While most Connecticut shoreline towns continue to rebuild after devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy, there was one town in Old Saybrook which had the fortunate opportunity of holding a marathon that was the product of one woman fueled by her own internal drive and support of many local people who stood by her goal.
For East Lyme resident Alexa Bracht, to run in the New York City Marathon was a dream come true after hailing from Queens and Long Island and attending many of the marathons as a spectator. After training that began in June and $3,000 raised by her charity of choice in Boston Children's Hospital, the dream was ready to become reality as the marathon approached. It took a hard turn, though, as New York cancelled the annual event on Nov. 2 two days before it was scheduled to take place. Determined and motivated by the tragedy brought to the Tri-State area, Alexa kept pace on her goal and decided to organize her own marathon in Old Saybrook on Nov. 4.
"I decided to defer running this year after the negativity over [New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's] decision to hold the marathon grew over Facebook and the media. It seemed it was not going to be the positive experience I had worked so hard for," says the mother of two, who is a microbiologist for the United States Department of Agriculture. "Later the same day, they announced the cancellation. Moved by the immense devastation in my home state and in the Tri-State area, I decided to run my own marathon."
Social media also became a big factor in Alexa's decision to construct her own marathon in the Nutmeg State. She says the starting point for this chase to hold the event came via a suggestion on a Facebook post. Touched by not only the outpour from the internet, but also the visible disaster, Alexa decided to take the sprint to the finish line.
"It was actually a suggestion in a comment on a Facebook feed by a co-worker," says Alexa, who uses Midcoast Crossfit in Old Saybrook to train. "Wanting to know the outcome of all of that hard work and, wanting to show honor for all those suffering from Sandy, I posted my decision that Friday. Within 48 hours, the post was full of people who said they'd run or meet me with water along the way. The pace at which they responded was like fire and crazy. The rest is history. It was amazing. I can't possibly say it any better than the posts on my Facebook page."
One local woman, while not an acquaintance of Alexa, learned of her story through a mutual friend on Facebook. She was not only touched by the courage and commitment Alexa had to the event, but also being a fellow mother who pushed her body to help others affected by the devastation.
"I don't know her personally, but I heard about her from some mutual friends from MidCoast Crossfit in Old Saybrook that supported her during her run," Taia Cesana says. "Her story spoke to me as another working mother that, even though there are so many obstacles that would prevent us from accomplishing a personal goal, like completing a marathon, that with determination and commitment we can meet these goals."
Cesana adds: "It is so easy to find excuses. In her case, work, being a mother, and, of course, the fact that the marathon was cancelled all could have easily prevented her from finishing this race. Her determination to finish what she set out to accomplish was truly an inspiration and I was touched by the outpouring of support from the shoreline community. I also believe that it brought the community together in that many people had a difficult week with the storm and its aftermath, but when they found out she was going to run they came out to support her and participated in something that brought hope and admiration."
In coming to the conclusion of holding the race in Old Saybrook, Alexa admits it was a natural fit. The town was not only the home to her indoor training, but also her field training route for running. After giving birth to her daughter two years ago, Alexa's climb back into Crossfit and peak physical shape was a long one, yet the mental push of her supporters made the chase a little easier.
"I had been going to Crossfit training for years," says Alexa, who is with a Crossfit program that offers a 20-week fit running program. "The Boston Children's Hospital team was great and provided the support of a coach, as well, which was a huge motivator. As the training got tougher, I pulled together for things that were the most important to me, which was being a healthy role model and doing well for my kids. Old Saybrook was the training route I was most comfortable with so that, plus Midcoast being here, it was a natural fit to hold it here."
While she overcame initial nerves in running her marathon time of six hours and 20 minutes, Alexa feels that the event was a total success on multiple levels. She started a movement that while she confesses wasn't meant to be motivational to others, took that exact direction.
"It was one of the scariest things I had done in my life," says Alexa. "It was my first race and so many things could have gone wrong. But the adrenaline rush of having the people supporting me helped me through. The other thing that helped was the fact I was rarely running alone and had people alongside of me. The reactions were of complete support. People kept saying how inspiring this was, yet I didn't mean for it to be that way. People who had never run before came out to run. I had my family back in New York supporting me through Facebook during the day, along with friends bringing their kids with signs and water for the race. Overall, it was a good way to be some part of the recovery effort."
Alexa admits that without the slew of support she's received, the race couldn't have been possible.
"Midcoast has been an integral part of my training, both for the fitness and for the amazing moral support. They are a second family," she says. "The support they showed me was overwhelming, along with other friends from work and my husband [Ethan], of course. Training meant running on my treadmill at night after the kids go to bed during the week and getting up ridiculously early for long runs on the weekend. It has been exhausting, but it was totally worth it."