Sometimes, the best stories are not where you’d normally look.
Oh sure. There were plenty of fast runners chasing personal-best times, top finishes overall or in their age group, and simply enjoying a glorious, late-summer/early-fall day, at the Dutchess County Classic road race Sunday, Sept. 18 in Poughkeepsie. The Mid-Hudson Road Runners Club carried on the fine tradition of this race with a newer lineup − 5-kilometer, 10-kilometer and half-marathon races, along with a kids’ race on Saturday.
The top finishers are awe-inspiring with their speed and longevity. Yes, Marisa Strange extended her incredible winning streak in the 5K. The 59-year-old held off a hard-charging Rebecca Holton, 19 years her junior, by 2 seconds to win for the 22nd consecutive time.
But sometimes, you have to look way back in the pack to find stories of great inspiration and courage.
Thanks to an assist from race photographer and loyal reader Bob Kopac, we introduce you to Kristin Juhasz, a remarkable 47-year-old runner from Newburgh. Juhasz completed the half marathon in 3:09:50, an average of 14:29. This placed her firmly in the back of the pack. After you read her story, which we’ll allow her to tell in her words based on an email interview week, she will be first-place in your hearts.
Juhasz, who has been a pediatric physical therapist for more than 20 years, grew up in Beacon in an athletic family. Her father was an AAU official and her mother was recreation director in Beacon. She and her siblings had no choice but to be active in sports − martial arts, soccer, softball, basketball, tennis, bowling, track and field and cross country.
She completed the Classic on crutches, which is a regular part of her existence now following multiple surgeries.
Why are you on crutches?
After shattering my pelvis snow skiing at age 11, I had my left hip replaced three times before there was so much metal that had shed off and traveled throughout my body that I had metal toxicity, making me extremely sick for three years. A decision was made to remove as much metal as possible (including the whole artificial hip), and to just go with a short thigh bone that sits beside my uneven pelvis, and in my muscles, rather than having an actual real or artificial joint. So, I use one crutch and a large shoe lift when I’m just walking, but I need two crutches if I’m going to do something active like running.
What made you decide to do the Dutchess County Classic half marathon on crutches?
This was actually my first half marathon since this last surgery 11 years ago. Prior to that, I participated in all distance races with my artificial hips, originally just on my feet, then with crutches or a hand cycle. I had run a few shorter races on crutches since the hip was removed, but this was my first half.
I had a lot of figuring out to do, and still do. It is a lot harder now than it was with even a loose and worn out artificial hip. Crutches are just a part of how I get around, and running is a love of mine, and it was time to get back to doing one of my greatest loves. I was super nervous to do it in a smaller race than if I was in NYC, and where I could possibly get lost, especially if I was too slow, no one else was left in sight, and the finish line was taken down, but I decided to “bite the bullet” and train as hard as I could, and get out to that starting line.
What was the worst that could happen? I’d have to pull my phone out from my CamelBak (backpack) and GPS myself back to my car?
What were the challenges of doing the race in this manner?
There were several challenges for me in running this half on crutches, some were more due to just no longer having a hip joint, the extra energy it takes to run this way, and the asymmetrical pressures on my hands and feet.
Just like any runner, I play with my running pattern to try and figure out the most efficient pattern, work on interval training, long slow distance runs, and do strength and length work.
However, one of the big differences is trying to problem solve how to get the stability I need in my hands on the crutch grips despite sweating and without blistering, trialing different hand grip materials, different angles for the hand grips, trialing gloves and different types of athletic tape on my hands, as well as altering the angle of pressure on my hands by where I place the crutches and changing the height of them. However, this is still an area that needs work.
Weather plays a big part, I can’t run in the rain, as my hands will just slide, and if a crutch hits a painted line on a road or trail, it will slide and then I fall.
Nutrition is a challenge when in a race, as well, because if I want to take in a gel, or anything other than the fluid in my CamelBak, I lose a lot of time stopping taking off my camel back, fueling and then putting it back on and restarting.
How did the race go for you?
The whole event went really well. Everyone I met was very friendly. The weather was perfect, and I finished it in time to cross that finish line and get my medal.
The reactions I got from others were all wonderful and supportive. One of my favorites was from a mom who was also running and whose son also has a large shoe lift like myself, and she was going to go home and tell him about me running the race. I love that! I also love that there were people there at the finish line clapping when I crossed the line. Not everyone had gone home, and the feeling of them clapping for me made my heart smile.
How are you feeling post-race in terms of recovery?
I really pushed it on race day, because I was nervous about not finishing, My pre-race pace was 15 minutes per mile, and I really wanted to cross that finish line before it was taken down. So I decided I was going to aim at 14-minute miles to give myself a cushion at the end of the race so I could worry less. I kept that pace up for nine miles, and then found myself unable to maintain it. That increased minute per mile definitely made those muscles feel it a bit more the next two days; but it was a good feeling, and one I remember quite well.
What are some of your running career race highlights and future goals in the sport?
I have finished seven marathons, and many half marathons and shorter races; some on my feet, some on crutches and some on a handcycle (including third-place female in the NYC marathon on the handcycle); but my greatest highlights are helping others train for marathons and watching them cross that finish line.
My goals now are to:
1) Improve my time so that I can be an Achilles guide in the NYC Half Marathon. (editor’s note: Achilles International has a program in which volunteers accompany runners with disabilities with workouts and races, functioning as “eyes, ears, guide and motivator” for the runner, according to the global organization’s website.)
2) To motivate other individuals who have a challenge (visible challenge or nonvisible one) who want to do something, but are afraid of looking different, afraid of what others might think, or afraid of not doing as well as they might want, to do whatever that thing is that they want to do.
Half marathonRyan Carney, Red Hook, 1:15:53Marina Martino, Dallas, Pennsylvania, 1:20:21
Half marathon wheelchairPatrick Licari, Wappingers Falls, 4:05
10KDaniel Tempest, Charlotte, Vermont, 37:34Lauren Itri, Pleasant Valley, 50:19
5KMike Chow, Poughkeepsie, 16:58Marisa Sutera Strange, Millbrook, 20:09
Kids 1KPatrick Licari, Wappingers Falls, 4:05Emily Holton, Highland, 4:35
Mid-Hudson Road Runners Club member Pete Colaizzo, the track coach at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, writes on running every week. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more club information, go to www.mhrrc.org