Meet the finalists! Inspiration abounds from the runners who round out the top-10 picks from our September issue cover athlete contest.
Want to find out who won? Meet the winner here!
Nate Martin, 29, Spokane, Wash.
A decade ago, Martin tipped the scales at more than 300 pounds and admits that he couldn’t even run a mile. He recognized that a change was needed. Fast forward to 2017 and he has marathons as well as a half and full Ironman under his significantly slimmer belt. What started as a lifestyle change, complete with diet and treadmill time, has blossomed into Martin’s passion. “I still remember the day I ran my first mile without stopping. I was so proud and amazed at myself that I had to call my mom and dad. That moment got me inspired to start running outside. It became cathartic and challenging at the same time.”
Berkley Cameron, 44, Chicago
A competitive runner since the eighth grade, Cameron ran the 400-meter in college before going on to run in 25 marathons. She considers herself a cheerleader for her training partners. For the last seven years, she’s been volunteering with Alive and Running, a program that helps shelter dogs exercise and become more acclimated to being around people. “Many dogs in shelters show kennel frustration and anxiety, which makes them look less adoptable. Not only am I helping the dogs, but they are helping me to stay healthy and relieve stress. I also get unlimited doggy kisses.”
Cheyenne Meyer, 24, Houston
Meyer doesn’t want the focus to be on her. Or about how she was hit by a car last year while training for a triathlon, which left her in a wheelchair for more than a month. She wants others to know that there are amazing athletes she races with as a guide. “I have been working with athletes with all disabilities since early 2016. I saw a friend of mine was guiding a blind runner and wanted to get involved. I am motivated by the visually impaired athletes I have the ability to guide in multi-sport training and I am motivated by every person who ever told me I don’t ‘look’ like a runner.”
J.T. Chestnut, 28, Los Angeles
Running has been a sanctuary for Chestnut. Whether it was running away—literally—from foster care or coming to terms with his decision to come out to his family, he has used his miles to constantly move forward. He likes to run marathons, half marathons and sometimes “country roads” when he’s back in his home state of North Carolina. “After years of healing time and being away from my family, we all forgave each other for the hurtful things we did to each other. They are my biggest supports in my running and I love them dearly. Life is too short to run away from those we love.”
Jesica D’Avanza, 35, Tampa, Fla.
D’Avanza grew up with a love of running (and a father who was a collegiate cross-country coach) and has gone on to participate in eight marathons, 12 halfs and two half Ironmans. She works with the Muscular Dystrophy Association by day and has a coaching business and running website (runladylike.com) by night. “I’m a new mom trying to juggle parenting, family, work, marathon coaching and life while creating the strongest and best version of myself. My husband and I are also on a quest to visit all 59 national parks, so I love running in the parks every chance I get when we travel.”
Arturo De La Cruz, 35, Bedford, Texas
Four years into his sobriety with alcoholism, De La Cruz describes himself as a lost soul who’s found his home on the trail. He credits his family and trails with holding him together. Though he enjoys obstacle-course racing, he says he’s building his endurance and hopes to complete an ultramarathon. “Trail running helps me in my sobriety by giving me a place I can ‘run to’ instead of to alcohol or a bar when things get tough or I need to clear my head. Addiction is a disease that never goes away, but now my addiction is trail running that will happily be with me the rest of my life.”
Sherise Williams, 26, Philadelphia
Williams has had to battle asthma her entire life. “I run to breathe.” Though she only started running in 2013, she’s already done a couple of marathons and a handful of half marathons. And through running, she’s beaten back the asthma that had cursed her for so long. “It was not easy at first. But after a few months I could run without stopping or needing my inhaler. When I went for my annual asthma check-up (in 2014), I had a near-perfect breathing test—the first near-perfect test since I was diagnosed as a toddler. I didn’t intend for running to be the solution to my breathing issues. But I’m certainly glad it was.”
Steven Dalcher, 47, Albany, Ind.
During his medical discharge from the Army, Dalcher put on weight while coping with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Running became his avenue for a healthier body and a clearer mind. He’s doing his first full Ironman in October and credits his fiancée as his biggest motivator and supporter. “Running in the Army was a necessity. It had to be done. It was rarely enjoyable. Now I love to run. It is exhilarating to see how far I’ve come and how much further I want to. Running has become my life reborn. I want to share with other veterans with disabilities how it has rejuvenated my broken body and mind.”
Eric Mahler, 35, Wentzville, Mo.
Mahler didn’t run his first 5K until 2014. That was after his wife, Sarah, was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. He ran in the Head for the Cure—posting a time of 43 minutes. Disappointed that his effort “didn’t honor” Sarah, he worked just as hard as she did in physical therapy and has dropped his PR to 21:01. “She had to relearn to walk two times that year. Now she runs with me and we motivate each other. I see her around the bend of the track and I can’t stop because she doesn’t. We have three young children, so the track allows us to work out together while still being able to keep an eye on the kiddos.”