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A New Runner with New Goals

Regina at her friend's house several weeks after her accident.

Regina at her friend's house several weeks after her accident.

By: Stephanie Milot

Name: Regina Iannuzzi
Age: 27
Hometown: Long Island, New York
Event: 2011 ING New York City Marathon

"You're talking to someone who could never even run a mile," says Regina Iannuzzi, "and now it's like, 'I have to run six miles today. Okay, I can do that.' It's exciting and crazy to see what my body can actually do." Iannuzzi, 27, currently lives in Manhattan, New York and will be running for Team Reeve in the 2011 ING New York City Marathon on Sunday, November 6, 2011.

An accident resulting in a spinal cord injury may cause some to lose hope in being active, but not Iannuzzi. After nearly a year-and-a-half of living with a spinal cord injury, she will be running 26.2 miles for the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.

Accidental motivation
On July 17, 2010, Iannuzzi took a trip to her family's farm in Vermont to go horseback riding. She was riding her new horse that became frightened and sped up during her ride. Iannuzzi had difficulty holding onto the reins, landing back and head-first into a post in the corral. "I didn't know that I was in shock from my neck down," she says.

The following morning she was unable to move, and was driven back to New York by her neighbors and big brother/sister. At the hospital, Iannuzzi was told she fractured three vertebrae, in addition to compressing some soft tissue and disks between the vertebrae. She had to wear a brace for three-and-a-half months, but returned to work after two-and-a-half of those months. She currently attends physical therapy three-days-per-week.

"I have never been a person who sits still," explains Iannuzzi. When recovering from the accident, "I was forced to sit still, and I think it really hit me hard that I couldn't sit in a regular position."

During her recovery, she immediately researched the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. "Once Christopher Reeve's accident happened, I felt like it was common knowledge that that's who you go to when a spinal cord injury happens," Iannuzzi says.

While searching the Foundation's website, she watched videos of Team Reeve marathon participants. "I didn't even cry when I got hurt or when they told me what I had done," says Iannuzzi, "but after watching that video I cried. I said, ‘I'm going to do that.'" She decided to run in the 2011 ING New York City Marathon for Team Reeve.

Iannuzzi is a producer for BBDO New York, and the Reeve Foundation is their pro bono client. In the autumn of 2010, she attended the Foundation's annual gala, A Magical Evening. Iannuzzi explains, "Seeing that many quadriplegics and that many people in wheelchairs that are my age and younger was a big red flag for me."

Regina is a city girl during the week and on weekends she spends time with her donkey at the farm.

Regina is a city girl during the week and on weekends she spends time with her donkey at the farm.

A grateful runner
As of May 2011, Iannuzzi has been able to return to her favorite athletic activities. Although she has a love of sports, especially sailing, snowboarding, swimming, and tennis, running was never a passion of hers.

In the hospital after her accident, Iannuzzi recalls hearing doctors and her parents talk with concern as to whether or not she could return to her active lifestyle. "I always hated running," says Iannuzzi, but the conversations from doctors and her parents stayed on her mind. "That just got into my head."

Iannuzzi is grateful that falling from the horse did not result in a worse condition. Her gratitude in combination with her inspiration from watching the Team Reeve videos has motivated her. "I think when you're faced with the idea," says Iannuzzi, "if I had gone a little bit more the other way, or if I had fractured a little bit lower in my vertebrae, or if my helmet didn't protect my head the way it had, I wouldn't have been as lucky."

Cheering, training, and running
On marathon day in New York City, "The energy is unbelievable," says Iannuzzi. "You look for names on people's shirts that you don't even know and you're cheering them on because you feel for them. It's such an amazing experience to watch it."

Since catching what she calls "the marathon bug," and getting permission to run from her doctor as of May 2011, Iannuzzi has been training. In addition to her physical therapy sessions, she trains four or five days each week, usually in the morning.

"You have to be realistic about it," Iannuzzi explains. "That's what I'm learning. Trust me I'm not going to be running the entire 26.2 miles." Although Iannuzzi's injury has prevented her from staying up-to-date with the Team Reeve running schedule, she is still determined to run, but at a comfortable pace. Iannuzzi also takes advantage of emailing questions to the Team Reeve trainers, "which is a great resource," she adds.

Once in a while Iannuzzi also goes for runs with one of her co-workers who will be running the New York City Marathon for an organization supporting children's leukemia. "She made me sign a contract saying that we will cross the finish line together," Iannuzzi laughs.

Iannuzzi is excited knowing that she will have a running partner for marathon day, as well as knowing that she will have loved ones supporting her in the city. "I don't want to fall over in front of anyone," she says while laughing. "And as soon as I see them, because they came out to support me, I'll leverage off of their energy, and that will help keep me going." She is aiming to run the marathon within six hours. "I don't care about time," Iannuzzi explains. "As long as I finish -- I just have to finish."

Fundraising for a foundation and a friend
Her willpower extends beyond her desire to complete the marathon to include reaching her fundraising goal. Raising $10,000 for the Reeve Foundation will be quite an accomplishment, and Iannuzzi is determined to do it. Even more astonishing, she plans to have the $10,000 matched for an acquaintance that is living with quadriplegia, to support him and his family.

Iannuzzi has been using her Team Reeve donation page, emails, and Facebook to encourage donations. She has been receiving support from family and co-workers, and she feels confident that there will be more support to come. "If you're a good person and you've done things to help out other people," Iannuzzi strongly believes, "this is their time to help you out. That's what I've noticed more and more."

A new perspective
Since her accident in July 2010, Iannuzzi feels that it has made her more aware about spinal cord injuries. In her application to be a member of Team Reeve, she had written, "Goals in my life have changed and I'm honored to say that working with the Reeve Foundation is one of them." Surely Iannuzzi's positive attitude and support from family and friends will allow her to achieve her goals for the 2011 ING New York City Marathon and her life.

If you would like to support Regina Iannuzzi and the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, check out Regina's donation page.

Learn more
Inspired by Regina's story? Want to join Team Reeve? You don't have to be an athlete to become a member. Click here
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Continue Christopher Reeve's LegacyPhoto by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders