Pocket worthyStories to fuel your mind

After She Escaped Her Strict Religious Community, There Was No Turning Back

Running helped her build a new life.

Runner’s World

Read when you’ve got time to spare.

Connie Allen

Drew Reynolds

It’s race day, and it’s freezing. Connie doesn’t have gloves or a hat. She wears black yoga pants and a cotton sweatshirt. On her feet are a pair of bulky five-year-old white Nikes she bought at a Foot Locker. The crowd around her buzzes with strange talk of Garmins, and racing flats, and PRs, whatever those are.

At the gun, her friend says: “Just run. Just follow the people.”

It’s 2013, and Connie is 24. When her friend suggested a few weeks prior that she register for the Valentine’s Day 5K in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, she’d asked: “What’s a 5K?”

“It’s just a loop of the park,” he said.

How should she prepare, Connie wanted to know. “Just run on the treadmill,” he said. She figured, How hard could it be?

But now she’s following the people, a big, swarming crowd of people. And when they get to a hill, the people keep going and Connie stops. I can’t do it, she thinks.

Running outside, let alone among hundreds of other runners on a frigid Saturday morning, is new to Connie. For years, she had to hide her workouts from her husband and family. The hill before her is steep, but not nearly as steep as the one she has already climbed just to reach the starting line.


Connie Allen training on a local track, July 2020. (Drew Reynolds)

Sundays were school days when Connie was growing up. Only a few hours most Sundays, except for the first Sunday in November each year, when the New York City Marathon ran up Bedford Avenue, straight through the heart of South Williamsburg. That was a full day.

She would see only the marathon’s aftermath: an avenue strewn with paper cups, empty gel packets, and police barricades, the mysterious remnants of one of the largest road races in the world. Marathoners were crazy people, she was told. They were going to break their legs, or faint, or die the moment they crossed the finish line. But most important, they were not part of the community.

Connie Allen, née Schlesinger, was raised Satmar, an ultra-Orthodox sect of Hasidic Judaism that originated in Hungary in the early 20th century but really took root in post–World War II New York. After the Holocaust, thousands of Orthodox Jews fled Europe and established tightly knit communities throughout Brooklyn, including in South Williamsburg. Connie’s mother, Devorah, was born in Israel; her father, Lipa, in Brooklyn. His parents, Holocaust survivors from Hungary, had their first child on the boat from Europe to New York. They were also cousins.

For that first wave of Jewish émigrés, post-war Brooklyn represented a new start, but it was hardly a happy one. “Even in this land of safety and abundance, the pain of the Holocaust wasn’t very far from the surface,” writes Warren Kozak in his book The Rabbi of 84th Street. “One could hear it in discussions and see it on the faces of those who survived.” They seemed to be “stuck in a dark void,” a state of constant mourning. “Even the warm glow [of Shabbos candles] could not fill the horrible vacuum.”


Connie (left) at age 10 with one of her sisters. (Courtesy Connie Allen)

South Williamsburg measures less than one square mile, but it’s grown into one of the largest Hasidic enclaves in the world: Some estimates suggest that it’s home to as many as 73,000 Hasidim of various sects. Most are Satmar, who reject modern life and maintain the customs and dress of their Hungarian ancestors. Insular and culturally conservative, the Satmar believe that through strict piety and by refusing to assimilate, they can guard against another attempt at annihilation.

This insularity is reinforced by geography, with sharp lines separating South Williamsburg from its neighbors: Williamsburg proper to the north, where boutiques, bars, and luxury condominiums line the East River waterfront; and Bedford-Stuyvesant to the south, a historically Black neighborhood defined by 19th-century brownstones, Baptist churches, and vacant lots turned into community gardens.

Connie knew nothing of either world as a child, nor of any other worlds beyond South Williamsburg, where she was born in 1988. She knew only what she caught glimpses of; her imagination did the rest. From her third-floor apartment on Lee Avenue and Heyward Street, she would sit at the window staring out—“especially on the weekends,” she says, “because there’d be less Jewish people out on the street.”

Whenever she saw a non-Hasidic person walk by, her eyes would be glued on them. “I’d just try to understand what life was out there, because the life I was living was so miserable and so depressing.”

It’s spring 2002, and Connie is 13. She’s small, with big brown eyes. Her silken hair falls straight against her back in a single tight braid. Her traditional black housedress extends almost to her ankles and covers her arms and neck; underneath she wears thick beige tights. Only her face and hands are exposed. Every article of her clothing has been handed down from her older cousins and sisters. She feels invisible.

