Running for strength and peace

Laura Russo with her mother, who died after last year's race. "So many things are going to flash through my mind over the course of those 10 miles," Russo says.
Laura Russo with her mother, who died after last year's race. "So many things are going to flash through my mind over the course of those 10 miles," Russo says.
Posted: May 02, 2013

The Inquirer daily is profiling participants in Sunday's Broad Street Run.

In 2009, for reasons she can't explain, Laura Russo, 43, a middle school counselor from Perkiomenville, began running.

She has a husband, a son, and a busy life, and says running "gives me a sense of strength and peace among the exhaustion and screaming muscles."

Last year, as she trained for her first Broad Street Run, her mother was dying of uterine cancer.

It was a long, horrible, painful battle. "Nobody deserves to die that way," she says.

"A week before the race," recalls Laura, "I visited with her one last time to say goodbye before she left us. She kept a tiny silver angel pin on her pillow, and although she was unconscious, I removed her pin and told her I was going to wear it on race day and run her to heaven."

Throughout the race, Laura kept touching her left shoulder, where she had pinned the angel, making sure it was still there.

"I feared losing her pin," says Laura, "more than the 10 miles itself."

Laura kept her word and ran her mother to heaven. Janice Evangelist died hours after the race.

"I believe that she was waiting for me to finish," says Laura, "before she decided to let go."

Laura has run several races in the last year since her mother's death.

"The truth is," she says, "I can hear her. She speaks to me, in short, simple phrases, and usually when I am running long distances."

Laura tried to explain.

The other night, for instance, her 8-year-old son was watching Star Wars. Luke was about to blow up the Death Star when he heard Obi-Wan's voice in his head, and Laura thought, "Oh my gosh. I've had that experience before."

She knows that her colleagues in the Pennridge School District will think she's crazy, but she's not, honestly.

"The last time this happened," she says, "I was on Mile Nine of the Philly Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon in September. I was so tired, and all I could think about was the four grueling miles ahead of me when I heard her say, 'Come on, kid, you can do it.'

"I suppose this could be explained away as my subconscious in overdrive due to fatigue," Laura says, "but I choose to ignore the logical and just believe."

Laura will run this year's Broad Street Run, sponsored by Independence Blue Cross, with her mother's angel pinned over her heart. She will also wear a custom T-shirt with a photograph of her and her mother in the hospital bed.

"So many things are going to flash through my mind over the course of those 10 miles - good memories and heart-aching ones," says Laura.

"But I'll get to hear her again, in spite of the noise from the other runners, the bands, and the crowds on the sidewalks, and that's what I am looking forward to the most."


See full coverage at www.inquirer.com/health_science/ and www.philly.com/broadstreetrun

Contact Michael Vitez at mvitez@phillynews.com or 215-854-5639. On Twitter @michaelvitez

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