The One Moment That Made Chicago Runner Denise Sauriol Stop Obsessing Over Finish Times
On August 16, 2009, as she was making her way to Central Park for the start of the NYC Half, Denise Sauriol, a super-accomplished runner visiting from Chicago, was struck by a car. She vividly remembers flying onto the hood, her body shattering the windshield, hitting her head as she landed on the ground, and then slowly crawling to safety.
As the race began, Denise was being transported by ambulance to the emergency room, where she learned that she’d broken several vertebrae—but would ultimately be OK.
Denise returned to running in February 2010 following months of physical therapy. When she stepped back into the sport after her injury, running had taken on new meaning. “Surviving that accident led me to not being focused solely on statistics,” she says.
Before her accident, Denise, a runner since fourth grade, was all about chasing new PRs, logging high mileage and tackling intense workouts to achieve goals like qualifying for the Boston Marathon, which she’s done 28 times. “I used to define myself by my times and age-group placement,” she says. “If I didn't PR, I would beat myself up.”
Today, the 50-year-old 90-time marathon finisher is just grateful that she can run.
“Now, I take in whatever the race brings me, whether that's getting or giving a hug, high-fiving a little kid, taking pictures that make me smile, or thanking volunteers along the way,” says Denise. “I remind myself that every foot strike is a gift and can be taken away at any time.”
Surviving the accident also led Denise to a new career as a run coach. “Prior to ‘de-corporating’ in 2016, I spent 26 years working in accounting,” she says. “I liked the problem-solving facet of it, but it didn’t fill my soul. Helping someone do something that they didn’t think they could do, that fills my soul!”
In addition to coaching individuals and groups in the Chicago area, Denise also works with youth: She helps coach a local girls’ high-school cross country team and is the cofounder of her city’s chapter of Girls on the Run. “This will be my second year coaching their SoleMates team at the Chicago Marathon and also emceeing the finish line of the girls’ 5K races here in Chicago,” she says.
“I believe that we get more out of volunteering than the recipient does,” says Denise, who encourages her clients to pass on the gift of running by helping a beginner through their first 5K, running with someone who doesn't think they can finish a race, or finding a charity to support.
In the end, you’ll both reap rewards: “I get as much out of running with someone for their first or fastest race as I do from setting a personal record,” says Denise. “Knowing that your running is helping to change the lives of others will help you get out the door when you want to skip a run or help you in those tough miles when you just want to quit.”
Without a doubt, Denise will be tapping into that mindset when she takes on the United Airlines NYC Half later this month. (She bravely took on the race in 2011; this will be her first time back since then.) She’ll be running alongside her friend and client Angelica, a volunteer she met at the 2016 TCS New York City Marathon Expo.
“I always tell volunteers at race expos and on race courses ‘I will see you out there next year!’ and ‘You can do it, too!’” says Denise. “Angelica and I have been friends ever since that day, and last year, I coached her to her first marathon, the 2017 TCS New York City Marathon. This year, I’m coaching her through three marathons!”
Besides supporting her friend, Denise’s goal for March 18 is simple: “Have a great time regardless of clock time!"