Connie’s Satmar school is closed to girls for three weeks over spring break so they can help their mothers with Passover cleaning. They empty the cupboards, scour every surface that food has touched, and scrub the walls to rid their homes of any trace of bread products. In Connie’s home, they even clean the ceilings. The ritual commemorates the exodus of enslaved Israelites from Egypt, when, according to the Bible, they were liberated by Moses so abruptly that their bread had no time to rise and they were left with only unleavened bread for their journey across the desert. Today the weeklong holiday is observed without leavened grain products, a tradition that honors their exile and hardship.

Marathoners were crazy people, she was told. Most important, they were not part of the community.

For those three weeks, Connie’s typically silent apartment is full of commotion, and she sees an opportunity. She may not be able to change her dress or her hair, but she can change her body.

As her mother and sisters clean and scour and scrub, Connie slips down the narrow hall to her bedroom. She closes the door and lays towels on the creaky wood floor to muffle the sound. She begins: first jumping jacks, then high knees, then running in place as hard as she can, nearly passing out from the effort. She repeats the cycle for 20 minutes, and again the next day. And the day after that, until it’s time to go back to school.

“I wasn’t overweight, but I wanted to lose weight. Not because I wanted to lose weight, but because I wanted people to notice that I’d lost weight. And not even that I’d lost weight, necessarily, but notice me,” she says now.

Looking back, she realizes how unhealthy that thought process was for an adolescent girl. But 13-year-old Connie, who wasn’t even allowed to wear her hair down or do anything else to feel good about how she looked, just wanted to be seen. By her classmates, her teachers. Anyone. She wanted to be someone other than the girl in thick braids and dark clothes who even other Hasidic children thought was weird.

Lipa and Devorah had eight children, six girls and two boys. Connie was their fifth child, and their fourth daughter. The family was severe even by Satmar standards, which exacerbated her feeling of alienation among her peers. Lipa believed that food was for nourishment alone, not pleasure. He had never tasted chocolate or ice cream. Devorah spent most days reading her prayer book. She rarely showed affection.

On Fridays at sundown, Devorah would light Shabbos candles and Connie and her sisters would queue up in the living room “like an assembly line.” One by one, Devorah would kiss them on the forehead; in return, they would kiss her hand. It was a tradition that had been passed down over generations. Connie says she didn’t feel any particular affinity for Judaism or God. But she cherished those moments of closeness with her mother. She wanted more.

Lipa spent his days studying the Torah. Their income was limited to what Devorah earned babysitting for other families in the building. The family relied on food stamps to buy squished produce and stale bread at the market. The only meat they had was from chickens that Lipa usually slaughtered and cleaned himself, both to ensure that it was done according to kosher standards and because the butcher cut him a deal for doing the labor himself. Lipa got priority at meals; the kids were left with bare chicken wings and little bits of potato or rice. Green beans if they were lucky.

Connie looked forward to holidays, because on holidays, she and her sisters got to help Devorah make rugelach, a traditional Jewish pastry filled with chocolate or cinnamon. It was the only time they were allowed to have sugar. The family spoke only Yiddish and dressed in dark colors. The girls wore their hair in one or two braids; the boys in traditional payos, or “side curls.” Connie and her sisters were forbidden from talking to other girls who styled their hair with ponytails or bangs, or who wore colorful clothing. Her brothers were forbidden from talking to girls at all.


Connie, center, at age 14 with her siblings on their way to visit her older sister who had recently had a baby. She says it was the first time she had ever ridden the subway despite being born and raised in NYC. (Courtesy Connie Allen)

“He was extremely religious,” Connie says of her father. He believed men were holy; they existed to serve God. Women existed to have children and to serve their husbands. The sexes were to be kept separate. When Connie and her sisters turned 12, their father stopped looking at them or speaking to them directly. Whenever he chastised them, it was always through Devorah. Connie got chastised a lot. She was rebellious. She liked to listen to the radio; sometimes she brushed her teeth on Shabbos. Neither was allowed.

“I know a lot of people who grew up better than I did,” says Connie now. “They had more freedom of speaking their mind, and more love. I always feel like things would have been different if I’d had that love.” By 16, she decided she was done. Or rather, the decision was made for her. The sequence is a little murky; it comes in flashes now, her memory a kaleidoscope refracting the slivers of a life that, up to then, had only seemed of a piece. Connie sometimes has trouble putting them back together. She pauses often. Getting it right is important.

