CUMBERLAND – There will be more than 2,000 participants competing this weekend in the Cox Providence Rhode Races’ Half Marathon. Each one will have a goal; each one will have a reason for taking on such a challenging, endurance event.
Olga Fino will be among those runners and walkers that will be at the starting line at Kennedy Plaza Sunday morning for the 13.1-mile race through Downtown Providence and the East Side. But for the 46-year-old Cumberland native, her journey in the Capital City - her first-time ever competing in a race of any distance – is not to break records or run any specific time, it’s more to celebrate life.
To celebrate a life that she nearly lost 28 months ago.
Fino suffered a brain aneurysm on Dec. 20, 2008, just five days before Christmas and a month before her 45th birthday. A quick recovery from the near-fatal condition along with her strong desire to complete a half marathon has given her a reason to believe that her race this weekend will be a successful one.
Fino will not be alone in her quest to conquer the city streets as she will be joined by an entourage of eight other “family” members that includes three sisters and a brother as well as a niece, a nephew, a brother-in-law and a future niece-in-law.
“My younger sister (Betty) had done it last year with my brother Jack and she said that if you set your mind to it, you can do it,” said Fino, who comes from a Portuguese family of nine brothers and sisters. “I figure I am going to set my mind to it and I am going to do it.”
Fino, who is a Senior Loan Mortgage Officer for Citizens Bank, certainly demonstrated the determination to finish an endurance event like the Cox race during the time when she suffered her brain aneurysm, a time she recalls vividly in her mind.
“I had horrible headaches for two weeks prior to the aneurysm,’’ she said. “I woke up one day when I was going to work on Saturday and I just didn’t feel like my normal self and said there’s something wrong and I passed out at home.”
Fino was driven to Memorial Hospital by member of her family and it was evident what had happened. After a cat scan, it was determined that she had a brain aneurysm.
“The next thing I know is that they have already called an ambulance to transport me to Rhode Island Hospital and that’s where I had my surgery,” she said. “If we had waited another day, I probably wouldn’t have had a life.”
Unlike most that have suffered something as serious as an aneurysm, Fino didn’t take long to return to her daily routine.
“I was pretty lucky,” she said. “I was in the hospital for just under a month. I think I came home January 18, a few days before my birthday on January 25 and I returned to work on January 27.”
“The doctor did want me to stay out of work for 12 weeks,” she added. “I have worked for Citizens Bank for 21 years and I have never been out on TDI and I have never been laid off. I didn’t know what to do without work so I returned to work. I just couldn’t drive for six months because I had had a seizure while I was hospitalized.”
Fino, a 1984 graduate of Cumberland HIgh, never competed in high school sports. But she has maintained an active lifestyle by keeping fit through walking and bike riding.
With the support of her younger sister Betty, who competed in track and field for Cumberland, she decided to give the half marathon a shot back in September. She had never run previous to that initial encounter.
“I started on the treadmill for half an hour without stopping to build my stamina,” she said. “Then, (Betty) gave me a running schedule and that’s that.”
The 10-week running schedule that was given to Fino by her sister began on Feb. 21 with a 13-mile week. By April 4, it hits its peak with a 26-mile week. During that week, Fino had her longest run in preparation for the half marathon with a 10-mile jaunt around Lincoln Woods State Park.
“That was probably the wrong place to do it,” laughed Fino, whose previous long run was four miles. “It was a little too hilly. But it was good.”
The half marathon is part of a three-race series for the Cox Providence Rhode Races that also features the Cox Sports Marathon and Shape Up RI 5K. The marathon will be held in conjunction with the half marathon on Sunday (8 a.m.) and the 5K event will take place on Saturday (7:30 a.m.) at Roger Williams Park.
After beginning at Kennedy Plaza, the half marathon will follow an out-and-back route that encompasses a good portion of the East Side, including Blackstone Boulevard. Fino is familiar with the course.
“I work on the East Side all the time,” she said. “I work at the Citizens on Hope Street. I work at the Citizens Bank on Waterman Street all the time so I am always there. I do know the course. There are a couple of hills, but we are just doing it to do it, not to beat anyone’s time but just to do it.”
Although Fino will show up to the starting line with her family members, they won’t necessarily all run as a group. Her sisters’ Rosa and Ida are also newcomers to racing.
“We actually have like three different groups,” she said. “Betty and (brother-in-law) Scott are going to go in the front. My older sister and myself and my brother Jack will probably keep the same pace. Nobody needs to win anything. You just need to get to the end where you started.”
“Based on what I have done, I am probably going to do about 11-minutes a mile,” she continued. “That’s what I have been practicing to do. That’s my goal.”
But again, overall time doesn’t matter to Fino when she competes on Sunday. The fact that she is out enjoying the elements with the ability to finish a 13-mile race is what matters the most.
“A lot of people that have an aneurysm (either die) or end up in a nursing home,” she said. “I was lucky enough to have survived it and being able to return to my job in five weeks. To me, (the race) is a celebration of life. To me, this is like full circle.”
It’s not too late to enter any of the races in the Cox Providence Rhode Races. For additional information, check out the race’s website at www.rhoderaces.com