CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- Athletes spend countless hours preparing themselves for competition. However, all the preparation in the world can't guarantee that an athlete's body will perform at its best when it matters most.
However, when everything does align, it can produce memorable results.
Keira D'Amato has felt awful all week.
"The last few days, I've felt like trash. Like a garbage truck has run me over," D'Amato said.
However, that's only because she ran over the course at the Houston Marathon on Sunday, setting an American record in the process.
With the help of two other runners who kept her on that record pace, D'Amato finished the course in 2:19:12, shaving 24 seconds off the previous record set six years ago.
"There were so many things out of my control, that if things didn't align, I wouldn't have gotten that record that day," D'Amato said. "I just tried to hang on as long as I could. It didn't feel easy. During the race, I really doubted if it was going to happen for me on Sunday or not."
Her Sunday time was some 15 minutes faster than the time she ran in the Olympic Trials in Atlanta nearly two years ago, a result that initially gave her the confidence to intensify her training to make Sunday's achievement possible.
"It's a reminder of how hard I've worked. That race didn't come easy for me, which makes me even more proud sitting here today to say I did it! And I fought for every step, every mile, every whatever. It took everything I had that day to be able to cross the line," D'Amato said.
Still, over the course of 26 miles, it isn't easy to make sure a runner is on record pace.
Her husband and coach gave indications with their shouts of encouragement, but Keira didn't fully know what she had accomplished until the last 100 meters when the finish line and clock came into view.
"I saw the clock and thought, this is gonna happen for me today. But I gotta finish, just get to the finish line. Everything I had left in the tank, I was running on empty. Just to see that clock and think, oh my goodness. There's been a lot of downs along the way, a lot of doubts along the way. It wasn't an easy path. Just to see that and to cross the line, that was really cool," D'Amato said.
Once she got to her phone, there were hundreds of messages, everyone from professional contacts to elementary school friends.
Two others who reached out to her, keenly aware of what she had just accomplished, left words of encouragement and congratulations.
"Right after I finished, the previous marathon holder, Deena Kaster, she called and just said that Joan Benoit Samuelson who won the gold medal in the 1984 Olympics called her the day that she broke Joan's record and passed the torch and said congratulations. So she said this is a tradition and now I'm officially passing the torch to you and congratulations," D'Amato said.
All the phone calls and texts received paled in comparison to the first person who met her at the finish line.
D'Amato's five-year-old son and his handmade sign were just yards beyond the finish line. Both of her children have watched from home during COVID-19, but this time, they had a front-row seat to watch their mom do something no American woman has ever done before.
"It didn't matter if I won or lost that day or if I was dead last or couldn't even finish. That kid really loves me. That's made me such a strong runner and taken the pressure off because my perspective has changed. Hopefully, she can see that the sky is the limit. We can do anything. Women are resilient and we're powerful and it's just really cool that my daughter got to be part of that."
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