Gina Terkildsen never defined herself as a runner. She was always active, but it wasn’t a core part of her identity. But when her life took a hard left turn, running helped her redefine who she was — and taught her how to give back.
Like many parents, running took a back seat for Terkildsen after having two kids and maintaining a busy career. With the addition of nursing an injured knee and recovering from a C-section, she found it difficult to run without pain.
In May 2012, her perspective on health shifted entirely when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“The nurses told me that people who are active have a 50% less chance of recurrence,” she recalls. “My kids were 6 and 8 at the time. I felt like I had a bigger reason to get healthy — and stay healthy — for my family. I wanted to be a better example and teach them that if you live a healthy lifestyle, you can overcome anything and prolong the quality of your life.”
After four surgeries, months of recovery time and clearance from her doctors, Terkildsen got the green light to begin running again in September 2013. She promptly circled the perfect event on the calendar to kick off a new running chapter: the Pounding the Pavement for Pink 5K, a race in in Seymour, Connecticut, to raise funds for breast-cancer research and awareness.
With the event just more than a year and a half after her mastectomy, Terkildsen’s goal was simply to finish. But after a friend told her she was the second survivor to cross the finish line (by only 18 seconds), she found a new goal.
“I never thought I was a really competitive person until I started running,” she says. “The next year, my goal was to be the first survivor, and I wanted to come in first by minutes. Thanks to the training I did with MapMyRun, I accomplished that goal.”
She wasn’t done there. After getting inspired by other running moms at her daughter’s gymnastics meets, she decided she would aim for a half-marathon. And she didn’t want to just finish — she hoped to break two hours. So this past September – four and a half years after her diagnosis — she took to the starting line of the Gulf Beach Half Marathon in Milford, Connecticut, and completed 13.1 miles in 2 hours, 1 minute and 1 second.
While she may have missed her goal by a single minute, Terkildsen says she never felt more empowered at her accomplishment. And she doesn’t rule out giving it a second shot, either.
“I need to do another half marathon to try again,” she says. “I want to do the Disney Princess Half Marathon [in Orlando]. I want a medal in the shape of a crown!”
She is also proud to make running a family affair, with her children joining her for runs on occasion, and even racing in local 5Ks alongside her. And they aren’t just any 5Ks.
“We usually try to choose charity 5Ks because I try to teach [my kids] that it shouldn’t just be something for you,” she says. “When I did that first race, I wanted it to be a way to kind of give back. I felt very lucky that I didn’t really have a very hard battle. Mine was a lot easier than many other people I know, so I wanted to do something to give back somehow.”
With these races offering the opportunity to be active while helping those in need, Terkildsen feels it’s a great way to teach her children the importance of being humble. As for advice for those who are coming back to running (or anything else, for that matter) from a cancer diagnosis, her advice is simple: Take it slowly, and give yourself credit.
“We are capable of accomplishing so much more than we give ourselves credit for,” she says. “If you have a goal and you set your mind to it, you really can accomplish anything. Knowing your goal and having a good motivator or reason to do it makes all the difference.”
As for what keeps her moving, she quotes Melissa Etheridge’s song “I Run for Life.”
“That song is my anthem,” she says. “I run for life. I run to keep myself healthy and to stay alive for myself and my children.”