In March of 2011, Elena Frederick’s days of running high school cross country and track at Frankfort High School were way behind her. She had two children, her weight had climbed to 210 pounds, and she didn’t think there was any time to work in an exercise program.
But then her doctor, Heather Dukes, diagnosed her with diabetes. Doctor’s orders were clear: change your diet and get some exercise.
On Dukes’ recommendation and with support from her husband Rob, she joined the Monroe County YMCA. She started a diet heavy in vegetables. She started working out modestly—walking one lap, then two, inside the Y.
In October of 2012, some 18 months later, she finished the Chicago Marathon, running every step of the way. It’s been a journey with a lot of ups and one very steep down.
On the road to health
Shortly after she joined the Y, her walking built to 30 minutes around the indoor track. Then, she worked up to running a mile. With John Rae, a colleague from work, she started running outside around Winslow Park. One big hilly lap; then two; then three.
Dr. Duke made a suggestion.
“She told me I should join the YMCA endurance group run by Margie Kobow,” Frederick said. So she did.
“She’s really awesome. She taught me everything,” Frederick said, including a lot about exercise but also about sports nutrition. Her mileage started to increase.
‘The most devastating news’
On Aug. 15, 2011, her phone rang at 6 a.m. The news was bad.
Her brother, Juan Jr. Guajardo, had died at her parents house in Frankfort. The cause was a prescription drug overdose.
“It was the most devastating news,” she said. It wasn’t a total surprise. She had talked to him a year earlier about his lifestyle, she said. But it was still heart-wrenching.
“He was one of those people that was impressed with the smallest things,” she said. “He was amazed I could run a mile in 10 minutes.” Though that was satisfying to her, too, she remembered her high school days when she could break 6 minutes.
She said after his death her thoughts while running were all about him.
“I know it sounds strange, but I was hoping when I was running the marathon I could get closer to him,” she said.
She kept extending her distance with a goal of running a marathon, although she expected to do so on Monroe County’s roads on a day off from her job in the bakery department at Kroger. But Erin Baldomero from her running group was going to Chicago and had an extra ticket, so she went. She’d never been in a race longer than a 10K.
“The crowd was awesome,” she said. She said her goal was just to finish the race, which she did in a time of 5 hours, 22 minutes.
“I took my time and had a great time,” she said. She said her friends followed their plan of running and walking the 26.2 miles, but she thought: “I’m just going to run it. They were impressed that I ran the whole thing without walking.”
She’s grateful to Baldomero, Teresa Kase and Elizabeth Wells, who paid for the trip to Chicago. Without them, she wouldn’t have been able to go; she said she and her husband are on a very tight budget and shop and volunteer at Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard.
Her running friends helped her reconnect with one family member and memorialize another.
Her youngest brother, Daniel, came to Chicago to support her, making the day even more special. She ran with her other brother’s name, Juan Jr. Guajardo, written on a banner worn under her runner’s number. She pointed to it when she crossed the finish line.
Pride and inspiration
Frederick, 32, and now 158 pounds, is proud of what she’s done. It has helped her cope with Juan Jr.’s death and reconnected her to a healthier time in her life.
She’s now enrolled in a “boot camp” at the Y and hopes to run the Louisville half marathon in 90 minutes. She also wants to lose 30 more pounds.
Her lifestyle changes have helped her in a number of ways.
“I’m overall just happy,” she said. “I mainly do it because I feel good afterwards.”
It’s helped others, too. Rita Taylor nominated Frederick to INstride.
“As a sales rep calling on Kroger, I have seen Elena transform before my eyes every month,” she wrote. “Wow! She looks great and inspires me. The amazing thing too is she works in the bakery. So tempting to around all those sweets, but she has stuck to her goals.”