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Posted: February 19, 2016  

Athletics: 2016 Kaiser Permanente Napa Valley Marathon: Entrant Profile Stories

NAPA, Calif. - February 19, 2016 - A field of motivated entrants from 21 countries, 47 U.S. states, and Washington, D.C. will gather in Californiaís Napa Valley for the 38th Annual Kaiser Permanente Napa Valley Marathon on Sunday, March 6, 2016. The Napa Valley Marathon (NVM) asks each entrant to describe on their entry form their reasons for entering the race. Among the varied responses each year, many illustrate how the challenges of a 26.2-mile race spur marathoners to undertake charitable deeds that assist others who face adversity, to overcome personal adversities themselves, or to travel the globe in search of the most compelling races. A high percentage of respondents also cite the reputation of NVM as one of the best organized marathons in the U.S., and the allure of the picturesque Napa Valley wine growing region, as primary reasons for entering the race.

Every Napa Valley Marathon participant assists important local causes. All proceeds from the Napa Valley Marathon (a non-profit organization) are donated to local charities and schools in the Napa Valley region. Numerous NVM participants, however, choose to go beyond NVMís annual philanthropy by dedicating their race to others, often raising donations that fund the charities of their choice.

On February 11, 2016 Forbes Travel Guide rated NVM among the top 12 marathons in the world "worth traveling for," an honor it has bestowed on NVM three times in the past five years. On January 28, 2016 The Economic Times ranked NVM at the top of its list of the "world's best marathon locations to inspire you to lace up and get training." Runnerís World magazine selected NVM as one of the top ten U.S. marathons for first-time marathon participants in its January, 2011 issue. American Express' Departures magazine declared NVM as #7 in their "ten travel-worthy races that make for truly memorable journeys on the run."

Entry limits for NVM are largely determined by the number of available hotel rooms in the world-renowned Napa Valley wine producing and tasting region.

Selected NVM entrants' stories appear below.

Rosaleen Shelley (51, Petaluma, Calif.) has completed two NVMs among the 12 marathons, 10 half marathons, and two Ironman-distance triathlons on her resume. She says she runs and participates in athletics to fight low self esteem, insecurity, and lack of purpose that stems from child and domestic abuse which has haunted her entire life. Fifteen years ago, one of Shelleyís friends advised her to start running 5-kilometer races to help her get through the pain of a divorce.
"Thatís when the healing really started," Shelley said. "Exercise and endurance sports have saved my life. Iíve received so much healing for my low self esteem by pushing my mental capacity and spirit during endurance racing and all the mind training it takes to get to the finish line. Iím still intimidated by the super athletes, but on race day when I have a finish line medal around my neck I feel like Iím an athlete, not a want to be."

Harry Higgins (37, Mountain View, Calif.) anticipates crossing the NVM finish line at Napaís Vintage High Schoolóhis alma materó with a special glow of thankfulness for a second chance at life. He is a brain tumor survivor.
Higgins began running in 1998 while attending college in Santa Barbara, Calif. At age 22, not long after landing a job with the San Francisco Fire Department, he began experiencing absence seizures (lapses in awareness often accompanied by staring). Subsequently, in May, 2001, an MRI followed by a 6-hour surgery revealed a rare-type, low-grade, brain tumor that was benign.
"I beat the odds because nearly 60 percent of brain tumors are malignant and can eventually lead to death," said Higgens who subsequently attended the funeral of a young man with whom he had shared a recovery room. The roommate had battled a malignant brain tumor.
Little did Higgins know that it would be another five years of light firefighter duty before he was approved to go back to full duty. Since then heís had no seizures or neurological disorders.
Higgins, who has completed three marathons, will participate in his first NVM.
"I relish the exhilaration of crossing finish lines with complete strangers and sharing words, high fives, and sweaty hugs of pure joy," Higgins said. "Twenty years ago I graduated from Vintage High School and thatís the NVM finish line location. For me, it represents the bringing together of my mind, body, and spirit in my hometown. My birthday happens to be on the 11th of March and the race will also be a gift to myself. Running The Napa Valley Marathon and other meaningful races brings me closer to the person I strive to be."

