COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Inspiring others to step out of their abusive relationships, one marathon at a time.
That's Elizabeth Gray's goal as she aims to conquer 50 marathons in 50 states over the course of the next two years. It's her story of resilience in the face of emotional and physical abuse that is garnering attention from a national magazine – and it begins with her own personal story of domestic abuse.
"There was over 30 physical incidents, 13 police reports, and he was only arrested one time, and that was the day he broke his restraining order," said Gray.
Gray survived her abusive marriage, and left her husband in 2010. Among the countless incidents – she describes being inspired to run a marathon after meeting a New York City marathoner. Her ex-husband laughed at her, telling her she would never run a marathon.
So, she left him. She put her feet to the pavement for her first race four years ago in Wilmington, North Carolina. She described this moment as her "breakthrough" running moment.
"The whole final mile of that 26.2 miles, all I could think about was all the terrible things that had been done and that were said to me during that abusive relationship. When I crossed the finish line I was in an enormous amount of tears. I sat down on a curb and I was crying and I just knew then that I had come through a really bad time, but I also knew then that this was just the beginning.
Since that first marathon in 2012, Gray has run another 19 marathons. She's approaching the halfway point of her goal – to run 50 marathons in 50 states—all while raising awareness about domestic violence through the slogan, "Marathons Against Domestic Violence."
"So many times I tell people why I run, or I wear a sign on my back that says 'Marathons Against Domestic Violence' and it always strikes up conversations."
Now, she's being recognized nationally for her advocacy. She was recently selected as a top ten finalist for Runner's World Magazine's Cover Search. When she watches the announcement video, her reaction is the same every time.
"I was in complete shock, I just couldn't even believe it. I couldn't believe it."
Gray's story, along with the stories of the other finalists, will be shared in the magazine's December issue.
"You never know how my story can either comfort a family who has lost a loved one. You never know how my story can help save a life or inspire someone to start moving and start running, any kind of exercise. You never know who my story is gonna reach out to, to give them the courage to leave their abusive relationship.