GULFPORT, MS - In less than a week, thirty thousand runners will hit the streets for the historic Boston marathon; one of the most prestigious races in the world. Every marathon runner knows that it's very tough to qualify for this iconic race.
Thirty-eight runners from Mississippi have qualified. Nine runners from the coast are part of that elite group competing in the iconic Boston Marathon. One of those is Georgia Salloum from Gulfport. Georgia says, "It's not my first marathon, but to runners it's THE marathon. To qualify for Boston, is a huge accomplishment."
This will be Georgia's first time in the Boston marathon. It has been a long haul preparing for this moment and finding time to train while juggling responsibilities as a wife, mom, and occupational therapist. "When you're a runner you fit it in. You work you day around running. Some days I have to get up really early and some days it's later in the day. But you find the time," she said.
Time, dedication and a passion are all critical components when preparing for a marathon.
This will also be Dana Vergunsts' first Boston marathon, but she's getting plenty of sage advice from a veteran of the course; her husband Leonard Vergunst. This will be his 11th Boston Marathon. Leonard is thrilled his wife also qualified for the race.
He stated, "I'm so excited for Dana. I'm trying to tell her what to expect and telling her about the hills, heartbreak hill...just trying to get her prepared."
The Ocean Springs couple, married a year and a half ago, share a joy of running that makes this years race even more special.
Dana calls it "magical", adding, "It's a blessing and honor to be able to share the sport of running together. Sharing our experiences and celebrating our successes and achievements."
Leonard says their age difference helps them keep pace with one another. "I'm a little bit older than Dana, and as I'm getting a little slower she's getting faster. So we're getting closer with our training so she's coming along," he said.
Leonard may be getting slower, but at sixty-two his qualifying time of about three minutes is way faster than the 3:51 qualifying time for his age group (60-64). In fact his 3 hour time is faster than the qualifying time (3:01:37) for the 18-34 year age group.
Dana and Georgia also finished well within the qualifying times for their age groups.
As these three wind down their training this week for the big event, their goal is to stay healthy so they'll be at their best for those 26.2 miles they've worked so hard for.
Dana says the hard work is paying off. She said, "I've been preparing my mind a body for it. I'm feeling strong and the race nerves are settling in. I'm ready to get out there and do my thing." Georgia hopes the hard work serves as a lesson for her children. "I hope they see that it's good to set challenges and make goals and then work to meet those goals, she noted.
Meeting those goals is something Leonard says says will be made just a little easier, thanks to the amazing crowd support at the Boston Marathon. He stated, "When you get into the city of Boston, the last three miles, they're lining the streets, cheering you on; and no matter how tired you are you always find a way to finish strong in Boston because of the crowd support."