Shari Costanzo (40, Napa, Calif.) is a first grade teacher at Vichy Elementary School in Napa, about four miles from the NVM finish line. Sheís taught in Napa for the past 11 years. She owns four marathons on her running resume which include three finishes at NVM. Each year her students come to cheer her on at the finish, rain or shine.
"When I started teaching at Vichy, I wanted to show my daughters, as well as my students, that setting goals for yourself isnít only something that we want you to do in school. We want you to do it throughout life. So I made it my goal to complete a marathon to teach them about perseverance and goal setting," Costanzo said about her first NVM.
With Costanzosís guidance, her students set both academic and physical goals. Each student learns to track their progress, and to set new goals if needed. Students celebrate their goals and successes together, and problem-solve to make progress where it is needed. This year, Costanzoís class has set two major goals: To run a total of 26.2 miles in the second half of the year, and to complete 100 percent of a math education program by the end of the year.
In 2014, Costanzo qualified for the Boston Marathon by lowering her personal best to 3:41:24 at NVM. Her class subsequently watched her run last yearís Boston Marathon live via internet and spotted her crossing the finish line.
Constanzoís current running goal?
"Iím trying to run 2,016 miles in 2016," she said. "Iím on target so far and Iím now coaching cross country and track runners at Vintage High School, too. They help me get plenty of miles in, and I keep them motivated to run."

NVM entrant Jaime Velasco (19, Brentwood, Calif.), a sophomore at the University of California- Berkeley, was overly obese as a child and into his teenage years. Type 2 diabetes is highly prevalent through many generations in his family. The fact scared Velasco, but it was very difficult to change his high carbohydrate and sugar diet and lifestyle. He was periodically able to shed some of his 365 pounds by pursuing extracurricular activities such as karate, tennis, and soccer but a busy lifestyle constantly led him to fast food restaurants. Each time, he gained the weight back. His doctors told him that he was a pre-diabetic based on his high cholesterol and glucose levels.
"It was heartbreaking to see my mother cry every night begging me to stop consuming so much," Velasco said. "I hated seeing my family suffer from my gradually deteriorating health and lifestyle. So from there on I became determined and motivated to lose weight without having a relapse. I started my mission of losing weight towards the end of 2014."
Velasco started running every morning and worked out at the gym daily for 1 to 2-1/2 hours. He also carefully cut down on his daily food intake. Consequently, he lost 185 pounds over the course of 1-1/2 years and then set a goal of completing his first marathon. He chose this yearís NVM.
"26.2 miles seems a lot to take in at first, but I just need to believe in myself with the positive, determined and motivational drive that Iíve learned to use in my daily life," Velasco said.

Karen Brown (48, Littleton, Colo.) is running NVM as part of her training for the 56-mile Comrades Marathon in South Africa. Comrades is one of the most coveted destinations for ultra-marathon runners in the world, and runners must qualify to gain entry. She has been a recreational runner since age 12. Her longtime aspiration was to compete in the Ironman World Triathlon Championships in Kona, HI, a goal that she says she talked herself out of for 28 years. In 2010 she took a class where she learned how to work through limiting beliefs and two years later she completed her Ironman dream. She subsequently wrote a book about it, Journey to Kona, A Path to True Potential. Today, Brown provides guidance and coaching to individuals who want to realize their full capabilities. Sheís also a public motivational speaker and provides motivational tools and videos on her Devine Potential website.
"Napa comes at a perfect time in my training for Comrades," Brown said. "I also really love the fact that itís unplugged. No headphones or electronics are allowed, so I can truly connect with people along the way. I love that part of racing. When I was checking out other races, comparing them to Napa, I was struck by the great sense of community Napa has. You don't find that at every race."

