Hi! My name is Clara Santucci. I am excited to introduce myself to you as part of a new WVU Medicine Cabinet series. Every Friday for the next few weeks, I will be writing about a unique and wonderful opportunity. On Saturday, Feb. 13 – at 10:22 am, to be exact – I will start running the streets of Los Angeles with nearly 200 other women for 26.2 miles.

I am describing the 2016 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. Within the last year and a half, these women and I have qualified to compete for three spots on the women’s U.S. Olympic Marathon Team in Rio de Janeiro, and it will all be determined on this one day.

In the weeks leading up to this big race, I will be sharing my journey with you and why I think it is so important for everyone to be on a journey that allows them to dream big and live a healthy lifestyle. Before I go further, here is a little background on me.

I was raised in rural West Virginia, with my two brothers and three sisters. My upbringing has a lot to do with why I feel so strongly about health, exercise, working hard, and believing in yourself. Through raising a garden, keeping chickens, and cutting wood for the stove that heated our home, my family worked hard for what we had. Living in the country and being homeschooled until fifth grade, I spent a lot of time playing outside. I eventually discovered that all of this activity, the work I did with my family, and the encouragement of my parents to think about my future and dream big were the ingredients for the recipe of becoming a distance runner.

I began running competitively in seventh grade, and over the years, I grew from an average middle school runner to a world-class marathoner, with help from wonderful coaches and other people I’ve met. With steady progress through high school, I was recruited by Sean Cleary, WVU cross country and track coach. He didn’t bring me to WVU for my fast times but for my determination and desire to improve. I began to develop into the runner and person I am today under his guidance. I graduated from West Virginia University with a degree in exercise physiology, earned four All-American honors in Cross Country, Indoor Track, and Outdoor Track, two individual conference championship wins, three top 10 team finishes at the D1 NCAA Cross Country Championships, and many other athletic and academic achievements.

I debuted on the world’s biggest stage for marathon running at the 2011 Boston Marathon, becoming the fastest American female debutant in the distance for age 25 and under, at barely 24 years old by running 2:29:54. Since then, I’ve been ranked top 10 by Track and Field News every year I have run a marathon, been a two-time Pittsburgh Marathon champion, and had many other great experiences. The Olympic Trials experience is the one I look forward to the most, but only one of many more healthy experiences I hope to have in my life.

With the support of WVU Medicine, I am so thankful to be able to share with you, in the next few weeks, my journey to the Olympic Trials Marathon and my passion for the health and wellness of West Virginians.

Video provided by Prim Law.