Of this she is certain: The summer after 11th grade, in 2005, Connie was told not to return to school. She had made a friend at Satmar sleepaway camp who’d acquired a reputation for hanging around with boys. The school disapproved. Connie was fine with this. She’d never felt like she fit in.

When Connie and her sisters turned 12, their father stopped looking at them or speaking to them directly.

She got a job helping the teachers at another school, where she befriended the janitor. He was the first non-Jewish person Connie had ever known. And though nothing ever happened between them, Connie considered him her boyfriend. What else to call a man she talked to in private?

Devorah had reached her limit. She demanded that Connie talk to her uncle, “who supposedly knew about stuff.” Connie agreed on one condition: that her mother find her a match by the time she turned 17. It’s not uncommon for young ultra-Orthodox Jews to get married as a way to escape their parents’ homes, says Yael Reisman, the director of field and movement building at Footsteps, a Manhattan-based nonprofit that provides assistance to ultra-Orthodox Jews who want to transition out of the community. But getting married also further cements them in the community. “Once you’re married, it becomes much harder to leave,” she says. “And once you have children, it’s even harder.”

It was July and her birthday was in October. Connie figured she could make it that long. “I just wanted to get out,” she says.

Connie went to see her uncle three times. They met in a dimly lit room in his house. There was an old-fashioned dinette against one wall, a couch against another. He sat at the head of a long, wooden table, stroking his long, dark beard. She sat at the side, her eyes cast downward, her hands folded in her lap. He assumed she’d been sent to him because she was pregnant. “He talked about sex the whole time,” she says. “I didn’t even know what sex was. That was the first time I ever learned about it.”

Connie’s parents fulfilled their end of the bargain, too, and found her an eligible boy, another Satmar one year older than Connie. “My family thought I was already pregnant, and they didn’t want a scandal on their hands,” she says. The couple had a brief, 15-minute meeting and were married 12 weeks later.


Connie at 17, on her wedding day. (Courtesy Connie Allen)

Once she was married, Connie cut off her hair and began wearing a wig; only a woman’s husband should see her natural hair, according to ultra-Orthodox custom. The couple moved into a small apartment just a few blocks from where they’d both been raised and began to build a life. In the Orthodox community, that meant starting a family.

Every month after her wedding, Connie walked up Bedford Avenue, turned right onto Penn Street, and entered an unmarked brick building. Connie hated going to the mikvah, a ritual bath that dates to at least the 1st century B.C. and adheres strictly to rabbinical law. But she had no choice. Married Orthodox women are expected to go to the mikvah at the end of their monthly cycles to ensure that they are “pure.”

Inside the building, she would descend a narrow set of stairs to a damp basement. An older woman would greet her there and lead her into one of several private rooms, where Connie undressed, showered, clipped her nails, and combed what remained of her thick, black hair. When she was finished, she would ring a bell and the older woman would come in to inspect her from head to toe. Was she clean enough? Did she have any loose hair? Were her nails adequately trimmed?

Then she’d go to a larger room with a small pool. They’d be the only two people in the room. Connie would submerge herself entirely six times as the older woman sat on the side and watched. After each submersion the older woman would offer a simple, two-syllable affirmation: “Kosher.”

Connie and her husband had little in common, but they did share a rebellious streak. She thought that might be enough. Unlike most young Satmar men, her husband didn’t shun the secular world and spend his days studying the Torah. He had a job. He smoked. He had a car. He was one of the “cool” guys. And he introduced Connie to movies. These became an escape, however brief. But they also made her sad. Her heart sank during what she refers to as “the love parts”—any scene that depicted a deep, affectionate relationship between the characters. “I didn’t have that,” she says.

Connie got pregnant the first time she and her husband had sex. Within weeks, she fell so ill she could barely get out of bed. She was already thin—110 pounds—and dropped to 90. She never saw a doctor. Instead, her husband called a rabbi.

The rabbi came to their apartment and the two of them sat down at the dining room table. “You have to take care of your husband, you have to support your family,” he told her, his voice gentle but firm. “You can’t just lie in bed all day.” Connie seethed. She realized that her husband thought she’d been faking. He’d summoned the rabbi to call her bluff. A week later she had a miscarriage.

After nearly two more years of trying to get pregnant (and dreaded visits to the mikvah), Connie gave birth to a son in August 2008. She was 19. She joined the local YMCA, on Bedford and Monroe Street, about a mile south of South Williamsburg, where she began walking on the treadmill in an effort to lose some pregnancy weight. Her husband joined too, but it wasn’t his thing. He preferred to stay home.