Mitch Lewis (58, Singapore) also has his eyes set on the 56-mile Comrades Marathon in South Africa and the California native hopes to qualify for it in his home stateóat this yearís NVM. Among the 46 marathons on his current running resume are marathons on all seven continents. Heís also climbed the highest mountains, including Mt. Everest, on all seven. This year heís returning for his fourth NVM through the scenic Napa Valley wine country. Lewisí employer, Juniper Networks, transferred him to Singapore in 2014 where he serves as VP of Partners and Alliances for Asia Pacific.
"Running in Singapore is hot, but Iíve done three marathons here, and one in Seattle last November 2015. But Napa is my favorite U.S. marathon. I love the rolling course, running by wineries, the great support from volunteers, the feeling of Napa, the people, and being able to drink fine California wine afterward," said Lewis.
Lewis needs a time of 4:29:00 or better at Napa to qualify for his first Comrades Marathon. His lifetime personal best marathon is 3:54:32, registered at the 2008 California International Marathon in Sacramento, Calif.

Christina Vincent (39, Oakland, Calif.) heads to Napa to run her second career NVM for only one reasonóthat she states simply, but which sheís willing to elaborate upon profusely: Because she can. In 2009, Vincent was diagnosed with psuedomyxoma peritonel cancer, a cancer of the appendix that spreads inside the abdominal cavity, Vincent had been athletic her entire life. She ran her first marathon in 2002 at NVM and this year she returns after being given a second chance at life. Between 2009 and mid-2013, Vincent had six organs in her abdominal cavity, plus layers of her diaphragm, removed. She didnít start to feel fully functional again until late 2014.
"Each day in my recovery was different. I had to relearn my body, but it was an entirely different body," Vincent said. "I knew I had a tough road ahead to just do daily living, let alone participate in running like I always had. But I had a goal, to run again, and that was my carrot-on-a-stick during my six years of surgeries. In fact, I used running as a primary part in my treatment plan all those years. My doctors knew what I was doing and they approved it."
Vincent runs for a different reason now. Few of the expectations that used to govern her running still exist.
"I run because I can. Not for time. Not for glory. Not to reach a predetermined distance. Now, I just lace up my shoes and take flight, thrilled just to be able to do it. Very simply, Iím really aware of how alive I am when I am running. And that fuels me. Every run feels like a prayer in motion. Cancer can eat my marathoning dust. This gal has a whole lot of living yet to do."

Osvaldo "Ozzy" Villarreal (42, San Antonio, Tex.) is a pediatrician at CentroMed community health clinic who values the importance of showing his patients the value of physical fitness. He started running in 1992 when he was attending Texas A&M as a member of the schoolís Corps of Cadets student military organization. Since then, he has completed 12 marathons with a personal best of 3:30:00.
"Unfortunately, about 17 percent of children and adolescents are obese. Adults are even worse at 35 percent," Villarreal said. "As pediatricians, itís vitally important that we talk to our patients and their parents about proper nutrition and exercise. I talk to them about it every time they come in for a physical. Even when the patients come in for a sick visit, we still talk about proper nutrition and exercise if they are overweight. I often mention to my patients and parents that Iím a runner. I mention it as an example that we all need to find the time to exercise."
Villarreal will be competing in his first NVM.
"My wife chose it," he admits. "She has always wanted to visit Napa Valley, and she knows I love running, so itís a perfect match."

