Last year, Laura Sosalla became legally blind after contracting COVID-19. She knew this would drastically change her life, but she was determined to prove to herself that despite the changes she would go through, she could still maintain her identity.
Her first challenge was running a marathon. Needing some help, she contacted Rachael Bentley of United Stride, an organization that pairs runners with visual impairments with guides.
With many road closures, we suggest @MetroTransit to everyone for the @Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon Weekend of Events! Athletes: Must wear your bib. Free rides on Green & Blue Light Rail. Spectators: Purchase $5 Visitor Pass, unlimited rides on Metro Transit buses and lines. pic.twitter.com/BgF5dgSZRi— Twin Cities In Motion (@tcmarathon) September 26, 2021
“I can still do the same things. I can still be the same person,” Laura said.
Rachaelr couldn’t have agreed more and was happy to be her guide. The two of them started running together to train for the Twin Cities Marathon that would take place October 2, 2021. They were joined by Laura’s neighbor, Laura Brennan, and Rachael’s sister, Natalie Elmore.
By the time the race came around, Laura’s training group was closer than ever. Rather than having just one guide, all three of Laura’s new friends decided to participate by taking turns leading her through the course.
Laura’s journey to the marathon was full of ups and downs, and she couldn’t have done it alone. To thank the people who helped her get to where she is today, she and a friend, Jen Merth, created a shirt displaying several of their names, one for each mile of the race, which Laura donned on the big day.
Over the last few months, I’ve logged more than 50 miles with these women. The whole experience has been one of community & encouragement.— Lindsay Guentzel (@LindsayGuentzel) October 3, 2021
Sosalla (in pink) met Bentley through @UnitedInStride and recruited her sister Elmore (in blue). Brennan (in black) is Sosalla’s neighbor. pic.twitter.com/mikZCGs3Lu
“I know I’m extremely lucky,” Laura said. “The outpouring of support, the outpouring of love was overwhelming. Like even to this moment, I can’t fully grasp the level of generosity and kindness.”
As Laura made her way through the course, she could hear and feel the love of those around her. At one point, her mom was on a bicycle nearby with bells in hand. Then at the halfway mark, friends gathered with bullhorns to give her the boost of energy she needed. Laura’s stepdad was even able to get some college students to cheer her on as she passed.
Everything went so well, despite some hiccups along the way. Laura had to take an unexpected break, and in doing so, she met Rachael’s former track coach, Kimberly Horner. Thanks to this chance encounter, Kimberly was able to give her a protein bar, which provided Laura with the strength she needed for the last 6 miles.
The entire experience was incredible, but one of her top moments was the last mile. Nearing the end of the race, all three of Laura’s training buddies joined her as she neared the finish line they had worked so hard to reach.
Together, they helped Laura finish her 5 hour, 38 minute run. This wasn’t the goal she’d set for herself, but she didn’t mind. She even believes the race was “oddly parallel to what life has been.”
“And maybe that’s what it was supposed to be, you know?” Laura added. “Maybe instead of breaking five [hours] and having this eloquent, graceful race, maybe it was supposed to be all that other stuff because that’s kind of the reality of what life is.”
Although Laura isn’t planning on taking on another marathon, she does want to sign up for shorter races and hopes to get even more friends and family members involved. Not only because she loves a challenge, but also because running has helped with her eye problems.
“Something I’ve noticed when I run is that my eyes improve and they start to feel better,” she said. “My guess is it’s because there’s more blood flow getting to them.”
Whatever the case, one thing Laura knows for sure is that this marathon gave her the push she needed in her long fight with COVID-19. The illness has taken a lot from her, but she’s ready to let the past go and focus on her future.
“What I feel right now is really — it’s like COVID is behind me,” she said. “The marathon took on this massively huge symbol or metaphor, and I love that it’s behind me. I feel a lot of relief that … like now, I can move on. … I’m done fighting you, COVID. I’m just gonna live my life.”
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