Jennifer Chaudoir knew all too well what she was running from.
It took her many miles to learn what she was running to.
Block by block, she ran to strength, confidence, freedom from two abusive marriages, happiness, and to victory.
Fitness Edge recently named the mother of five from Green Bay its 2011 athlete of the year. The award recognized her for 31 outright or age group wins over the year, and for the ordeal that made being an elite runner unfathomable to her for more than a decade.
Chaudoir suffered physical and emotional abuse during her first marriage, which lasted 10 years. Her second marriage was equally bad.
After becoming afraid to leave their baby alone with her husband, Chaudoir obtained a court-ordered restraining order against her husband. He was later convicted of violating the order, and they divorced in 2009.
Fighting for her safety and her sanity, Chaudoir’s path started with the early morning walks she took to find peace and answers.
“Walking turned to jogging and my jogging turned to running,” she said. “In order for me to get out of the situation, I needed to feel strong.”
A woman who lacked the confidence to pursue athletics during her darker times, found she had a talent for the sport, first in the 2006 Cellcom Green Bay Half Marathon, then in dozens of races.
Chaudoir, 37, finished fourth last year in the Community First Fox Cities Marathon, in a time of 3:04:26, finished second in the 2011 Icebreaker Indoor Half Marathon and first in the 2012 Icebreaker 5K.
The medals she earned are inconsequential compared to the bigger prizes she’s attained.
“I found that I felt if I could run through struggles to finish two miles when I used to only make it two blocks that I could do almost anything I put my mind and my heart into,” she said “It also gave me little pieces of me back.
“I lost the real Jenny in trying to find ways to cope and trying so hard to please and keep peace. In my running I found the feeling of the freedom I so desired, and regained some confidence that had been pulled away from me.
“I regained passion for life and what can be in life instead of trying to keep everything even keeled. The confidence made me strong enough to get through life's trials feeling strong and I began to succeed with many more accomplishments I never dreamed of.”
Some may envy Chaudoir’s speed and athletic frame, without appreciating the energy she invests in her training and her family. She’s worked as a waitress, cleans houses and recently started her own personal training business.
She juggles her work schedule and training with time for her children, ages 14, 12, 11, 9 and 3.
Fitness Edge, part of Global Bottling Partners based in Neenah, has been a helpful sponsor, and added a confidence boost through its athlete of the year award.
According to Global Bottling Partners President Mark Gottsacker, the award winner is honored for outstanding commitment in achieving personal athletic goals, despite obstacles.
“Jennifer maintains a vigorous training schedule, has overcome several health issues and has a successful personal training business,” Gottsacker said. “I can think of no better person to be awarded the Fitness Edge athlete of the year.”
Chaudoir has started 2012 running to new goals.
On Thursday, she ran nearly 30 miles from her home to the Golden House shelter for victims of abuse; then on to the chapel she visited at the start of her journey.
“My exact moves seven years ago when I needed help,” she said.
She ran this time to raise money for the shelter, and to give the strength she found to others.
“I’m hoping to inspire other women who think that they can't believe that they can, with all aspects of life,” Chaudoir said. “If I can make a difference for someone else, that will be my reward.”