Sophomore Finds New Freedom in Marathons

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Faces of Berkeley: Rebecca Robles

Rebecca Robles, just a sophomore, has dreams to run from coast to coast in the summer of 2013.

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UC Berkeley sophomore Rebecca Robles was never much of a runner while growing up.

But now that she has relearned to walk after a back injury put her in a wheelchair for five months, she runs to feel free.

"My passion lies in running," said Robles, who is training to run across the country in summer of 2013. "It's hard to explain, but if my heart could burn for something it'd burn to run."

Her journey to discovering this passion began on a Saturday night in fall of 2009, when Robles returned from dinner with a friend and slipped on a puddle outside her apartment in Southern California.

Although she was in some pain, Robles went to bed thinking there might simply be a bruise. The next morning, however, there was much more than a bruise - Robles had a slipped disk in her lower spine, leaving her immobile and reliant on others' help.

"I was basically sedentary," Robles said. "I couldn't move. Breathing hurt. It was the most excruciating pain I had ever experienced."

After dancing ballet and playing tennis for over four years, including with her high school's varsity team, Robles suddenly lost her ability to participate because of an ongoing struggle with balance.

The road to recovery was challenging. She used a wheelchair for five months and a cane after that. Yet as a spring admit to UC Berkeley in 2010, she insisted on walking once she arrived, motivating her to go through physical therapy and walk on the treadmill at her gym.

Although Robles does not like to remember her accident - "I block out a little bit of that because it was hard" - it has taught her to appreciate her health and regained mobility, giving her the motivation to run in two full marathons in the past six months.

But now Robles has a new goal: to run across the country, a distance of around 3,000 miles. The idea came from a friend's comment meant as a joke, but Robles latched onto it.

Robles' friends said they were not surprised about her plan.

"She tends to jump into things," sophomore Marissa Embola said. "We saw her when she went to her first marathon, and we saw her when she came back. It doesn't surprise me that she would up the ante."

Robles' plan is to run coast to coast in 90 to 99 days in the summer of 2013, finishing in time to get back to school because "academics and health come first."

However, Robles is not only fulfilling her own goal in running across the country. She is also hoping to raise $24,000 for charity - $1,000 per month from now until the run - particularly for the child trafficking sector of UNICEF.

Despite Robles' enthusiasm, Robert Earle, staff supervisor at the Recreational Sports Facility, who has worked with Robles, said meeting the goal would be challenging.

"It's not something I would ever consider doing," he said. "It sounds like a pretty difficult task, but if that's what she wants to do, then that's in the realm of possibility to run across the country."

In preparation for her goal, Robles trains six days a week, working out from 6 to 9 each morning and often running about nine miles each night. She also considers herself a "religious spinner," regularly taking spinning classes at the RSF and spinning up to two and a half hours a day.

Robles' healthy lifestyle, which includes staying active and eating well with the guidance of a nutritionist, has rubbed off on her friends and mom, whom she calls her "backbone." Her mom has become more active and lost 40 pounds, Robles said, and friends often work out with her.

"That's a really big thing to not be able to use your legs for so long and then to start running," sophomore Jenny Ng said. "Her drive inspires me."

Robles never envisioned herself running long distances, not to mention across the country. But since her injury, Robles said, running is the release she needs. Even though she was scared of running outdoors when she began recovery nothing stops her now.

"I'll run in the rain," she said. "I jump over those puddles. ... It's freedom."


Mary Susman covers Berkeley communities. Contact her at [email protected]

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