April 21, 2015 | By Kathleen Schassler, The Middletown Press
MIDDLETOWN >> Five years and more than 100 road races have gone by since Julie Cesare suffered a traumatic brain injury at work. Once a nurse, Cesare has been unable to work since that time.
After her 48-year-old brother asked her to stop smoking, Cesare listened. That was three years ago while he was being treated for the lung cancer that killed him and also threatened her sister’s life. They all were smokers. It’s why Cesare started running, she said.
She quit smoking cold turkey, trading in Newport 100s for a pair of sneakers. Without ever training a day, Cesare signed up for a local fun run.
“I was not a runner, not an athlete. I was a smoker,” said Cesare, who since has become a member of an unusual running club in the state.
As a member of Run 169 Towns Society, Cesare has joined a network of several hundred runners with a shared goal of running a race in each and every town in the state. So far, Cesare has collected 103 and counting.
“I’m just getting out there to have fun,” said Cesare, who creates and wears one of her signature tutus in every race. “I want to inspire others.”
Cesare enjoys all the positive energy she gets from the running community, and knows that no matter where she runs a race, Run 169 members will be there.
Last year, she ran more than 80 races, and although the majority are 5Ks, a good portion of the others are 10K and half-marathons. She was training for her first half-marathon when her son, Travis Rock, 24, suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car accident about three years ago.
He has since recovered.
“I ran that year for him,” said Cesare, who already learned that “you come back different,” from a brain injury. “We each struggle from the same issues. I have to learn to accept it to go forward.”
The running goals bring Cesare to towns, “I’d never ordinarily go to,” she said. “In running with these people, you learn everybody has a story, a struggle, a hurdle.”
This year, among many other races, Cesare will run the Cheshire half-marathon on April 26 for Achilles Connecticut.
Achilles International is a not-for-profit organization that partners able-bodied runners with disabled athletes. Rock is also a member and the two often run together.
“Talk about awe inspiring,” said Cesare, of her son who’s teasing “keeps me going.”
The pair ran a 5K to top of Castle Craig in Meriden in January, no easy feat even for the fittest. It’s where they plan to do a majority of training for a June race at Mount Washington, an ultra-steep 7.6-mile race.
Cesare won a lottery spot and plans on “power hiking” it.
“I’ve definitely had my struggles,” said Cesare. “When someone tells me I inspire them, its amazing.”