GREEN BAY -- When Jenny Chaudoir slipped out of her Green Bay home seven years ago for a walk on a frosty morning, she intended to clear her head and escape the chaos of a bad marriage. The path she embarked on that morning brought her clarity on her relationship and a new-found strength that turned into an insatiable passion for running.
Chaudoir is a remarkable long-distance runner. In 2011 alone, the 37-year-old Green Bay native won 31 races in her age division. What's amazing is that Chaudoir had never so much as taken a jog until she turned 30!
"I wasn't very athletic and I wasn't involved in sports as a young kid. I maintained my health by walking or doing something like that, but that was the start of me wanting to succeed at something," Chaudoir said.
The motivation for her running is compelling.
"I started running to help me get through a divorce I was going through at the time. I started out walking for emotional reasons, and eventually my walking turned to running, and more running, and pretty soon, further running. I was running with my winter jacket and boots and everything on, and I made it two miles and realized I could run," Chaudoir said.
Chaudoir has come a long way since those early days, and not just as an athlete. Her insatiable passion for running was born of a need to get away from the domestic violence and abusive husband she'd tried to please for 10 years, before she finally fled for the sheer safety of herself and her five children.
"It took its toll. Emotional abuse is much harder than physical abuse. It's easy to walk around with a bruise, but when it's inside, it's a lot harder. I still have to work every day at getting some of the pain that's left behind - to let go of it. It doesn't just go away that fast. It doesn't heal like your skin does," Chaudoir said.
Even now, there are physical and emotional struggles from her past, but Chaudoir has a healthy outlet.
"Occasionally I am out for a run and there's tears, but that's okay. It's a good way to cope with it. There are so many other bad things that people could do. Finding a passion, finding something you love and something you enjoy that makes you feel good and builds you up inside is where you have to start in order to leave - whether it's running or whatever else you enjoy," Chaudoir said.
That's Chaudoir's message to anyone within the sound of her voice who may be going through a similar trial, or one of any kind.
"If they can just find something that they can hold onto, it goes a long way as far as your faith, and having God there right by your side too, because sometimes it's hard to do these things alone," Chaudoir said.
Chaudoir is a sweet, diminutive woman, but she's a giant when it comes to courage and determination.
"If something tries to stop me, it just makes me want to work harder. If I have an obstacle, I am going to go around it, or I am going to go above it, behind it - whatever I can do," Chaudoir said.
Imagine the example Chaudoir is setting for her five children.
"I know I have impacted my children. My nine-year-old daughter ran her first half-marathon this year. They're very supportive and very helpful. I know that I am making a difference for them and showing them that it's important for me to be happy, and that makes them happy," Chaudoir said.
Chaudoir says she is happy and at peace. She wants facing adversity to feel the same way.
"I feel great. I hope I really am inspiring some people, and making a difference in someone's life - letting them know that they don't have to put up with things knocking them down all the time, and they can get back up. If they dig deep enough and there's strength in them, they can do it," Chaudoir said.
No wonder Chaudoir was recently chosen as the Fitness Edge Athlete-Of-The-Year. She feels as though she is just getting started. Her long-term goals include reaching Olympic standards for her marathon times and perhaps running in the Boston Marathon.
However, for Chaudoir, the journey is the ultimate prize.
"I probably didn't know that right in the beginning, but I do now, because of the obstacles I have had to go through. Each race is an experience and it's down in my books, and it will be in my memory forever," Chaudoir said.