Connie went to the Y a few times a week, after she put her son to bed. She wore a long-sleeved T-shirt, black leggings, and a long skirt, and covered her hair with a large kerchief. On her feet she wore the bulky white Nikes she’d lace up five years later for that Valentine’s Day 5K. Gradually, she learned to pick up the pace for brief intervals, jogging for up to two, maybe three minutes at a time.

During her pregnancy, Connie had been able to avoid the mikvah because she wasn’t menstruating, and she managed to sustain her hiatus even after she gave birth. “It takes about six weeks to get rid of all the postpartum blood and whatever,” she says. But eventually, she was expected to go back. “It’s a chore that women do to provide sex for their husbands,” she says.

One day, Connie realized that once a month, during the time she would normally allocate to the mikvah, she could disappear for up to two and a half hours without drawing suspicion. This gave her an idea: “I figured, instead of going to Bedford and Penn Street, I’ll just go to Bedford and Monroe Street and make my own mikvah.”

She learned to use the weight machines, to do crunches on a Pilates ball, and to climb the stair machine. Afterward she’d take a quick shower in the locker room, clip her nails, and go home, a straight shot up Bedford Avenue on the B44 bus. Her husband had no idea.

At home, Connie continued to rebel. She wore jeans and put on a skirt only when she left the house. She grew her hair out and wore it down, donning her wig only in public. She listened to the radio. “It was just me in the house doing what I wanted, and if my husband didn’t like it, we’d fight. Whatever. I didn’t even care,” she says. Besides, he could be loose with the rules too. He watched TV and had a smartphone. He wore cufflinks and cologne. He’d skip the prayer at synagogue.

For people who leave the community, the repercussions extend far beyond the one who chooses to go.

But now they had a son. They had to think about where he’d go to school, what kind of clothes he’d wear, whether he’d have side curls. They fought about it. “He wanted to keep living that double life,” she says. For Connie, that was unacceptable. “I thought, you can watch TV but your child can’t? That’s not how I want to raise my kid. That’s not honest, and not truthful.”

She told her husband she wanted to leave the community. He tried to dissuade her. Then he said they’d do it together, they’d change together. “But he didn’t have it in him,” she says. “He just couldn’t do it.”

Reisman says that for people who leave the community, the repercussions extend far beyond the one who chooses to go. Leaving “tarnishes the entire family,” she says. “Your siblings might not be selected for certain marriages, your father might be ostracized at shul (synagogue). People worry about what will happen in their wake. That’s why some who may want to leave don’t.”


Connie with her son, at age 2, and her sisters, the last time they were all together before she left the community. (Courtesy Connie Allen)

As oppressive as life in the community might appear to outsiders, particularly for women and girls, Reisman says it can also be one of great warmth and beauty. “Everyone looks out for you,” she says. “Almost every need is taken care of. If you leave that, not only are you going out on your own, but you’re losing your whole safety net.”

For many in the ultra-Orthodox community, this presents the biggest risk of all. “Because of the way you were brought up, you don’t know how to function in the world,” Reisman says. “You may not even speak English. The ultra-Orthodox are essentially immigrants in the place where they were born.”

No one in Connie’s life supported her decision. They told her of people who’d left and committed suicide, or who tried to return but were never truly accepted back into the fold. That there was nothing out there for her. That she’d lose her son.

“She had everything at stake,” says Reisman. “She had everything to lose.”

But Connie could see no other way. She had to leave for her son’s sake. During their divorce, Connie’s husband threatened to sue her for custody. She was unfazed. “I said, ‘What are you going to do? You weren’t in the room when he was born, you’ve never fed him, never changed his diaper.’ And in the community, that was normal. But I wanted a partner.”

Through Facebook, Connie met another young single mother who was also leaving the community, and they got a two-bedroom apartment in Midwood, a quiet, middle-class neighborhood in central Brooklyn, several miles from South Williamsburg. She commuted to the old neighborhood every day by bus to her job at a tech support company.

She was 21, with an 11th-grade education and an 18-month-old to feed and clothe. She had only begun to learn English four years earlier. She had little money and almost no time for herself, let alone for working out at the Y, one of the few things that brought her joy. She stopped going.

“Everything just fell apart,” she says of that time in her life. “Just so much chaos.”

To alleviate stress, Connie and her roommate partied whenever their kids were with their dads. They drank. They went to clubs with other disillusioned Hasidim.


Connie, left, with her older sister who had just gotten engaged. (Courtesy Connie Allen)

One day when things were especially rough, Connie called her mother. “How come we were never brought up with the idea of college?” she asked. “Why couldn’t we have further education after high school, so we can support our families?”

