I am an ex-smoker
It’s hard to believe that just over 3 months ago, I was a heavy smoker. I used to love smoking. I smoked on and off from the time I was 17. I really didn’t want to quit. I believed that there was no hope for me to ever find the desire to quit.

That changed in January of this year. A colleague of mine was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. It jarred me that this active and healthy young woman was facing such a scary illness and was now forced to fight for her life with every ounce of energy in her body. At the time that she was diagnosed, quite a few of my colleagues immediately joined Team in Training to run the NYC Half Marathon and raise funds in her honor. I contributed to the team, but completely shied away from participation. I was a smoker and far from fit. There is no way I would ever complete a mile, let alone 13 miles!

Thinking it over brought me back to my memory of seeing the 2010 ING NYC Marathon. I had just relocated to Brooklyn from Ohio in August of the same year. I remember seeing the runners going by my street and thinking to myself that participating would be a dream for me – but that I would never be able to accomplish something like that. I remember thinking exactly the same thing when I watched the 2011 ING NYC Marathoners run past my apartment for a second time. Hearing the news of my colleague’s illness brought back all the feelings.

I thought about the fact that I was smoking and that my grandfather died from lung cancer. As a single parent, I thought about how every time I smoked; I was shortening my presence for my daughter, and others that love me. I thought about the selfishness of my habit and how I would likely suffer life threatening consequences in the years to come. I thought about lung cancer, and how it’s mainly preventable. So many cancer patients don’t have prevention options like I potentially could. So there we have it. I began making plans to quit smoking.

I’ve quit smoking before. Actually, I’ve taken a break from smoking. I’ve never really quit since I began smoking over 20 years ago. I needed an insurance policy. I needed something to hold onto so that I would never go back. My involvement with the American Cancer Society and their team, DetermiNation, became my insurance policy. I embarked on a new beginning to get fit and help others. In doing so, I’ve accepted monetary donations from friends, colleagues and family members. In accepting those donations, I’ve committed to them (and to myself) that I would participate in the NYC Marathon on behalf of the American Cancer Society. And so, my insurance policy was created and I am stuck doing this marathon thing; even on days I really don’t feel like training.

I am a member of a community
So, my journey began on April 27th. I quit smoking and made the decision to join the American Cancer Society’s DetermiNation team to run the NYC Marathon and raise over $3,500. It got incredibly serious for me on the first team run with the Brooklyn members in Prospect Park on June 9th. I couldn’t run for longer than 10 minutes without stopping.

Through the encouragement from my community (comprised of American Cancer Society volunteer couches, family members, friends, colleagues and donors) I have kept with the program and have shown vast improvement. Now a non-smoker for over 3 months, I can run for over 2 hours (and 9 miles), without stopping.

I am a runner
As a runner, I have good days and bad days. There are times I simply want to quit.  For example, last Saturday, I ran from Prospect Park in Brooklyn to the Williamsburg Bridge (went about 1/3 of the way over) and then back again to Prospect Park. It was quite a run with hills and humidity. At 6.5 miles, I started feeling the chafing under my left arm and had to rest my arm on my hip to avoid further chafing. At that point, chafing was also beginning under my right arm. As a result, for quite some time I was running with both my arms on my hips. That really made me incredibly tired. I learned, in a way I will never forget, how important arms are while running! Not being able to use them to help guide my stride really exhausted me. My coach joined me on the last portion of my run. God love her for dealing with my whining, moaning, and desire to quit the last few miles back to the park. She really exercised great patience with me and kept encouraging me to work on my mental game. “Don’t say you can’t do it; tell yourself that you are doing it!” I really did have to hug that thought tightly in order to get back.

Whether it’s cramps, exhaustion, achy muscles, heat, dehydration, or chafing skin; I remind myself of the treatment that cancer patients go through. If they can endure that in order to fight for their lives, I can endure the running to fight for my health. It’s incredible to be a part of these programs and to be able to proclaim, “I am a runner!”

Join the CUNY SPS Community
Being a part of a community is the most rewarding part of getting involved with the American Cancer Society. They’ve given me the tools I need to find my footing in both the worlds of philanthropy and running. So, as a part of my transformation, I have joined a couple of races and causes along the way that are important to me. In June, I raised funds and competed in Boomer’s Cystic Fibrosis Run to Breathe; completing my first 10K ever.

When I heard that CUNY’s School of Professional Studies would be joining the Susan G Komen “Race for the Cure,” I jumped on the opportunity to be a part of it. The last 3 months have profoundly demonstrated how rewarding it is to connect with the communities we are a part of. So, whether running, walking or wheeling – you can be a part of the movement too and feel the support of a community. I hope you will take your first step today by visiting http://bit.ly/CUNYSPS and joining our team.

Alexandra Hertel is an Ohioan living in Brooklyn, New York. She attends CUNY’s School of Professional Studies and works full-time in the events industry.