August 8, 2022

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(Newser) – It’s a piece in Runner’s World, so of course it’s about running. But...


It’s a piece in Runner’s World, so of course it’s about running. But it’s just as much about the life Connie Allen (born Schlesinger) escaped, and how running helped her find her footing once she was out. Allen grew up in Brooklyn’s South Williamsburg neighborhood as part of an ultra-Orthodox sect of Hasidic Judaism called Satmar. David Alm writes of what life looked like from childhood growing up in a family that “was severe even by Satmar standards.” She wore traditional clothes that exposed only her hands and feet; the family spoke only Yiddish; sugar was not allowed; once she turned 12, her father would no longer look at her or speak to her directly. But Allen rebelled: by listening to the radio or brushing her teeth on Shabbos—both forbidden. To get away from her family, she asked to be married off, which happened at 17.

Her husband had a “rebellious streak” as well, but the marriage wasn’t a love- or happiness-filled one. After giving birth to a son at 19, Allen started exercising at the local YMCA (in both leggings and a long skirt on top) to lose pregnancy weight, and built up to jogging for a few minutes at a time. At 21 she divorced and left her community, taking her son with her. Her YMCA sessions ended; she started partying with her roommate (who was in a similar situation) when their children were with their dads. In 2013 she hit bottom, and went back to the gym, where a runner she met invited her to do a Valentine’s Day 5K. The running stuck: Allen has since completed marathons but started working with a coach who noted her “explosive speed”: a 5:35 mile in 2015, plans to break 1:04 in the 400 this summer. It’s a long way from the girl who was told as a child that marathoners would “break their legs, or faint, or die the moment they crossed the finish line.” (Read the full story.)

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