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Boston Strong

Featured Photo from Boston Strong

For this Winter Springs marathoner – who just completed her third-straight Boston Marathon – running is therapy, charity, and camaraderie all in one.

Some of Stefanie Shimansky’s friends think she’s a bit crazy, and she won’t deny it. How else could you explain a young woman who has run 13 marathons – that’s more than 340 total miles – despite claiming that she doesn’t like running? In fact, when Stefanie was a basketball player at Winter Springs High School, running was the part of practice she dreaded the most.

“Ten years ago, I never thought I’d be doing this,” says Stefanie, 29, a virtual personal assistant and former Winter Springs High basketball coach who lives in Tuscawilla. “I played basketball. Running [at practice] was my punishment. I’m still in touch with two of my high-school coaches, and they still shake their heads – they can’t believe that I’m a runner. They say, ‘You were the first one to roll your eyes when we made you run!’ And now, I choose to run.”

Running, though, is only part of Stefanie’s new passion. Since she began running in 2011, Stefanie has raised more than $23,000 for various charities. This past April, she ran the prestigious Boston Marathon for the third time and raised more than $10,000 for 261 Fearless, a charity with a mission to empower women all over the world through running. Kathrine Switzer started the charity in 2015. Wearing bib number 261, she became the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon in 1967.

Stefanie decided to join the 261 Fearless runners in Boston because of the deeply emotional way she has benefited from distance running and the running community. She spent her childhood years playing basketball and being part of a team, but while she was a student at the University of Central Florida, Stefanie missed that camaraderie.

Stefanie also was in need of a constructive way to deal with her grief. A year before she started running, Stefanie’s best friend died in a car accident – just four days after she called Stefanie to wish her a happy 20th birthday. Six years earlier, Stefanie’s 18-year-old sister Kelly passed away.

About a year after her friend died, during her junior year at UCF, Stefanie saw a sign that was posted by the university’s Recreation and Wellness Center, offering free training for a half marathon.

“I just happened to walk by it,” Stefanie says, “and I thought, ‘Yeah. Why not?’ I was so active my whole life and was always involved in something. I was still playing intramural basketball, but it wasn’t the same satisfaction. Running became a coping mechanism; it became an escape for me.”

After several weeks of training, Stefanie ran her first half marathon (13.1 miles), and a year later, she ran her second             one. Along the way, she also competed in several local 5K (3.1-mile) races.

“I hated it,” Stefanie says of her second half marathon, “and I said I’d never do it again. But I’ve always had a competitive side to me. I’m not a quitter, and I just wanted to keep getting better.”

Stefanie decided to run her first marathon in 2013 only because her older sister Casie had a friend who had an extra charity bib for the New York City Marathon and asked Stefanie if she wanted to tackle the Big Apple race. 

Even if she still doesn’t particularly like distance running, Stefanie has proven to be quite good at it. She had her best marathon time at Boston in 2017, when she completed the 26.2-mile course in three hours and eight minutes, a pace of 7:10 per mile.

In addition to her marathon accomplishments, Stefanie has also completed five consecutive Dopey Challenges at Walt Disney World. Each year, the grueling event has runners competing in four races in four days: a 5K on Thursday, a 10K on Friday, a half marathon on Saturday, and a full marathon on Sunday, for a total of 48.6 miles.

To up the ante this year, Stefanie did what’s called the Dead Last Start at the Dopey Challenge marathon. People made pledges to donate a certain amount to 261 Fearless for every 10 runners who Stefanie passed, after she started the race dead last. She ended up passing 75 percent of the field’s 20,000 runners.

“Running has truly changed my life,” Stefanie says. “It really is a judgment-free zone. Nobody cares about your time or what you look like. Nobody cares if you’re at the back of the pack. Everybody is trying to do their best, and they all have the same goal of trying to cross the finish line in the best time they can.”

And if she can inspire others to follow suit, that’s the best part.

“The most rewarding thing is when a friend says, ‘I started running or working out because of you,’” Stefanie says. “If I can make a difference in even one person’s life, that’s all that matters.”

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