The Gratitude Marathons: Why This Runner is Running 26.2 Every Weekend

Amy Colombo runs on a trail.

If you’ve run a trail race in South Florida, you’ve likely seen Amy Colombo standing on the podium. With her friendly face and booming Boston accent, she’s hard to miss and is usually among the top female finishers.

Last year, Colombo won the 2021 Hellcat 50K in Green Cove Springs, Florida, and the 2021 Trident Maraton de las Muertas in Jupiter, Florida.

But her life wasn’t always this way.

Colombo struggled with a debilitating drug addiction from the time she was 12 years old, often having no food to eat and no place to sleep. She didn’t get clean until she was incarcerated in a state prison at 27. Once she was released to a lower security facility, she began working out at a gym.

“Eventually I got into MMA and CrossFit. When I moved to Florida, someone came to my CrossFit gym and asked me if I wanted to join a Women for Tri program,” says Colombo. “I had no idea what a triathlon was. Of course, I said yes because that's just who I am.”

Colombo jumped into triathlon training, and quickly realized that running was her favorite part.

“I initially started working out for the same reason everyone else does: to stay in shape. But it’s become so much more for me. I run because it brings me so much peace. It's a lifestyle, and it’s a big part of how I cope,” she says.

Now Colombo is trying to bring the same peace she has found to those who are still struggling. From her 39th birthday in November 2021 to her 40th in 2022, she’ll run 26.2 miles every weekend to raise money for the Herren Project, a non-profit organization providing recovery services to those struggling with addiction. She calls this challenge “The Gratitude Marathons.”

Amy Colombo runs in the sand during a trail race.

“I feel so blessed to be alive because, after the life I led when I was younger, there were a lot of times when I shouldn't have made it,” she says. “I have so much good in my life now and this is a way I can give back to the people who haven’t found a way to be free of their addiction.”

The Herren Project provides free treatment placement services, scholarships for treatment programs, online support groups and recovery housing for those seeking treatment for drug and alcohol addiction. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), 21 million Americans suffer from addiction.

So far, Colombo has raised $5,000 for the organization.

“I saw other runners raising money for various causes and I knew I wanted to do that, but I hadn't found a cause that resonated with me,” she says. “I met another runner and former addict who was raising money for the Herren Project. I realized in talking to him that this was the project I wanted to be involved in.”

At first, Columbo was nervous about the prospect of sharing her journey on social media. But she felt it was necessary to raise awareness about addiction as well as the funds needed to reach her goal.

Now, rain or shine, Colombo is out on the streets of Boynton Beach every Saturday morning to get her marathon miles in. Occasionally she participates in a local race, like the Space Coast Marathon in November.

“The biggest challenge for me is staying committed to the same thing every week. A big part of my addictive personality is that when I do something, I get bored with it immediately and want to move on to something else,” Colombo says. “But I've committed and I have to show up and run a marathon every weekend. It doesn't need to be a new race or a new adventure, I just have to show up and get through it every weekend.”

Amy Colombo smiles during the 2021 Space Coast Marathon.

Colombo usually runs with the West Boynton Road Runners Club but, as you can imagine, it’s hard to find someone who wants to run 26.2 miles every weekend. She usually starts earlier and finishes later than everyone else in the group.

“Becoming a part of the running community has changed my life. I always thought that, because of my past, I was very different from other people. Being part of the running community made me realize that I’m not really that different,” she says. “We’re all there to do the best we can and improve.”

Colombo’s friends in the running community inspired her to set the bar higher for herself. In addition to working a full-time construction job, she recently enrolled in school to earn her associates degree. She hopes to become a nurse.

“I always thought there was a certain level of achievement I was meant to have because of how I grew up. When I entered the running community, I met people who were incredibly successful and I started thinking maybe that was possible for me too,” she says. “It’s not just the physical part of running, it's everything that came with it. I've changed my personal goals outside of running as a result of the running community.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, it’s important to seek help from a professional. Call the SAMHSA National Helpline, a free and confidential service, at 1-800-662-4357.

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