In the past three years, marathon mom Brooke Curran has run 49 26.2-mile races in 37 states and on six continents. She has raised and donated over $150,000 to improve conditions in her hometown of Alexandria, Va. And she has done it all while battling exercise-induced bronchospasm (EIB), a form of asthma triggered by vigorous physical activity.
Ten years ago, this extraordinary story had a remarkably ordinary beginning. Before she was running marathons around the globe, Brooke was your typical mom-of-three who laced up her shoes one day and jogged around the block, looking for some alone time. “Honestly, I just needed to get out the house!” she admits.
But then September 11th occurred, leaving the whole nation—and Brooke—reeling. A resident of Alexandria, Va., Brooke was close enough to hear the sonic boom of the airplane crashing into the Pentagon. “That day, I realized life is short,” she says. “You can’t waste any time.”
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Suddenly grasping the fragility of life, Brooke was moved to tackle the items on her bucket list. “I wanted to do things that seemed bigger than me, things that scared me,” she says. “Running a marathon seemed a good place to start.”
After months of training and gradually working her way up from three miles to 26.2, Brooke found herself crossing the finish line of the Marine Corps marathon in October 2004. But the race had only just begun: Soon after, Brooke signed up for another marathon. Then another. And another.
As her running improved and her times got better, though, Brooke was filled with a strange sense of emptiness. “My running suddenly meant less to me. I would cross the finish line and feel anxiety, not accomplishment,” she recalls.
Clearly, something was missing. Driving through an impoverished neighborhood of Alexandria one day, Brooke suddenly found the inspiration she needed. “I realized that things needed to be done in my community,” Brooke says. “I decided I was not going to be that person who drives by and forgets.”
Combining her passion for running with her love of philanthropy, Brooke established the Running Brooke Fund in May 2009, a nonprofit organization that raises money for local charities supporting needy children and families in Alexandria. To raise money and awareness for her organization, Brooke embarked on a personal quest to run a marathon in all 50 states and on all 7 continents—an audacious goal, but one that she was determined not to fall short on.
Wasting no time, Brooke immediately began to tackle marathons across the map. She seemed unstoppable, until one day an unexpected setback struck that sucked the wind out of her—literally.
“I was training on the track, and all of a sudden I experienced this episode of intense burning and pain in my lung,” Brooke recalls. “I could barely breathe.”
Brooke immediately consulted a doctor, who diagnosed her with asthma and exercise-induced bronchospasm (EIB), a disorder that causes the airways to narrow during exercise.
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Initially, Brooke feared the worst. “I thought my running career was over,” she says. “I was afraid I wasn’t going to be able to fulfill my mission, that I wasn’t going to live up to my legacy in life.”
But Brooke didn’t allow asthma to stop her for long. Thanks to a few small changes, she was back up and running in no time. In addition to using a ProAir inhaler—“As long as I have my inhaler, I’m golden,” she says—Brooke employs several preventive strategies to thwart EIB episodes, such as making sure to properly warm up and avoiding certain allergens.
Surprisingly, Brooke’s running times only improved after developing EIB. “I’ve actually run my fastest marathons and half-marathons after my diagnosis,” she says, adding that she won the 2012 Antarctica Marathon in March, a grueling 26.2-mile trek across snow and ice fit for only the most adventurous of souls.
“Running, I get this feeling of floating through the air—a feeling of total mind-body connection to where I almost get chills,” she says. “I want other people to have this same feeling too, of strength and health.”
Hoping to educate people about EIB, Brooke joined the board of the Allergy & Asthma Network/Mothers of Asthmatics (AANMA) in December 2011. “A lot of people have the misconception that you can’t be active with asthma’” she says. “But with proper diagnosis and an inhaler, anyone can lace up their shoes and get out there.”