

Run at your own pace. Don’t beat yourself up if you are slower than someone else.

What do you wish you had known when you first started?

Not to compare my pace to anyone else.

What advice would you give to new runners?

Have fun!

Where do you like to run?

I Iove to trail run. The mountains are beautiful.

What piece of gear can you not live without?

A good pair of trail running shoes.

Favorite way to recover after a run?

An Epsom Salt bath.

Do you like to run alone? With others?

I like to run with others who run at the same pace.

What gets you motivated?


What is your favorite thing about the Latinos Run community?

I love how the community supports each other.

This Q&A was edited for brevity.

Keep Reading