Pine Cove resident Laura Caster had given up on marathon running — that is until she met a blind dog named Ella in July 2015.
Caster had run the Los Angeles Marathon in 2002. “It was the worst experience of my life,” she recalled. “I started too fast, and it was very hot, and I was miserable. I did manage to finish, but I thought, ‘Never again.’”
Then in November of that year, while watching 50,000 runners cross Verrazano-Narrows Bridge as part of the New York City Marathon, Caster felt a familiar nostalgia. “I still want to do this,” she remembers saying at the time.
But with a subsequent knee injury and cartilage damage in 2007, as well as having a baby with attendant weight gain in 2010, Caster’s marathon memories and goals seemed out of reach. “I did not run from 2003 up though February 2016,” she said. “And after having my son in 2010, I continued to have knee issues. And I was uncomfortable in my own skin. I could not find the motivation to do all the things I needed to do.”
Then, at last year’s Fourth of July Parade, Caster and her son Ethan saw some dogs from Living Free Animal Sanctuary in Mountain Center. They were drawn to Ella, 8 years old and blind. “This is the prettiest dog,” said Ethan. “Are we getting a dog?” asked Rob, Caster’s husband.
After negotiations with Living Free representatives and home visits from Living Free staff, Ella moved in with the Caster family. Laura credits Ella, whose joyous desire to be outdoors and exercising, is what led to her rehabilitation.
“Ella is sweet and fearless,” said Caster. “Her fearlessness rubbed off on me. She got me moving again, every day. Walking Ella three to six times a day became part of my therapy. After a few months I began to notice I wasn’t nervous going downhill. Then in February, I tried to run 1 mile. Although I was hyperventilating and sliding around on the snow and ice, my knees were not an issue.”
Slowly, Caster began gingerly to contemplate and train for the New York Marathon on Nov. 6. “Earlier this year, I could barely walk and now I’m training for a marathon. Honestly, I feel good,” said Caster, noting she has been training online with 1972 Olympian Jeff Galloway and comparing training issues with runners.
Caster is running to raise money for New York Road Runners Team for Kids. TFK runners dedicate their participation in world-class running events to building a happier and healthier future for young runners nationwide. Caster’s fundraising goal was $3,000, which she met last week. But the more she raises, the more it will help the kids. For contributions and to learn more about Caster’s race goals, visit https://runwithtfk.org/Profile/PublicPage/36768. “If I can help these kids in addition to pursuing my own goals, it’s a win,” said Caster.