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Running Inspiration: Heart Attack Survivor Now a Five-Time Marathoner

In 2004, Elizabeth Maiuolo was working as a translator in Philadelphia when she suffered a heart attack. She was just 28 years old. Just as frightening? Her doctors had no explanation to offer.

Now, at age 36, she’s a five-time marathoner who will toe the start line of her fourth consecutive New York City Marathon on Sunday, November 6. What’s behind this transformation? Maiuolo thinks it’s running, and her doctor agrees.

“My doctor said that I’ve made a full recovery,” says Mauiolo, who’s now a manager for Team in Training. “He said most people don’t ever fully recover and they don’t recover as fast as I did. He actually admitted that it was the running that did it. But it took a lot for him to say it out loud.”

Maiuolo and her doctors had been at odds when it came to her treatment. The medication she was prescribed following her heart attack (ACE inhibitors and beta blockers) made her feel dizzy and she was resistant to having open heart surgery. “I realized I was going to be a heart patient for the rest of my life and I just thought ‘I can’t live like that.’”

So, against her doctors’ orders, she decided to start running. Why running? “I don’t know how the idea of running came into my head, but I figured if I could run, my heart would be healthy.”

Starting A Habit
She started with a half-mile of running on the treadmill. “It felt really boring, and I would get tired, and I was also a little bit scared about what I was doing. It did get easier because I started running outside,” says the Buenos Aires, Argentina, native. “I was getting distracted by the streets, the people, and the scenery. I was running maybe a mile a couple times a week for the first month.”

In time, the miles made her feel more confident: “When you have some kind of event like that, you lose control of what’s happening with your body. It’s hard to feel like you have a grasp on what’s happening. After I started running, I started feeling a lot stronger, a lot healthier not just physically but also emotionally.

“When I did my first race in 2006, the New York City Half-Marathon, I cried the last two miles. I was coming from being really scared that I could die at any moment and two years later, I was finishing a half-marathon. That kind of stuff really changes the way you feel about yourself because you see that you can push through.

“I tell people, ‘No matter how hard it is, it does get easier and it definitely pays off.’”

Read more of Elizabeth’s story

Photo: Courtesy of New York Road Runners