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Valeria Hawkins, Clarksdale

 

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Guest Blogger: Valeria Hawkins

If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere. It's up to you, New York, New York!

I had a conversation the other day with a dear friend and mentor and she said, "They see your glory, but they do not know your story." 

On November 1, 2015, I fulfilled my dream and finished the 2015 TCS New York City Marathon. Although I had the support of family, colleagues, friends and church members, the 26.2 miles were mine alone to m anage. I walked and ran further than I had run in my life and raised $3,000 for a cause in which I deeply believe in, The Alliance for a Healthier Generation. Finishing the race, wearing my medal and realizing this dream all were just a part of the journey.

It brought my brother and me closer together. I have photos of us training in the dark and in the rain. At one point during the race, friends and family were unable to track my progress through a mobile application, which literally updated them every few miles of my whereabouts. I know I had people worried, but my brother, Walter Hawkins, boldly said, “Val didn’t quit. I know she didn’t.” When a person has seen you at your weakest, they also know your strength.

This journey was not easy for me. Over ten years ago, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. The doctors thought I had cancer and removed my thyroid. Your thyroid is what regulates your metabolism and energy level, so the last ten years, there were many days where I had to push myself just to do every day normal activities like getting out of bed.

Then, a year ago I was diagnosed with a heart defect and my cardiologist believed that I might need open heart surgery to repair it. Additional tests followed, and he realized that it wasn't as severe as the initial test had shown. However, I did have the following: an abnormal electrical cardiogram, hypertension, mitral regurgitation, and stroke syndrome (TIA).  I knew I had to be very proactive about my health at this point. With my own father living with a pacemaker, I did not want to go down that path also.

Through diet and exercise, it could be corrected. To God be the glory. Once my heart became much stronger, I was cleared by my doctor to train for the 2015 TCS New York City Marathon! Oh, and three weeks before the race, I injured my hip and had to see a chiropractor in Helena, Arkansas several times a week. None of these are excuses, but a testimony to God's amazing grace. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

There are so many lessons I could share that I learned on this journey, but I will share two. First, we must remember to encourage one another, even when you're going through your own trials and challenges. Although I had my own race to run, I slowed down to encourage someone else and made sure they also finished. Second, hold onto your faith, especially when you feel tired and weak. The marathon had 49, 617 finishers out of a starting field of 50,235. What an amazing journey and accomplishment! I got tired and my body ached, but I was one of the 49,617 that finished.

Remember the race is not given to the swift nor the strong, but to those that endure unto the end!

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Valeria Hawkins is the Program Manager for Mississippi with the Alliance for Healthier Generation founded by the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation. In that role, she is the primary contact and service provider for schools located in Mississippi. She provides technical assistance for schools across the state of Mississippi and parts of Arkansas.

Prior to joining the Alliance, Valeria was a Community/Youth Program Director serving counties in the Delta for the Partnership for Healthy Mississippi, a statewide tobacco prevention organization. She has worked for the Mississippi Department of Human Services and coordinated counties' task forces in relation to issues affecting youths in the Delta. She is skilled in organizing grassroots initiatives, youth development programming and passionate about working to improve the Mississippi Delta .

Valeria has a B.A. in Communications from Mississippi Valley State University and a master’s degree in Public Administration from Arkansas State University. She is a certified grant specialist and has served as a grant reviewer for the U.S. Department of Education. Most recently, Valeria received her certification as a Certified Health Coach from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.

Valeria has spoken on panel discussions at national conferences for the National Association for Black Journalist and the Forum for Black Public Administrators regarding childhood obesity. She also received the Presidential Gold Volunteer Service Award for her volunteer work with the Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi’s Get A Life! Initiative, and was recognized as a 2010 Health Champion by the Community Foundation Regional Health Council. She is a member of the Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi Regional Health Council and the Mississippi Place Matters Team and serves on several committees that deal with health disparities in Mississippi. In 2014, Valeria was one of ten to receive NASPAA’s inaugural “Public Service Matters: Spotlight Award.

Last, but not the least, she recently finished the 2015 New York City Marathon!

(Originally published in 2016)

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