You know the saying “when it rains, it pours”? Well, Carolyn Petschler is all too familiar with that cliché. During a particularly rough time, while struggling with Crohn’s disease and a recent foot injury, Petschler made a precautionary trip to the doctor to get herself examined after a colleague was diagnosed with advanced-stage breast cancer.
“It was a really big wake-up call,” Petschler said when speaking of her colleague’s diagnosis. “So I went in and decided to get a mammogram. I hadn’t had one for 10 years, but I felt the lump, and [it] turned out that it was a cyst. But what I didn’t know is that [the doctors] would find two other lumps, one in each breast. I then went in for a biopsy and it turns out it’s radial scar tissue and [the doctors] called it ‘other areas of concern.’ So now I’m being monitored for the next two years and I’ll get mammograms every six months or so.”
As Petschler continues to be monitored, this led her to look into her family history. Petschler soon learned her grandmother had breast cancer in her late forties — close to the age that she is now. This triggered a conversation with Petschler’s family, including her two kids — Jack, 16, and Mary, 13.
“You automatically think the worst and then you get the biopsy and you are waiting for the results,” Petschler said. “Then you get the results and it’s not the, ‘Hey you’re all clear.’ I think the one interesting thing I learned in the process is it’s not ‘you have it’ or ‘you don’t.’ It’s an ongoing process where a lot of people will have to be monitored. Every woman is different and has their own family history.”
With what seemed like the weight of the world hanging on her, Petschler still found the unimaginable strength and fortitude to compete in the 2021 New York Marathon, which just so happened to be the marathon’s 50th Anniversary.
But Petschler’s journey to the finish line started long before she began running.
As a United States Navy veteran with five years of service under the belt and military wife of 13 years, Petschler was no stranger to challenging work. However, when the time came to start a new career path, the transition wasn’t as easy as she imagined. Although she held a degree in public relations, Petschler had no intentions of ever using it. That was, until 13 years later.
Between her degree and volunteer work in the military space, Petschler found a position at a prominent PR agency in New York where she worked for six years as the senior vice president in the public affairs department. Because of her military background, and because she was the only veteran of about 200 people at the firm, Petschler worked on anything military-related.
“It’s was an intense job and I was looking for a change,” Petschler said. “I know the military space really well.”
As she continued to grow in her career, Petschler wanted to have something outside of work that was just hers. Which is why, five years ago, she turned to running as a way to help de-stress between her work life and her family life. But, what started as a “me time” hobby quickly turned into a passion.
Petschler started off small — taking casual runs through Central Park and even running 5k races when she had the opportunity. This eventually led Petschler to join the Dashing Whippets, a New York-based running team, which helped her to improve as a runner and challenge herself in her training.
“This was something that was for me,” Petschler said. “It wasn’t about my kids. It wasn’t about work. It was personal. It’s really a competition with yourself and that’s why I like it. I usually hate that first couple of miles, even now I hate it until I get into the runners high.”
As the marathon neared, Petschler understood that while her training journey had been interesting, and regardless of numerous health scares, she was determined to run no matter what. After watching her teammates compete in the Boston Marathon that year, Petschler found the extra motivation she needed to continue pushing hard in her training, and whether that meant she'd be walking or running the marathon, she was just focused on enjoying the moment.
Petschler competed on the Navy SEAL Foundation marathon team, but she ran for more than just herself and the SEAL community — she ran to support those battling cancer and survivors — and crossing the finish line means more to her now than if she hadn’t persevered through the hard times she faced. Prior to the run, she stated,
“I already know the marathon is going to be incredibly hard and this is definitely going to be a massive challenge to cross for me, even walking half of it,” Petschler said. “But I just want to do it. It’s been on my bucket list for at least five years. So I’m excited, short of crawling [to the finish line], if I have to walk in, I will make it happen.”
Photo credits: Carolyn Petschler