February, 2017:

This month we feature runner Heather Rosso.

The following interview is a paraphrasing of a much longer conversation between Windy and Heather. It reflects a symbiosis of their thoughts and impressions from that conversation.

Heather — Tell us a little bit about yourself:

I’m a 46 year old professional, fur-baby momma and lover of all people and activities. I currently live in Reston, VA. I’m a very high energy person. I’m one of those people born unable to sit still. I’ve played and participated in more sports than I can count — softball, basketball, soccer, cycling, track & field, tennis, whitewatering — and the list goes on. I grew up as a dancer in classical ballet from the time I was four years old. Dancing was actually supposed to be my first career. It gifted me with discipline and a threshold for pain and discomfort — it also enhanced the “fighter" within me. I’m most grateful for my dancing background and the rigorous training because it illuminated my strengths, my abilities, my potential — it allowed me to realize that when I had come to a point I felt I could no longer go on I was still able to dig deep and uncover a reservoir of endurance and vitality. It was one of the major ingredients in building me a strong foundation for the rest of my life and the challenges that I would face in activities and life.

Tell us about your running history:

My competitive running started in HS with Track & Field — I was a sprinter (200m, 400m). I never understood the concept of distance running until later in my life — I just thought everything was supposed to be fast with full exertion.

My love for ultra running came about kind of haphazardly. I was healing from a broken rib and feeling very physically restricted. One day I was at REI and I saw a post for the Dogwood Half Hundred (50k) in the George Washington National Forest and I thought to myself that I could hike it in the allowed cut-offs, and at the same time it would comply with doctor's orders to keep my heart rate down — before I knew it I was signed up. Granted, I didn’t finish (got 17 miles) but I found a true love and I was hooked. I was hooked on the people — my kind of people. I never turned back.

Is this when you met the DC Capital Striders:

No, I actually found out about the group later around 2006 — at the time I was working in D.C. I found them online and started doing the weekly runs and the popular Smithsonian run on a regular basis. This is actually where I met Rick (founder of DC Capital Striders), and through Rick learned about the DC Capital Striders “Wolfpack.” It’s an amazing group of people with so much energy and love of the outdoors and the ultra/trail runner mindset. It’s a wholesome and lively group—like I said “my kind of people.”

So share with us some of your history in running and competitions:

I’ve done a handful of Ultras since my first. Some of my favorites were Finger Lakes 50s (NY), Dogwood Half Hundred, which I ran three times, Highlands Sky 40miler (which I DNFd), and Montgomery County CCT 40 miler—that one wasn’t a race, just a spontaneous run with friends. I’ve also run a handful of trail 12ks, 20ks, & 25ks. So my first love is trail running but I haven’t discriminated — I’ve run multiple road 5ks, 10ks, and MCM. These days I primarily stick to trails.

My other passion is triathlons, which I also came to through an injury while training for BRR50. I’ve participated in 18 triathlons thus far. My first one was the Women’s Sprint Triathlon. Most have been open water, but a couple, like the Reston Sprint, have been in-pool. My last major triathlon was the Chicago Triathlon, which is where my accident occurred and disabled me from sports for the next seven years.

Tell us a little more about your accident and how it plays into your history with running:

My accident (2008) was and still is a journey and still sometimes a battle. It is very much like an ultra — I have experienced some extremely dark places while going through the ups and downs of daily physical and mental struggles. I’ve had days so grueling that I’ve wanted nothing more than to give up. I’ve felt every emotion and physical discomfort that the human body can imagine and then some — I’ve been angry, I’ve been sad, I’ve been lonesome, afraid, beaten, bruised, and just plain obliterated. But I would have those few days, combined with an inner fire, that would give me some light, just enough to hold on and continue pushing forward because deep down I knew I could — simply because it was My Choice and that was My strength — My control. Plus I’m just horribly stubborn with a total A Type personality that refuses defeat (laughs).

I had suffered a blow to the face that resulted in major internal injuries that led to a massive infection that ultimately invaded my spine, but it took 7 years for doctors to discover the extent of the damage. As my health steadily decreased and I continued to work with doctors to figure out why, I lost my beloved outlets. My body was too damaged and tired to carry me. There were small segments of time that I was able to pick back up in my running, swimming or cycling again. However, my body would always recoil and I would be sidelined once again. My loss and my struggle was crippling. I was constantly craving for something "Good" again. I was so afraid that this suffering was going to be the rest of my life. And to this day I cannot verbalize the depth of that agony.

