Brooke Malek uses her faith to guide her in many aspects of her life, including exercise. 15 years ago she felt called to run.
She began by using a treadmill and then met some friends who taught her how to run outside. From there, she began forming friendships around running and support for running. As people were training for races and marathons, Brooke would run and train with them, even though running a marathon wasn’t ‘on her bucket list.’
About six years ago, Brooke stopped running due to personal reasons. It was difficult to lose something that made her feel so great, but she struggled to find the right way to begin again. She bought a treadmill to motivate herself, friends would ask her to come and run with them again, and help them train but she just couldn’t find it in herself to go.
Earlier this spring, friends of hers encouraged her once more to begin running again. They reminded her that she had healed from her past trauma and that she could do this. The advice they gave was to start by setting a goal. Brooke decided to set an easy goal for herself: on Easter Sunday she was going to get up and go for a run outside. And that was her first outside run. She says it was short, but it was great and she felt really great doing it, so she got up the next day.
Soon, she was setting goals for herself each day – one mile, two miles, different paces. During this time, she was running alone, and because her faith is what got her to run in the first place she decided to use that time to pray.
Due to her profession as a school nurse, Brooke is often exposed to sensitive stories that can weigh a person down. During her runs, she is able to talk about the difficult things with God so they don’t weigh her down.
Soon, Brooke ran into two friends that she used to run with years ago. She says she didn’t realize that they were still friends after all this time, and she began running with them two days a week. They both warned Brooke that they were training for a marathon, but because she had trained for marathons before that didn’t phase her at all. Her friends shared their training plans with Brooke, and she began following them so she could keep up with them during their runs together.
About six weeks ago, one of these friends became injured. Because they were running buddies and would only run together, they both dropped out of the marathon. Brooke was still having fun, and was almost at peak weak in the schedule and decided to continue to train even though she wasn’t committed to running the marathon. Her friends told her that if she continued to train, she should run the marathon. At first, Brooke was hesitant but decided that if she hit certain training milestones she would sign up. As she hit those milestones, she signed up knowing that her friends wouldn’t be joining her.
One day, she had a really hard run and decided to use that time to talk to God about her “why.” He gave her the word ‘resilience’ as her “why.” He showed her a picture of her past, the hard things she had overcome, and even the disappointment she experienced when her friends dropped out of the marathon.
As a school nurse, and even in her day-to-day life, Malek feels she helps people find their resilience to overcome hardships. Brooke says on her run, God showed her all of the people that she carried with her while she runs, and students, friends, and community members that she has helped champion to build resilience.
One Thursday morning she was supposed to run 10 miles fast and 13 miles total, and she only got 6 fast miles in. She says she felt like a failure and started to ask herself why she continued to do this, and He reminded her that she wasn’t alone and that she has resilience and shares that with others.
That was when she had the idea of drawing on her legs. Different people in her life, from students to friends and family, could draw on her legs to represent struggles, trauma, or battles they have fought or are fighting. This way Brooke could carry those things with her as she ran.
At first, she wasn’t sure if it was a good idea or not, but after asking a student their opinion, she knew it was exactly what she wanted to do. The student said that it was “the coolest thing on the planet,” and that it meant a great deal to her, and she wanted to be the first to write on Brooke’s legs.
As she went around and had people draw on her legs, tears, laughter and stories were shared. Malek was excited to race and had all of her plans in place.
At 5:23 in the morning on Sunday, Oct. 1, a message was sent out by the marathon organizers that due to the heat, the marathon was canceled. “I was spinning out of control,” Brooke said. After training for so long, it was a major disappointment to hear that the event was canceled.
The night prior to the race, Brooke stayed with a friend in the cities and had only brought her race clothes with her, so that morning, she had no choice but to put those clothes on.
They ate breakfast together, and her friend asked what she wanted to do. Other people were posting on social media that they were going to run regardless of the cancellation, and Brooke felt that she wanted to run anyway, but wasn’t sure if she had it in her. She was planning on utilizing the aid stations throughout the race to help sustain her run, and without those in place she wasn’t sure she could do it.
After breakfast, Brooke felt like she just needed to move, and asked her friend to go for a walk with her, and told her to pick the location of the walk.
Her friend brought her to the race site. Even if she didn’t want to complete the 26.2 miles, or even run at all, she felt that it would be important to go to the site of the race.
They began their walk and noticed right away there were runners everywhere. They walked for a little while, and when Brooke saw a band playing music along the route, she knew she had to start running. “My ‘why’ is resilience, what am I doing waddling and being sad about this being canceled? Look at all of these runners, I’m a runner, and my ‘why’ is resilience,” and with that, she took off running.
Brooke told her friend to meet her in an hour to bring the rest of her running supplies like water and fuel but wasn’t sure if she was going to continue running or not. When she met with her friend, she decided to keep going and said to meet her again in about three miles.
At that three-mile mark, her friend was waiting with the sign she had made to cheer Brooke on, and she again decided to keep going.
Brooke’s plan was to keep running and then call either her friend or her kids to pick her up when she felt she was ready to stop. During the run, she called her kids three times, and her friend two times, to pick her up, but each time found the resilience to keep going.
Another friend of Brooke’s happened to live right at the 24-mile mark, and her plan shifted to stopping there. When she got there, her kids were there with signs cheering her on, and they were having a block party, and she decided to keep going.
All along the route, Brooke ended up running with more than a dozen runners and got to know their stories. One runner, a 16-year-old girl, was running because her mom who had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis used to be an avid marathon runner but couldn’t any longer. Brooke didn’t have a marker on her but told the girl to ‘virtually’ draw on her legs.
Because the race wasn’t sanctioned, and Brooke didn’t run it the way she had planned, she didn’t follow the same type of pacing she would have had the event gone on as normal. Her pacing changed with each person she chose to run with. She ran some 15-minute miles, and some eight-minute miles depending on the runner she was with. Had the race gone as planned, she wouldn’t have been able to meet those other runners and learn their stories of resilience.
The race being canceled was a disappointing blow, but many people chose to run anyway. Not only did many runners show up, but spectators and even people driving in cars going up and down the route to cheer runners on turned out. Resilience was shown throughout the day in all forms, and for Brooke, it was a true full-circle moment.