Life can be overwhelming. There are times when we let stress get the better of us, and we need an escape, a break, a breath of fresh air. For Sandy Crusa, that breath of fresh air is quite literal; it also reflects her character and how she operates in other aspects of her life.
She’s 30 years old, and a native of Tucson. During the week she works as a teacher at Empire High School, where her days are pretty much the same, from Monday through Friday.
“You know, you get up pretty early, eat breakfast and head off to work,” says Crusa. “I like getting there early because there’s nobody around, I can grade papers or get caught up on schoolwork.I teach from 8:30 to 3:30 in the afternoon.Physics in the morning, biology in the afternoon.”
In her free time, Crusa runs as part of a running group called the Workout Group.
“Every Tuesday and Thursday I meet up with many individuals from that group,” she says. “And on Saturday, with a group called Come Run. So those are longer distances that we do here around Tucson.”
Sometimes they have sets, such as sets of 600 meters, and a break in between. Or they run two or three miles, depending on the runner. For Crusa, a love of running didn’t just come out of nowhere.
“I ran in middle school, on my middle school track team, and then in high school, we didn’t have a track team my first year there,” she recalls. “But my sophomore year, my track coach Al Buel came and started a cross-country and track team. So I joined the track and did kind of hurdles and some shorter running distances, but that was kind of the extent of it.”
In college, Sandy went through the challenge a lot of students experience. Moving away from home, adjusting to life in a new place. It was a stressful time. Sandy joined the cross-country team and although she enjoyed it, it was hard for her to juggle adjusting to a new state, school, a social life and running. The easiest choice that made the most sense for her, was to drop running out of her schedule. So she did, and she didn’t really run much after this. Until several years later at Reid Park, Tucson’s largest green area.
“I want to say it was on a winter break, when I just was kind of bored and I said, ‘You know what? I feel like going for a run. So I did, and that it was kind of getting late in the evening and so I knew that was a safe place to run there,” she says.
There, she ran into Tim Bentley, her former running coach at St. Augustine High School.
“It probably was the first time I had been out in a while just of running. It was really, really cold outside,” she recalls. Bentley asked her to join his running group.
Through the Workout Group that Cruse has joined, she has made friends whom she describes as different from those she has made in other situations.
“You really learn like how to push each other in a good way,” she explains. “It’s nice to have company and it’s nice to be able to talk about things to distract you and stuff like that to get those miles.”
Georgia Pattison is one of those friends—a fit brunette of average height.
She trains with Crusa, with whom she shares a mindset about running.
“A lot of people look at us like we’re crazy, and so finding people who … understand that, it’s really cool,” Pattison says. “Yeah, I think runners understand each other, and I found that through Sandy.”
“So I turned 30 this year, and I have this crazy notion that I’m going to run 30 races this year for my thirtieth,” says Crusa. “It’s proving to be more difficult than I thought.”
Crusa’s journey of 30 races for her thirtieth birthday included two half marathons. The first, the TMC Get Moving Tucson Half, was the first half marathon she has ever done. The main meetup for the half marathon was at the Joel D. Valdez Main Library.
Music blasted through the speakers, as well as someone announcing the advertisers, the race details and when the races were going to begin.
Unfortunately, Crusa had experienced an ankle injury a few weeks prior to the race, which affected her training.
She thinks she either pulled a muscle or a tendon. She took a few days off, though she said she should have taken a whole week off. Also, the day of the race she was experiencing a head cold.
Despite this, Crusa was committed to run the race but if she had to, she would drop out.
Once it hit 6:10, it was time for the runners to line up. The crowd of people on the streets of Stone Avenue was vast, with nearly 600 runners, male and female. The announcer started the speech before the race began, explaining the route and the details for both runners and spectators. They started the countdown, and the runners took their starting positions. The crowd grew more and more tense with each number that counted down. Then, the horn sounded off and the crowd burst into their race.
The race continued through downtown, and eventually the trail brought the runners towards Sentinel Peak, also known as A Mountain, as the event is also known as the TMC A-Mountain marathon.
As people started to come into the finish line, people started gathering around the finish line to cheer. You could hear people cheering for a runner’s name, and clapping as they came in. Regardless of who people were there to see, everyone clapped and cheered for every runner that came in.
“I feel proud of myself as a runner, but as a human. It’s kind of morphed, I do it to challenge myself,” she says.
Crusa’s new discovery of running and racing have given her new reasons to run.
“It’s just a great escape from the stress of being a teacher, and the work life. I can leave that behind and I can get out there whether I’m running with a group or by myself, it’s just for me,” Crusa says.
But the group experience she has now grown to be a part of, is the main factor that has changed her idea of running. She used to run with music, with her headphones on.
Now, she says, it feels funny to put them in her ears. Being able to hear “the sounds of leaves or the ground below you, that’s just something special,” she says.
Running grants her a sort of freedom, it separates her from her life as a teacher. Sometimes, we all need an outlet to be able, even if for just a moment, escape the mundane. For Crusa, that’s running.