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Deb’s Story: Starting Line Scholarship Helps Woman Make Comeback

Updated: Dec 28, 2021

Since Deb was young, running has been more than just a hobby. It’s a life-long passion.

Not only did the sport help her stay physically active throughout high school, it helped her get into a good college as a first-generation college student. The thrill of competing in events runs through her veins. It gave her the strength to finish several triathlons across the globe, as well as trail racing and her first half marathon in San Francisco right after college.

But five years ago, significant health issues forced Deb to put her passion on pause. Little did she know she was preparing for the hardest obstacle of her life thus far. Deb relocated from state to state, lost all of her belongings, battled mental health issues, struggled to receive the healthcare she needed due to lack of insurance.

“It’s all in your head”

As she struggled to find care, doctor after doctor told her, “Your health issues are all in your head.” Finally, Deb learned she had not one, but two autoimmune diseases. When she moved from Texas to Massachusetts in order to receive specialized care, Deb lived from couch to couch— just short of homeless. Eventually she landed a part-time job, making just enough to rent a room of her own.

A voice on a podcast

Even though she was unable to run for a period of about five years to mentally escape from what was occurring in her life, she did enjoy tuning in to ‘Ali on the Run’ –a blog and podcast—on a regular basis. One day, she heard a voice and a story that would forever shift the life she had become accustomed to. Still I Run’s, Sasha Wolff was featured on the segment to share her story and the mission of the organization. She explained the programs Still I Run offered, specifically the Starting Line Scholarship (SLS).

Startling Line Scholarship (SLS)

The SLS was designed to help people overcome any barriers holding them back from their running and mental health journey. While Deb’s physical health would never be the same, she began to feel good enough to try running again. But there was another hurdle to overcome.

Due to several relocations, a part-time job, and financing her healthcare, Deb was unable to afford the gear and shoes necessary to enjoy the sport. She also didn’t know where to begin.

“I was hesitant to apply for the scholarship at first, and phoned my counselor to discuss the opportunity. I knew I should just give it a shot, but I didn’t know what the outcome would be, but I knew there wouldn’t be an adverse experience and no reason to not just submit the application and simply try,” said Deb.

In early January 2021, Deb received a call from a Still I Run representative. She had been chosen as a recipient and should expect to receive her start-up package in the mail.

After so many hurdles within five years’ time, she knew this opportunity would turn things around for the better.

“That day was the starting line for my comeback journey.”

Shortly after the call, she was teamed up with Coach Pam and received her package in the mail. “Opening the box for my new running shoes was an emotional moment for me. The shoes I had been wearing were so worn that the soles were thin and had absolutely no support anymore.”

Deb’s old shoes!

Over the course of the 10-week program, with Coach Pam’s help, Deb had the opportunity to get back to her passion.

“After being socially isolated due to COVID and my journey with physical and mental health issues, I lost all of the confidence I once had. I knew I needed change. And, I needed someone to be that support for me again, to push, and help me get my stride back. Coach Pam was the person I needed. She took the time to understand my journey and saw my true potential. On days that I had physical therapy or a mental health appointment, Pam emailed to show she cared, and to check-in. I would not be where I am today without her.”

Even though Deb’s training with Coach Pam has ended, the two still connect on a regular basis and have become great running friends.

“My favorite part of the SLS was having a reason to get up, get outside, and run! Each day I took a screenshot of my Strava app. I sent it to Coach Pam to hold myself accountable. I loved having someone to share my successes with.”

So far, Deb has competed in a few virtual 5K runs, but due to her ongoing health issues, she has had to shift to walking while working with a physical therapist.

Deb never gave up on herself

Throughout these challenges, Deb showed her bravery and determination. She sought help and never gave up on herself or her passion. Her example serves as incredible inspiration for everyone in the Still I Run community.

Deb is now working full time as a Director of Outreach at a software company. And she moved into an apartment of her very own.

“I refuse to let my autoimmune disease ruin my life. I will fight through this, and will run for my mental health. My goal is to take the time to heal from my current injury and still participate in the San Francisco half marathon again this fall, virtually of course. After that, the sky is the limit! Still I Run provided me with the opportunity to regain my confidence and has given me the courage to get my life back. If you are someone considering participating in the SLS program, just do it. You will not regret it! To the donors who have made this opportunity possible, thank you from the bottom of my heart.”


By Rose Willson

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