- Associated Press - Sunday, April 29, 2018

RUSTON, La. (AP) - Nali Acosta Hummel is a runner.

She has been since she was little, and on the morning of March 16 she braced herself against the cold and rain to fulfill a dream - running in the Boston Marathon.

Even better, Hummel reached her goal by finishing the run in three hours and 30 minutes. Born and raised in Ruston, her parents, Fredie and Patricia Acosta, raised her to be herself. That meant running, she said.

“At a young age my parents encouraged me to be active and find things that I enjoyed,” Hummel said. “They told stories of me as a toddler and taking me to the (Louisiana) Tech track, where I would run my little legs off. During my childhood they let me explore and find my gifts, and I tried things like tae kwon do, piano, soccer, drawing and painting, mountain biking, gymnastics and running.

“I found joy in all those things, but from middle school and on I decided to focus on running and playing soccer.”

She was injured while playing soccer in high school and developed a permanent condition in her spine called spondylolisthesis, along with slight scoliosis.

“Although it makes exercise more challenging, I decided I wasn’t going to let it stop me from doing the things that I love. I have to be smart though. I can’t over train or increase my mileage too quickly or I’ll have episodes where my back hurts to the point that I can’t walk,” Hummel said.

“I continued to run throughout my college days but I remember times that I could not sleep because I couldn’t get comfortable from my back pain. And for years I’d wake up in pain. I thought it was for life that I’d always wake up that way.

“I was desperate to find ways to help. I thought to myself ‘I’m in my 20s, how can I have chronic back pain already?’ I questioned what that meant for my future. I had to strengthen my core, did chiropractic and physical therapy, and I also began doing yoga. That did wonders for my body and soon my back pain decreased.”

She said she decided to participate in the Boston Marathon because she is competitive.

“I like to challenge myself and I enjoy the grueling process of training for something specific. You have to love the process as a whole because a race is only the celebration of all the work you’ve put in,” she said. “There is something beautiful about pushing your body to a limit you’ve never felt before and reaching it, I feel most alive and connected to God and the universe in those moments. A year ago my friend Jeremy Winzer asked me to run a marathon with him as his wedding present.

“You know, most people ask for new tableware or home décor. Nope, not my friend. He asked me to run a marathon. I’d never run one before, only up to a half. But I love running so I said ‘why not?’ But I didn’t just want to run to finish; if I was going to run a full marathon then I wanted to run it fast. I wanted to qualify for Boston.

So, she set her heart on qualifying at the Chevron Houston Texas Marathon.

“It was a tough race for me though because at about mile 11 I felt a sharp pain in my right foot. It worried me but I kept pushing. It got worse with each step,” she said. “At about mile 20 my running gait was so thrown off and I could barely put pressure on my foot. The next six miles felt like an eternity. I finished. I also hit my qualifying time by seven minutes.

“But as soon as I crossed the line I couldn’t take another step. I was wheelchaired out, taken to the medical tent and brought to my family. Turns out, I had a stressed tendon on top of my foot. I couldn’t run for the next eight weeks.”

Seven months later, Hummel received her official invitation to the Boston Marathon. She and her husband, Forrest Hummel, who supports her running and triathlon adventures, were excited about the announcement.

“I was ecstatic. Many people don’t realize how competitive it really is. I’ve met people who have run 15-plus marathons trying to qualify,” Hummel said. “It’s hard. You can ‘qualify’ by running at or under your qualifying time based on your age, but that does not guarantee entry. You have to be in the top percentile of your age group. The fastest qualifiers are accepted first until the race is full. This year, due to many fast runners, I had to be at least 3.5 minutes faster than my qualifying time. That means, there are some runners out there who qualified by time but never got the invitation. That alone made me want to run Boston even more. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it.”

Once she got to Boston and settled into the thought of being able to participate in the historic race, Hummel said she was excited.

“It was an absolutely incredible (experience). I kept telling myself, ‘I can’t believe I’m here.’ I had my whole family there to cheer me on. That alone was very special,” she said. “My support at home was amazing, too. I have great friends who encouraged me, sent me sweet messages, tracked me and cheered for me from afar.”

Hummel said she was so happy to be in Boston and run in a race she’d spend more 20 weeks training for and that she was happy when it was finally time to race.

What she didn’t expect was the bad weather.

“When I heard about the unfavorable predicted weather, I got a little anxious. I was told Boston weather changes in an instant, so I was hopeful it would. It did, but for the worse,” she said. “I didn’t care, I was still so happy to be there. Race day, it was 37 degrees, pouring rain, and winds were about 20-25 mph with some larger wind bursts of about 30-40 miles per hour. I remember running and the rain was coming down so hard it was hurting my face.

“We had a headwind the entire time. This Louisiana girl was not used to that. Even with all of this against me, I had God all around me. My spirit was high and my excitement kept me warm. The crowd was amazing. I met new friends before the race and everyone was so kind. We shared our excitement about the race ahead. Even with the storm, there were spectators everywhere cheering loudly and high-fiving the runners. They waved posters around and rung bells and bullhorns. They brought out their tailgate tents and blasted music as we ran by. I was in awe.”

Hummel said she had never seen anything like it.

“I’d never seen so many runners in one place nor that many people cheering for us. It was so much fun. It’s all about your mindset,” she said. “You can pout about the weather conditions or you can embrace it and be grateful for being able to run. The weather we had just made crossing that finish line so much sweeter. It has been my favorite race I’ve ever done.”

When it was all said and done, Hummel said she felt she did well.

“I did good. My goal was to run the marathon in 3 hours and 30 minutes. That would put me in a position to re-qualify for Boston and still give me five minutes of wiggle room. Before the race I told myself to just have fun, soak it all in, smile, high five the little kids, and enjoy every moment,” she said. “I did all of that and I was able to hit my goal time too. I felt great.”

However, she said got a little winded right before “Heartbreak Hill” (the final hill on the Boston Marathon’s course), but was greeted by her family and knew she could push through.

“It wasn’t until about mile 20 that my legs started to lock up,” Hummel said. “It was about that time I saw my family in the crowd yelling my name. The timing was perfect and the next six miles flew by. Seeing the finish line and the heavy crowd lined up all around cheering was an emotional experience. I teared up as I saw the home stretch; I stretched my arms up to the sky and smiled. It was such a joyful moment for me.”

She hopes to be able to go back next year, Hummel said.

“Looks like I might be going back next year. I re-qualified but I won’t know for sure until October,” she said. “That’s when all the invitations are sent. It is definitely on my heart to do again, whether it be this year or another. Perhaps in nicer weather too, that would be fun.” For those wishing to follow in her footsteps, Hummel said that keeping a positive attitude is key.

“There may be roadblocks, excuses to be made, or adversity at times, but no matter what happens your perspective is everything. It’s easy to have an injury and feel sorry for yourself or pout about horrible weather conditions on race day which leads to a horrible run,” she said.

“The reality is, you can’t always control what happens, but you can control your reaction and your perspective. Why not find the silver lining in everything we do.

“My advice to anyone who wants to run a marathon is to keep a positive attitude and don’t let adversity defeat you while trying to reach your goals. Set them, and set big ones because if you want to do something and you truly believe in yourself, then nothing will stop you from reaching them.”

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