Tisa Goehner (29, Los Angeles, Calif.) has chosen this yearís NVM as her inaugural marathon following a mishap in 2007 that almost left her paralyzed. In high school, Goehner enjoyed playing sports and dancing, but she disliked running. She even had a t-shirt that said "I hate running" which she proudly wore through her high school hallways.
She didnít discover her love for running until her junior year in college when she signed up for a jogging class to earn the credit she needed to finish the semester. She successfully completed her final examóa 12-mile run at the pace of her professor who had completed over 50 marathons. She eventually embraced the therapeutic feeling following successful daily runs.
Besides running, Goehner was also active in other sports and physical activities. Both her brother, and her boyfriend at the time were enthusiastic rock climbers and she joined them on outdoors adventures. One evening, in November, 2007, her climbing ended with a 40-foot fall from an indoor climbing wall, a broken back, and shattered bone in various places. Before her first corrective surgery doctors told her that the best case scenario would be paralysis from the waist down. Goehner subsequently spent two weeks in the hospital and had four surgeries. That was followed by six months in a body cast. She now has two metal rods and six bolts on each side of her spine, a metal vertebra óand a goal of running her first marathon.
"Before my accident I had always wanted to run a marathon. It was something that was always on my bucket list," Gochner said. "But after my accident it became something that I know Iíll do with great appreciation. Every step of the way will be a gift from God.
"Iíve chosen the Napa Valley Marathon as my first, and probably my only, marathon in my lifetime because I want a beautiful place in Godís country that Iíll always remember. It will be the last big accomplishment of my 20's. I turn the big 3-0 on April 1st and will enter my 30's with a whole new list of accomplishments to achieve."

Harry Cadelago (68, Napa. Calif.) keeps returning year after year to NVM, calling it "a great, well-organized race." Cadelago has completed 35 of NVMís 37 renditions with a personal best time of 3:52:00. This year, he plans on crossing the NVM finish line in 4:30:00.
"Running keeps my mind and body at one with the universe," said Cadelago, "Iím not a happy camper when I canít run."

NVM entrant Shane Culbertson (42, Santa Rosa, Calif.) was accidently run over by truck in 1993 when he was 19 years old. His injuries included broken ankles, broken ribs, a lacerated left ear that was almost torn off, a tennis-ball sized hematoma above his eye, and numerous other lacerations and deep bruises. He spent about 10 days in a hospital after undergoing plastic surgery for the ear and facial injuries. He was bedridden for over a month and it was about six months before he could walk capably enough to do basic errands.
When he resumed classes at Santa Rosa Junior College the following Spring, he realized that he was unable to read full sentences proficiently enough to get through a full paragraph.
"Apparently my frontal and parietal brain lobes had residual bruising and swelling as a result of the accident," Culbertson said. "I wasnít able to exercise and was in a pretty deep state of depression. I became very inactive and my weight increased from 165 to 215 pounds."
In 1995, Culbertsonís older brother, Daniel, who was serving in the U.S. Navy in Hawaii, came home on leave and started taking him out for walks, while he ran, training for the Honolulu Marathon. Subsequently, in December, 2000 the younger Culbertson was finally strong enough to travel with his brother to Honolulu where he ran his first marathon, completing the hilly Honolulu course in 3:46:00. His time put him in the top 20 percent of his 25-29 age group.
"The whole concept of running a full marathon sounded ridiculous to me even before getting run over," Culbertson said. "However, watching my brother complete one showed me that it was possible for someone who wasn't necessarily a distance runner in high school to change athletic codes later in life. Without him, I probably never would have entertained the thought."
Since then, Culbertson completed the Bangkok Marathon in 2005, and the Chiang Mai (Thailand) Marathon in 2012.
As for recovering from brain injuries, a close friend of Culbertsonís, Dan Thompson, took him under his wing, making him recite a sports article from a local Santa Rosa newspaper every day. Culbertson progressed to the point where he could read a full page, and, finally, the full sports section. Culbertson went on to study English Literature in college and ultimately became a staff writer for the same Santa Rosa newspaper in 2000.

For more information about the Kaiser Permanente Napa Valley Marathon, please visit the marathonís web site at

The Napa Valley Marathon appreciates generous sponsor support from Kaiser Permanente/Thrive, Napa Valley Marriott Hotel & Spa, Legendary Napa Valley, ASICS, CLIF Bar, Road Runners Club of America, USA Track & Field, Gatorade G Endurance, MarathonFoto, Marathon & Beyond, Napa Running Company, Running USA, KCBS

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