A marathon within a marathon: Kaitlin Ross overcomes her challenges in stride


Courtesy of Marathon Photo Live

From Navy bootcamp to the Chicago Marathon, Kaitlin Ross is taking on the ultimate fitness test and lacing up for her second 26.2-mile race.

Ross, a Tampa, Florida native and third-year student studying exercise science, was introduced to running in 2017 while at the Naval Station Great Lakes in North Chicago. Her training included fitness tests that consisted of push-ups, sit-ups and a mile-and-a half run.

Ross figured joining the Navy would be a good opportunity to learn new skills, help pay for college and be a part of a cause bigger than herself. She did not anticipate the innate sense of community among her peers.

“You’re all going through the same thing together and that really bonds a group of people,” Ross said.

Ross graduated from bootcamp at Great Lakes right before Thanksgiving in 2017. Then, she enrolled in the school for translators in early 2018 at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey Bay, California where she studied Arabic and continued running.

On a whim, she joined some of her friends in a 10-kilometer race on Angel Island off the coast of San Francisco.

“[That] was the most fun I’ve ever had running or doing anything outside,” Ross said.

The energy and camaraderie of that race stayed with Ross, and she would soon seek it out again.

Unfortunately, Ross’ time in Monterey Bay was cut short.

“I didn’t get to finish my program because I was discharged for my illness, which sucked,” Ross said. “But even with the time I did have there, [it] was one of the most intense learning experiences of my life. It’s definitely where I learned how to study for real and manage my time.”

Ross went back home to Florida to figure out her next life steps. While she was there, she was a personal trainer at LA Fitness. She had two clients there who were training for the 2019 Bank of America Chicago Marathon. She knew she would be moving to Chicago to attend DePaul that fall.

Her clients piqued her competitive curiosity.

Ross signed up for the 2019 Chicago Marathon through a charity team and raised money for Team Salute, a veteran support charity that is dedicated to meeting the financial, physical and emotional needs of injured military service members, veterans and their families.

Ross met up with her Team Salute team on race morning — ready for the challenge ahead.

“The Chicago Marathon is one of our biggest fundraisers of the year,” Team Salute coordinator Sue Hussey said. “What each one of those runners raise individually has a direct impact on a veteran family.”

Hussey mentioned the minimum fundraising amount is $1,250 — enough to help keep a veteran out of homelessness.

According to Megan Richards Martin, founding principal of Page One public relation, 45,932 participants — the most in the history of the event — filled the streets of Chicago Oct. 13, 2019.

Through all the runners, Ross found one of her Team Salute members with five kilometers remaining and they crossed the finish line together. Running the last portion of the race with her teammate made finishing the marathon an emotional experience for Ross.

“That was how I ran my first marathon,” Ross said. “I didn’t put much thought into signing up, but I’m glad I did it.”

Ross admitted that she does not love running — she loves racing.

Since the 2019 Chicago Marathon, Ross ran a 15-mile race in Wisconsin and most recently raced the Hoka ONE ONE Half Marathon on Sept. 26. She will be running the Bucktown 5k on Oct. 3 before she lines up for her second 2021 Chicago Marathon on Oct. 10.

Ross isn’t racing for a particular charity team this year, but she still raised money for Team Red, White and Blue, which strives to enrich the lives of American veterans by connecting them with their communities. She has been a member since 2018.

Martha Seguera, an athletic coordinator for the Chicago Chapter of Team Red, White and Blue, has known Ross for about two years and puts together social activities for the veteran community.

“One thing about Kaitlin is that she is extremely dedicated. When she commits to something, she just gets it done,” Seguera said. “She’s definitely not a quitter.”

This weekend she aims to best her time of 5 hours and 45 minutes. Once the marathon winds down and as her legs recover, Ross will keep pursuing her studies as she has a goal of teaching one day.

“A marathon seems really big and scary, but it’s only really a few months of my life training for it and racing,” Ross said. “I’m trying to finish something really big now: get my degree. To me, the marathon is like a smaller marathon within this big marathon of my education.”