For years, Brooke Sydnor Curran was like most competitive runners.
In fact, she didn't just run; she raced.
When Curran laced up her shoes, she set out to be faster than anyone else on the course — and sometimes just faster than her previous self.
"I ran for time, and I became pretty good," said the mother of three daughters. "It got to where I would win or place high in my age group in most races."
But something interesting began to happen at the finish line of each race. The more success she had against the clock, and the faster she ran, the less she enjoyed it.
"The more time I put into it, the less it meant to me," said the 44-year-old who lives in Alexandria, Va. "The actual joy of meeting a goal, to win my age group in a major marathon, whatever it was, and I would feel empty at the finish line."
She hadn't lost her passion for running. But competition wasn't reason enough to race. So she decided to see if her sweat and speed could benefit those less fortunate than her.
"I still loved to run, so I decided to marry my passion for running with my passion for the community," she said.
In May of 2009, Curran made a commitment to raise money for five charities that served her local community in Virginia. And she decided she would do it through running. Her goal was ambitious — run one marathon a month on all seven continents and in all 50 states by October 2013.
"I've raised and donated over $150,000 for local charities," said Curran, who formed the RunningBrooke Fund to facilitate helping charities like Girls on the Run, organizations that provide books to underprivileged schools and a group that helps homeless families find self-sufficiency.
Curran will run in the Deseret News Marathon on Tuesday, July 24. The Pioneer Day marathon will be her 49th in her 37th state. (Registration for the Deseret News Marathon, 10K and 5K walk close on Friday.)
Curran said she chose the Utah race because it was unique.
"Some of it was timing, but it also seemed like a cool one to do," she said of the race, which is the oldest marathon in Utah and one of the oldest in the country.
She said racing for other people has enhanced her race-day experience.
"When I am struggling," she said, "I do equate my struggle with putting one foot in front of the other in life. I think about the people I am helping, and it's not a direct parallel, but it gives me strength. If they can survive, so can I. All I have to do is put one foot in front of the other."
At a track workout in July 2009, Curran had an experience that threatened more than just her ability to raise money.
"I was at the track working out," she said. "And I had a burning pain in my lungs. It literally felt like my lung had been left on the track."
She didn't know what the searing pain meant, but she suspected it wasn't life-threatening.
"I knew something was up because once I stopped running, the pain stopped," Curran said. "I had just been to my primary care doctor, and I knew I needed a respiratory specialist."
She was diagnosed almost immediately with asthma and EIB (exercise-induced bronchospasm).
"It was a total shock," said Curran, who said she has relatives who have both asthma and EIB. "I thought my running career was over. One of the things I love most was over. … It didn't occur to me that it was something that could have no play in your life and then all of a sudden have a significant impact."
Curran was prescribed ProAir HFA, and she said it was one of the most critical tools she had to continue.
"That keeps me running," she said of the medication. "I want people to know that this is a very treatable disease, that it doesn't have to get in the way of your goals or your dreams."
She is a member of the board of Allergy and Asthma Network Mothers of Asthmatics and hopes to not just raise money and enjoy her favorite sport, but to raise awareness of symptoms of asthma and the options available post-diagnosis.
Curran started running because she was like most moms — desperate for a few minutes of peace.
"I was in my late 20s and I had three children under five," she said. "I started, literally, just to get out of the house for some fresh air, some peace and quiet and to be alone — even if it was for 20 or 30 minutes. I was painfully slow, but it was the easiest thing for me to do was to buy a pair of running shoes and head out the door."
But her hobby took on new significance after the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001.
"We live right by the Pentagon," she said. "We saw the plane going up (the freeway), and thought, 'That's odd.' And then I sat on the porch with my girls, watching the smoke come from the Pentagon, waiting for my husband to ride his bike home. I started thinking life is really short and really precarious. You have to do the things you want to do, and I thought it was time for me to start doing something. Running marathons seemed like something."
After 48 marathons, she finds running the perfect platform to help those less fortunate, to enhance her own health and inspire those who may face challenges like asthma.
"It's conquering fear," she said. "Hearing that I had EIB scared me. Running a marathon is about not letting fears get in your way, not letting roadblocks get in your way. Just keep at it."3 comments on this story
Curran chose the charities she donates to with her daughters. They include a group that provides books to low-income families and schools, Girls on the Run (which teaches girls the benefits of a healthy lifestyle), Community Lodging (which helps homeless families to find financial independence).
"All of the programs benefit children and families," she said. "I'm proud to be able to make an impact in my community and to help change lives."