As she stood on the starting line, amidst experienced runners, Spanish teacher Cecilia Quiñones thought only of her sister, Fresia. When the pistol went off, she began her first marathon, a seven-hour journey into the Marin Headlands, filled with laughter, tears, and memories of the life her sister lived and their time together.
Quiñones began running as a teenager in Lima, Peru, where she would take frequent trips to the beach and run with her friends or would run daily errands instead of taking public transportation. It wasn’t until seven years ago that she began to run competitively and train for marathons, Quiñones said.
When her sister lost her battle to cancer in 2012, Quiñones said it was extremely hard on herself and her sister. She said she found herself lost and didn’t know where to turn.
“I lost my parents when I was 17. I thought I was an expert, I knew how to cope,” Quiñones said. “When my sister got sick…I realized I wasn’t immune to pain.”
Her love for the sport that she’d been doing since childhood brought her out of the darkness. Quiñones thus began to run, first training for half marathons and eventually deciding to run her first full marathon in the Marin Headlands, which she dedicated to Fresia.
“When I run this Saturday Fresia will be right there with me running by my side, the same way she did during my childhood,” Quiñones wrote in a dedication to her sister a week before the race.
Fresia became like a guardian to her and her sisters after her parents passed away, Quiñones said, making sure their journey was less difficult than her own.
She taught Quiñones to “love and respect life, to always give a helping hand to those who need it, to be passionate about learning, to be kind and empathetic, to strive despite the difficulties,” Quiñones wrote in the dedication.
That marathon was her most challenging run yet. Not only was it her first 26-mile race, but it was also 5,000 feet in elevation.
Quiñones said she plans on running in Marin County again, this time a half marathon sometime in April alongside her husband, Spanish teacher Jeff Morgan.
Morgan has run dozens of half-marathons with Quiñones, but he didn’t start to run until he saw the joy that it brought to Quiñones.
“I was going through a difficult time when my father passed away,” Morgan said, “and so I thought, this is giving her so much joy. Maybe there’s still a chance for me to do something like this.”
Morgan said they run together frequently, during their son’s soccer practice and on the weekends. Both Morgan and Quiñones said they find running a source of relief and something that positively impacts their lives.
Unlike many runners, Quiñones said she relishes the run rather than focusing on her time. “For me, it’s more of the process of enjoying it and taking from the experience of training and running,” Quiñones said.
Quiñones said she hopes to continue running for as long as she can, as it has become an important part of who she is and would feel incomplete without it.
With perseverance and gratitude, Quiñones crossed the finish line of her first race. She may not have expensive shoes or gear, but she has a passion for running and the discipline to continue doing it, qualities she holds close.
Quiñones said with a smile that she plans on running for “forever, hopefully.”