Editor’s note: All this month leading up to the Marine Corps Marathon, WTOP’s Jamie Forzato is bringing you stories of runners who have endured loss, persevered through personal struggles and found hope.
ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Brooke Sydnor Curran used to be a pack-a-day smoker.
But after college, she started making healthier choices and turned to running as a way to unwind.
“I had to run for some peace and quiet. To call something my own,” the Alexandria native said. “It made me a better mom. It made me a better person.”
Then, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks happened.
“Until 9/11, I felt like life was leading me. I felt like I hadn’t really gone after stuff that I wanted in life. And 9/11 kind of shocked me into the precarious and fragility of life,” she recalled.
She wrote a bucket list. Running a marathon was at the top. Her first was the Marine Corps Marathon in 2004.
“I got really good. But the ironic thing was, the better I got, the less it meant to me,” she said. “I would train for four, five, six months and then feel nothing at the finish line. No sense of accomplishment, only emptiness. Like, ‘Okay. I crossed the finish line, again. Why? What now? Who cares?’”
That’s when an encounter changed her life forever. She was driving in Alexandria on a rainy, cold February day, when she saw a young mother pushing a child in a stroller weighted down with grocery bags.
“Our eyes met. You could just see and feel the heaviness and the weight of the world on her shoulders. It was like a second lightning bolt moment. I realized that I’m in a position to do something,” she said.
She founded RunningBrooke, a nonprofit that renovates playgrounds in Alexandria neighborhoods where most of the children are younger than 5.
She pledged to run in all seven continents and all 50 states to raise money and awareness.
“Antarctica was ridiculous, in a terrific way. That was 40 mile-per-hour sustained winds and sleet. We were running in mud,” she recalled.
Fast forward seven years, RunningBrooke has helped more than 5,000 children. The Hume Springs Park playground on Dale Street was her most recent project.
“Before we came, there was a 10-foot-high chain link fence that surrounded the park. It had a very prison-like feel. The lighting wasn’t good. There were no trash cans or benches. There was no water fountain. There were no picnic tables. There were no trees and plants,” she said.
Today, it’s a clean, updated space filled with Virginia-native plants and flowers.
Brooke’s journey is coming full circle. The Marine Corps Marathon was her first marathon. This year’s Marine Corps Marathon, scheduled for Oct. 30, will be her 100th.
“We have 100 runners on our team fundraising for Alexandria. That’s going to help make sure all kids have a park. All kids can feel the joy of being outside,” she said. “You think about the kids that you’re helping and that makes it all worthwhile for me.”