One foot in front of the other

In November, Sports Illustrated featured Passle Helminski and her journey to the New York City Marathon. Hers is a story in which tragedy intervened, yet strength, courage and determination prevailed.

Passle, a longtime member of the Fellow Flowers community with “a few bins filled with Fellow Flower T-shirts,” became a competitive racewalker in the 1980s following a ballet injury. She and her sister Bonnie would regularly walk around their Erie, Pennsylvania, hometown, and they entered the 1993 New York City Marathon together. Passle was hoping her time would be good enough to help her qualify for the U.S. Olympic Trials in racewalking.

But after an evening training walk in July 1993, she was brutally assaulted in a parking lot. The attack severed her left carotid artery and she suffered a massive stroke. Doctors told her fiancé Ron to make funeral plans, but Passle’s story didn’t end there. Slowly, she relearned how to walk and talk. She and Ron married, and Bonnie competed in the New York City Marathon in 1994 wearing a shirt with the message This One’s for Passle!”

Over the years, Passle pursued her passions of art and music and even competing again. In 2018, she completed her first 5K, and in November 2022, at age 68 and 29 years after the race she first set out to do, she stepped up to the starting line of the New York City Marathon.

“I even wore the Fellow Flowers T-shirt to NYC that said ‘Say Yes’ on the front of it,” Passle says.

“I finished the NYC marathon and got closure from the assault. It was like an ocean of JOY filled my soul. I stopped to help people along the way who got sick or hurt. My friend and guide got twisted by another runner and hurt her knee so we had to stop at a med tent. My hand welled so we had to stop at another med tent. At the 24-mile mark, a man shoved my friend and guide down and ramped into me, putting my back out. I finished bent over to the left. My time was longer than I wanted it to be but I did it!”

She finished what she started, but she’s not stopping there.

“I am doing the Chicago marathon this year and hope to do the NYC marathon again this year,” she says.

And when she needs inspiration to keep going, she knows where to turn.

“I have another [Fellow Flowers] T-shirt hanging on my door,” she says. “I looked at it every day to inspire me to do more, and it says, ‘One foot in front of the other.’”

Top photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated, bottom photo by Ron Helminski. Read the magazine’s story about Passle here.

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