Finding hope through marathon running

Gregory Warner Nov 25, 2011

Tess Vigeland: It’s easy to get lost in numbers when you look at unemployment in this country. But really — it’s about individuals who have to hold it together when the thing that they used to spend most of their waking hours doing is no longer there. And neither is the paycheck. Everyone has their own coping mechanism, but more and more Americans are turning to running in this stagnant economy.

Today we have the story of one woman who’s getting back on her feet by getting back on her feet.

Hard work

Laura Pizzuto, outside: OK, we can start jogging.

Pizzuto: When I lost my job in December, I did get more serious about running. I’ve had more time to devote to it, fortunately! And I’ll be running my first full marathon this November, in Philadelphia.

My name is Laura Pizzuto and most of my career I’ve worked in finance. I graduated college in 2003 and I basically just took the first job I could find. I knew someone that could get me a job at a mortgage company.

I was a processor. I was a post-closer, a closer, I applied for other positions in the company. But unfortunately that wasn’t possible. Our company had downsized, and then we were sold.

Running is something that I didn’t have so much trouble succeeding at. My hard work paid off, which, my hard work did not pay off at a lot of my jobs. You know, promotions, raises were not available. Running was. Running, I put a lot of hard work in, and then I became faster.

Homeless Shelter

Pizzuto at Sheila Dennis House: It’s 5:30 at Sheila Dennis House, and we already have some members waiting. Good morning, ladies!

I wake up very early in the morning to go to a homeless shelter in North Philadelphia. It’s called Sheila Dennis House. I volunteer for a program called Back on My Feet. I’m at every run, I’m greeting everybody. We do have a coach on the team, but if they’re not there I lead them through stretches.

Pizzuto: How many jumping jacks should we do today? Let’s do 15! One, two, three…

I run with a large group of large personalities, and I’ve just really developed some great friendships with all of them. Our team captain, her name is Dawn.

Dawn Estelle Garrett: My name is Dawn Estelle Garrett. I became homeless in October. I started running with Back on My Feet in December. My running joke is I run for the ice cream truck. The ice cream truck! Well, it’s a joke.

No, Dawn was not a runner.

Garrett: I was 289 pounds at one point!

I’m not sure what Dawn weighs now.

Garrett: 170? I’m in shape now. I’m toned, um, I actually can run now!

Dawn ran her first 5K in Wilmington, Del.

Garrett: I ran for two miles straight. Then I got weak. I wanted to give up.

It’s a challenging course! Wilmington is pretty hilly.

Garrett: And the finish line was all uphill. And I’m like, no way. And my teammates were cheering.

We ran the whole 5K around Dawn. And she talks about when she runs that she needs to hear the “Rocky” theme song.

Garrett: The “Eye of the Tiger?” That song?

We started to sing it to her.

Laura and Dawn sing “Eye of the Tiger”

Garrett: I’m like all right, yeah! And I’m thinking of the music in my head, and I’m like all right, all right, all right. I can do it. I can do it. And it was um, beautiful! I crossed the finish line, I had tears in my eyes. Because I normally start things, but I never finish them. Like jobs, I’ll start a job and then I’ll become dissatsfied with it. And I’d just be like, “I’m moving on to the next thing, I don’t want to do that,” you know? But I don’t want to give up and be defeated. I’m just going to keep on forward. I want to complete some things in my life.


Pizzuto at her mother’s house: We’re in the computer/guest room of my mother’s house, where I do my job searching. Their computer is a lot faster than my laptop.

I’m looking mostly on I didn’t care so much about those finance jobs. It wasn’t a fulfilling career. And I really want to do something that I believe in.

OK so this position is actually, it’s a part-time case manager to victims of domestic violence.

With every job I always, there’s always something where I have to stretch a little bit. I do have a bachelor’s degree. I’m not proficient in Spanish. I don’t have prior case-management experience. Some experience working in domestic violence issues? I haven’t worked in them, but I do have a sensitivity to that.

 So this position I think I can definitely give them a shot. I’ll start working on my cover letter.


Uncertainty is, um, it’s a worry of mine. What if my mother loses her job again and I can’t live here? And I have these thoughts, especially during my long runs. I had a half marathon two weeks ago and I had just an amazing, amazing run. I had a PR, a personal record. I broke two hours by six seconds, very dramatic. I have my medal here. You can hear it clanging!

I feel really emotional. I just never thought that I would be able to do that, be able to run that fast!

And I always say if you looked at my situation on paper, it’s not great. I’m laid off, I live at home. OK, a finance person, they looked at me, my loan application they would just reject. But I just feel so much more alive. And I just had these deep thoughts as I was running, you can really do anything. You may not feel like that all the time, but if you really want something, you’re making it happen. You’re making it happen right now. You just feel unstoppable.

Vigeland: Marketplace’s Gregory Warner produced our story. Last weekend, Laura finished the Philadelphia Marathon in four hours, 40 minutes and 26 seconds. She’s still job hunting, but meantime she’s also applying to graduate school to earn a master’s degree in social work.

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