Her mother replied: “Why are you asking me questions? I never asked questions of my mother. Why are you questioning the way of life?”

Reisman says that for Satmar Jews, questioning the way of life is tantamount to forgetting the past, and forgetting the past is tantamount to extinction. “Everything the Satmar community does is because of the Holocaust,” she says. “They suffered incredible loss. Everything they do is under the lens of trauma and fear. And when they get pushback from the outside world, their tendency is to crawl in even further. There’s a very us versus them mentality, and it all comes from the Holocaust.”

For those who leave, this inherited trauma compounds the extraordinary challenges of adjusting to the secular world. A lot of people don’t make it, or they fall into destructive habits as a way to cope. “I could have very easily become a drug addict,” Connie says.

One morning after a night of hard partying, Connie woke up and couldn’t remember the previous 12 hours. She thinks she was roofied. “I thought, ‘I’m done.’”


Drew Reynolds

It’s the beginning of 2013, and Connie has been on her own for three years. She hasn’t seen her family since 2011, when she was asked to leave her sister’s wedding for not wearing an appropriately modest dress. She no longer has the friends she partied with when she left the community. She has only her son, and when he’s at his dad’s, she has no one. She feels lost.

To fill the time, she returns to the only thing that gave her solace in her old life.

There’s a YMCA on Flatbush Avenue, in a predominantly Caribbean neighborhood not far from Midwood, and Connie spends up to five hours at a time there, working her way across the weight room and then running on the treadmill. She meets bodybuilders and yoga instructors who become her new friends. She falls in love with the “feeling of lifting heavy weights and feeling really sore the next day.”

Gradually, she meets other runners. One day, one of them invites her to race the Valentine’s Day 5K. She doesn’t hesitate.

But Connie has never run outside in the dead of winter before. She isn’t prepared for the cold, or for the hills of Prospect Park. As she squeezes into the crowd behind the start line, she looks around at the other runners in their DriFit jackets, thermal tights, and fleece hats. A friend loans her his. She pulls it down over her ears and curls her hands into the sleeves of her sweatshirt.

Just one loop of the park, she repeats to herself. I can do this.

At the gun, the crowd surges forward and Connie gets swept into the current. Then that first hill, and she stops. But not for long. Connie pauses, looks up at the incline, and starts to walk. When she reaches the top, she starts to run again. She approaches the finish line as the clock ticks past the 27-minute mark. She signs up for another race the next weekend.


Running in the Valentine’s Day 5K in 2013, her first race experience. (Courtesy Connie Allen)

Soon she buys a Garmin of her own. Then she buys new shoes. She starts running to and from work, eight miles each way.

By mid-March 2013, Connie has run a handful of 5Ks and 4-milers and wants to try something longer. That April, she runs a 15K in Central Park, and finishes in 1:22, an average pace of 8:48 per mile. “I felt horrible, everything was hurting, but I loved it,” she says. “When it was over, I thought, how do I train for something like this in the future?”

She joins a club, North Brooklyn Runners, and begins training in earnest with another runner on the team named Hershy, who also grew up Orthodox. With him, Connie starts to do her regular runs at a 7:30 pace and “crazy track workouts.”

“I didn’t have a Garmin, I’d just follow him and he’d time me,” she says. “We’d do hill repeats on the Williamsburg Bridge. Then we’d do a 20-minute cool-down. One day on the way home, I passed Prospect Park, and I did another loop.”

Soon she buys a Garmin of her own. Then she buys new shoes. She starts running to and from work, eight miles each way.

Connie doesn’t know if she is a distance runner or a track rat, a marathoner or a 5K specialist, a miler or a sprinter. She just knows that she loves to run and seems to be pretty good at it. She applies to the 2013 New York City Marathon, but she doesn’t get in through the lottery, so she registers for Philadelphia instead. Then she gets a spot in New York through Team for Kids and decides to do both.

That fall, just nine months after her first road race, Connie finishes two marathons just two weeks apart. Her time in New York, 3:33:57, good enough to qualify for Boston.

It’s 2020 now. Connie is 31. She carries herself like an athlete, confident and strong. When she speaks, she’s direct; when she listens, she does so with intention. Her eyes are the same large, brown orbs she had at 13, but now they’re assertive and alert.

She lives in New Jersey with her new husband, their two-year-old daughter, and her son. He’ll be 12 in August. Her husband, Ken, is a runner too. Like she did with most of her new friends, she met him through NBR.