This is where being an ultra-runner, triathlete, disciplined dancer all came into play. I dug deep yet again and I chose to Fight. Just like running a 100 miler — you’re out there in the middle of no where with no way out but to keep moving forward through the pain, the fear, the darkness, the not knowing — just one foot in front of the other until you're out of the woods and into the daylight. This is where RAK Run was born.

Tell us more about the RAK run, the inspiration, history, what it means to you and what you wish for it to become in the years ahead:

Through all of my loss, my pain and my devastation I was being equally devastated by the anger and fear and violence I was seeing in the world around me — school shootings, theater shootings, angry politics, people hating and lashing out instead of working together toward a better world. But I felt helpless to even help myself, much less help the world. 

I had reached a point where I was seriously wondering what, if anything, I had left to offer the world. Still the fighter, I decided to take a week off at my birthday to meditate and think through it all, make some sense of it all. I had the epiphany that even if I lost everything, all belongings, all ability to support myself, all physical ability, despite that I could still be kind. And that could be a huge gift to the world. Kindness, at that moment, became my mission. For the first year, I started out putting these tiny cards with Happy sayings on them in all these random places like bathrooms, newspaper boxes, on each step of my apartment building. I did this in secret. It was very personal and very private. It was a constant reminder of the gift that I’d been given. It later blossomed into daily RAKs (Random Acts of Kindness), like holding the door for someone, letting someone go first in line, putting flowers on a person's doorstep. The next year I invited a few friends to join me at the Reston Town Center.

Since then it has evolved into the RAK Run where social goodness runs, walks, skips, dances, cartwheels through town sprinkling the inspirations of Love and Kindness throughout the community. You can practically see and feel the rich colors of affection transmit throughout the city. It’s indescribable. You have to experience it. One of the beauties of the RAK Run is that the mission, the giving of Kindness — The Beauty, the Love the Richness from giving — is by default reciprocal, always giving back to the giver — it is something that should be shared because EVERYONE deserves to feel, witness and experience the depth and intensity of humanity. We’ve sadly lost that somewhere along the way through generations and I believe our world will be a better place if we bleed that kindness back into our world one community at a time.

As of right now, I have quite a few creative ideas that I’m working toward in helping to grow the RAK Run. Of course continuing to get more and more people involved in it and spreading kindness is always first and foremost. I’m also working on doing something in schools. I’d like to see children being more engaged in fostering kindness. Building character. Learning to participate in social activities that lead them to step outside of themselves and to connect with the world around them. I feel strongly that children need to be in touch with love, kindness and gratitude on a daily basis because as we grow it’s so easy to forget or to become complacent. Schools need to be infiltrated with kindness, not violence. We NEED This! We must nurture the souls of our youth to make for better human beings and better communities.

Are there any running accomplishments or races you’re looking forward to in the near future:

I have registered for the Reston Sprint Triathlon and Rosaryville 10k, and am eyeing the North Face 10k, and the BYB series races. I also have some other races I may sign up for in the later part of the year, but they’re still up in the air, pending expenses for my big race.

I have planned two amazing excursions, and one is centered on my major race for the year. In July I’m scheduled to travel to Iceland to compete in the Challenge Iceland Half-Ironman. I can’t wait to swim in a storybook, glacial lake. I’m going to cycle and run through some of the most breathtaking countryside one has ever seen. It’s all going to be so overwhelming and amazing. I’m just thrilled.

After that, I may do the WHM and the fall BYB races. In addition to racing, I’ve planned to visit Venice in December for a week. One thing I have definitely internalized through everything I’ve been through, and that is to thoroughly embrace life and all the opportunities. Keeping these goals in sight keeps me pushing on. In Venice, I plan to completely enmesh myself in the culture and traditions. Life itself is my ultrarun these days, and I’m not concerned with reaching the finish line anytime too soon, just enjoying the experience!

Congratulations Heather Rosso on being nominated the February Member of the Month!