This month, we celebrate another athlete who is nothing short of amazing. With absolute determination, he has fought through many difficult situations and proved himself triumphant time and again. It is with much delight that we shine our spotlight on the incredible Joe Valenti, who shares his story with us. Here's what he had to say...
"In my life I had to overcome a number of adversities throughout the journey. The first was suffering from asthma as a child and needing to be rushed to the hospital on numerous occasions to be treated. Whilst in the hospital a doctor said that I should get into running to help strengthen my lungs. It sounded weird to be told to run when I’m already having trouble breathing due to my condition.
So at the age of seven, I started cross country running and sure enough it helped. I've never looked back, and never had an asthma attack since. I ended up going on to win a number of medals in Little Athletics and even made it to the State Finals in 800m running at Olympic Park when I was 16. That was about as far as my running career ever went as a kid. I ended up playing a lot of other sports along the way, but playing footy at Westmeadows Football Club was probably one of my biggest passions.
Fast forward to February 2008, my wife and I were involved in a serious car accident that saw us get hit by a truck, with our car eventually coming to rest on its side. We ended up getting rushed to the hospital where they discovered I had fractured my C6 vertebrae, which provides structural support to the neck and protects the spinal cord.
I probably had one of the longest nights of my life in hospital that night awaiting the results. In the morning I was told that if I had of fractured my neck a matter of millimetres more I could've become a quadriplegic; unable to walk again, let alone run. That was a pretty frightening thing to hear.
Orthopaedic surgeons are telling people every day they're not going to walk again and thankfully I wasn't given that news. You consider yourself very lucky. I've never forgotten that day when my life could've taken a serious turn, and don't take it for granted.
I was required to wear a neck brace for months, undergo rehab and do strengthening exercises to get back to where I was before the accident. My neck still troubles me, but it’s nothing compared to what could’ve been.
I took up distance running only a few years ago when I found out my wife was pregnant with our daughter. I decided right then that I wanted to be a positive role model in her life by teaching her from a young age the power of determination in overcoming challenges. I want to teach her about setting goals, whatever they may be and not giving up.
I remember a motto from high school, 'courage in adversity'. That's something that stuck with me, having that mental toughness to push through the pain to the finish line. Running is pretty symbolic, the further you go the more it hurts; you've got to keep going.
This year I ran my first ever Marathon at Gold Coast in July and my second one in October where I was selected to be a #thisis40 Ambassador for the 2017 Medibank Melbourne Marathon Festival's 40th year. It was a great honour.
I know there’s a better Marathon time in me that I’ll achieve in the future and hopefully one day I’ll run a qualifying time for Boston. You definitely earn those medals when you cross the finish line. Only when you go out and run a Marathon you’ll see if they’re simply handing them out at the end.
To get there your mind, body, will, and heart will be tested. But you’ve got to keep strong, be stubborn and say “I’m not stopping until I get there, I’m not giving up.” I made that promise to myself and stuck to it.
I couldn’t wait to see my wife and daughter and give that medal to her. It’s something that I had to work very hard to get for her. Maybe one day when she’s older and I can’t run anymore, she’ll get one for me. Until then I’ll keep getting my inspiration from that beautiful little girl to keep pushing myself to be better, for her and my beautiful wife.
I’ve now got my sights on becoming a Spartan by running 10 Melbourne Marathons and hopefully some day running that qualifying time for Boston Marathon. I'd like to inspire others to have courage in adversity and to keep setting goals to constantly better themselves to beat yesterday.
If I can do it, anyone can do it. You’ve just got to believe in yourself, and just like my medal display says “Dream Believe Achieve”.
If you’d like to follow my journey:
Twitter (@joesvalenti) and Instagram (joey_valenti).
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We're super excited about this as we know that behind every collection of medals is an awesome story!