Over the past seven years, Connie has completed four marathons, including two New Yorks and one Boston, with a PR of 3:31. But her real wheels are on the track. Through NBR, she met James Chu, a certified coach who saw right away that she had the explosive speed to excel at the 200, 400, maybe even the 800. Chu began coaching Connie in late 2013 and they decided to work down from the mile, setting their sights on the 5th Avenue Mile the following September.

Connie and her coach worked together all spring and summer, meeting regularly at the McCarren track in North Williamsburg for speed sessions and to develop Connie’s form. She learned to drive her knees forward, to use her arms, to run tall. It paid off. In September 2014, Connie finished 5th Avenue in 5:53. The following year she brought her time down to 5:35, and in February of this year, she posted a 2:35 800.

She kept working on the longer distances too, clocking a half marathon PR of 1:32 in her leadup to Boston 2016. Like any runner, she’s had her share of injuries and slumps. The 2016 Boston Marathon left her cooked, and she struggled all summer to train for 5th Avenue in September. She made it to the start line but dropped out at the three-quarter mark. She needed a break. She hung up her shoes and focused on her family. She had just married Ken, and they were trying to get pregnant.


Connie with her son, Chaimy. (Drew Reynolds)

In July 2017, her mother called. Connie reluctantly picked up; it was the first time they’d spoken in six years. She saw it as a chance to ask some questions, to maybe understand her mother better, to find a path toward reconciliation.

“Why didn’t you give us kids any love?” Connie asked. “Why was there no affection in our house?”


Finally her mother answered: “I just did what my parents did.”

Two months later, just before Connie’s daughter was born, her mother called again. This time Connie didn’t pick up; the pain of the previous call was still fresh. Her mother left a voicemail instead.

“Chumy,” she began, calling Connie by her Yiddish name. “It’s Mommy. I didn’t forget about you. My heart is open for you.”

Her mother was crying, and for a moment, Connie thought she might finally be ready to accept her for who she is, to give her the love she had always craved, to be the mother she had always longed for her to be.

She’d been on that road countless times, but never like this. She didn’t feel invisible this time.

But she wasn’t calling to offer any of that, or even because Connie was about to have a baby. She was calling because it was Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. “God is waiting for you to return to him,” her mother said, her already quiet voice muffled by tears. “He loves you. God is never going to leave a Jewish child. You can always return.”

“That voicemail started out well,” Connie says, “but it took a turn when she mentioned God. They will only accept me if I return to God’s ways.” These days, Connie identifies as an atheist. “Holidays we still celebrate because of the history and the traditions, and they’re fun. I believe in history. But I don’t believe there is a God or a higher power.” Her mother hasn’t called since.

Today, Connie is at once forgiving and resolute when she speaks of her parents, and even of her ex-husband. After all, they didn’t make the rules. But she also can’t abide a life that, for her, was so unbearable, and so lonely. She wants her children to know something different.


Drew Reynolds

After a nearly three-year hiatus, Connie resumed training in May 2019, focusing squarely on the track. This spring, she ran a series of 200s, solo and closed with a 30-second rep. A PR. She hopes to break 65 in the 400 this summer, and Chu thinks she can do it.

These are much shorter distances than the New York City Marathon that captured her imagination as a child, to be sure, but the journey to get there has taken a lifetime.

She thinks back on those bulky white Nikes, that first 5K in Prospect Park, and the friends who helped her train for her first 26.2-mile trek through the five boroughs in 2013. She remembers the thrill of descending the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge into Brooklyn, the only place she’d ever called home, and crossing the finish line at Tavern on the Green. But most of all, she remembers running through South Williamsburg.

“Just going through that one mile, the feeling of redemption,” she says of racing up Bedford Avenue, the same stretch of road that took her to the mikvah, and later, home from the Y on the B44 bus. She’d been on that road countless times, but never like this. She didn’t feel invisible this time. She didn’t feel lost. She felt like a marathoner.

As she ran, the few Hasidic spectators who’d gathered on the sidewalks stared at her like she was crazy, or was going to break her legs, or would die the moment she crossed the finish line.

Connie just smiled back at them. She couldn’t stop smiling.

David Alm is a Brooklyn-based writer and editor. His writing has appeared in GQ, Mother Jones, and Runner’s World, among other outlets.

How was it? Save stories you love and never lose them.

Logo for Runner’s World

This post originally appeared on Runner’s World and was published August 6, 2020. This article is republished here with permission.

No matter what you’re looking to improve in your running life, find it with Runner’s World+.

Join Today