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There was a time when Julie Aresco would sit on her deck and smoke cigarettes and drink coffee for hours at a time. She had suffered a traumatic brain injury in 2010. She wasn’t working anymore. She was miserable.

“The light hurt,” she said Tuesday. “The noise hurt. People annoyed me. I was in a rut.”

One day, waiting for her son at the bus stop, she saw a woman running. Aresco, who lives in Middletown, flagged her down. So, this running thing? Do you do it a lot? The woman was kind and encouraging. The next day, Aresco put on a pair of shoes and ran past two houses on her street before she had to stop, gasping and wheezing. But she ended up running more than five miles that day in 2013. And she hasn’t stopped.

Aresco is one of three friends all moms whose lives were changed by illness or injury. In need of an answer, in need of a way to push on, they all turned to running.

Sharon Reiner of Marlborough has a different story. She fell, unconscious, at the finish line of a 5K race in Niantic in 2014. It was an aneurysm in a blood vessel in her brain. Even with medical treatment, 25 percent of people affected die within 24 hours, and a week later, the mortality rate is 40 percent.

Reiner, 60, was one of the lucky ones; she made a full recovery and running helped. She decided to try to qualify for the Boston Marathon. She tried at the Hartford Marathon in 2015 and didn’t make it. Then she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“I had worked so hard to come back from the aneurysm,” Reiner said. “I said, ‘I can’t do this again.'”

But she did. “Faith, family and friends” she said helped her get through it. Four months after surgery, only a few weeks after finishing radiation treatments, she qualified for the Boston Marathon and on April 17, Reiner crossed the finish line on Boylston Street and the Boston Athletic Association’s famous unicorn medal was placed around her neck.

“I was chasing that unicorn since I got that diagnosis in January 2016,” Reiner said.

April Lionberger of Glastonbury was only 36 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was nursing a 9 month old baby. She started running to make herself feel better after surgery and treatment. Two years ago, the cancer came back. There was more surgery and more treatment. Last year, Lionberger, 41, ran an ultramarathon and a half Ironman triathlon, among other races. This year, her big goals are a 12 hour ultramarathon and the Mount Washington Road Race.

“Running is my escape,” Lionberger said. “Because I always feel like I’m looking over my shoulder for cancer to come back any day now.”

The three are friends. They are my friends. They are mothers Sharon to 26 year old Ben; Julie to three sons, with Marco, her youngest, a sophomore in high school; and April with two sons and a daughter, all under the age of 10.

They are runners.

“I like the challenge,” Lionberger said. “It keeps me thinking about moving forward.”

We are eating lunch on Tuesday. April talked about building a stonewall for her children to remember her by and how she recorded herself reading books for them in case she couldn’t do it. There are tears. Then Julie, typically, says something to make us laugh.

We always laugh.

Aresco and Reiner own multiple cats. They are the cat ladies especially Aresco, who posts at least a photo a day on Facebook of her cats, Fatti and Kracki. Lionberger has chickens.

“April is a mom who reminds me of me when my kids were little,” Aresco said. “I can’t imagine the energy it takes to do what she does. Making cookies. Harvesting eggs (April: “Gathering eggs.”).

“Having chickens, that’s the last thing I would have needed when my kids were little. Chickens.”

“I think about you guys when I’m out with the chickens,” Lionberger said. “You guys love your cats. I love my chickens. They’re four little pets and they have their own personalities. Yes, I’m a chicken lady. I talk to my chickens.”

This is what we do. We run together and talk and take silly pictures of cows and port a potties and each other and post them on Facebook. We run alone, quietly, listening to our breathing and looking at the new leaves on the trees. We run marathons and ultramarathons and compete in triathlons and try to qualify for the Boston Marathon. We all have things going on in our lives, and we push ourselves, some farther than others, some for different reasons than others, to get through another day. We get up early and watch the sun rise. We wear tutus at races. We laugh. We mother our children, no matter how old they are. We talk to our chickens.

We support each other as best we can.

“It’s not something we talk about,” Aresco said.

“I’m definitely scared,” Lionberger said. “Lately, I’ve been extra tired again and I’m like, ‘Oh, God.’ You know. But I get up. I have those goals. Races. Mount Washington. I’m doing an Olympic [distance triathlon]. I’m doing the Try Simsbury run bike paddle [triathlon]. Anchor Down 12 hour [ultramarathon in Rhode Island]. It’s a slow year for me.”

She smiled.

“I was diagnosed in December of 2015,” Reiner said. “It was Christmas Day. I had gone for a run. Took a shower. Found a big honking lump. Invasive ductal cancer.

“When I met the surgeon, I said, ‘I’m signed up for a marathon May 15.’ That was the first question I asked. She said, ‘You’ll be able to do that.’

“I’m grateful. I don’t ever allow me to say, ‘Why me?’ The Angel of Death came knocking twice if it comes a third time, I’m saying, ‘All full up. You gotta try another house.'”

Aresco, 50, was a registered nurse. She went to work the morning of July 21, 2010, and her life changed. She bent over to do something, straightened up and hit her head hard on a cabinet.
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