The distance from Margherita Scott’s current home to her childhood hometown of Verona, Italy is more than 7,200 miles.
And when she makes a triumphant return to Verona on Oct. 5, it will be like she had run the entire way.
Scott will be running her incredible 100th marathon race — that’s 26 miles, 385 yards — in front of dozens of family and friends. And she’ll try to do it the same way she has dozens of other times: in under four hours without once stopping to walk.
“I’ve always liked to stay athletic,” said the former high-school middle-distance runner, who has beaten tough odds to near a milestone most weekend plodders will only dream about.
She says a large number of people who run marathons regularly are all about beating the odds. Along with elite runners who can realistically dream of Olympic glory, such as Meb Keflezighi, whose signed picture with Margherita is a prime portion of her display of hundreds of shiny medals and trophies, there are always breast cancer survivors and purple heart winners and amputees and others running in memory of lost loved ones.
For Scott, her determination to run and run and run was about a complete recovery from a bout with tuberculosis. And she has come back from some very tough times twice since.
“When I was 20 I came to the U.S., and then I traveled to Costa Rica and got sick with tuberculosis,” said Scott, who speaks her native Italian, Spanish, French and Portuguese along with accented but polished English. “It’s very debilitating. It left me with pulmonary fibrosis. Breathing was an issue, and you can have exercise-induced asthma or bronco-spasms. When there is scar tissue in the lungs, they are not as flexible. I can’t do a 100-yard dash.”
“I felt well, like I was moving again.’
In 1991 her youngest brother Massimo got a crazy idea her father didn’t like much.
“He invited me to New York with his running group in 1991,” she explained. “I wanted to go to prove that I had conquered T.B. I started training in the summer and was accepted for the marathon for November. I completed my first in 4:17, but it took me 20 minutes to get to the front so I considered it under four hours. It was great. I felt well, like I was moving again.”
But she and her family faced some major challenges in the early 1990s, when daughters Stephanie and then Gabriella were born with congenital kidney defects that were fully corrrected by childhood surgeries.
And then brother Massimo called again, inviting her to run in the marathon in Paris in 2000.
“I had just turned 40, so we had an ‘over the hill’ celebration,” she said. “But I ran it in under four hours.”
The races got more frequent, as she ran in Raleigh’s Millennium Marathon later that year.
A pact to run
Then came an unhappy coincidence. Her son Jon Ryan Scott had enlisted in the Army in the summer of 2001 and was scheduled to go to basic training when the events of Sept. 11 happened. She got an invitation to carry the American flag for six miles during a cross-country relay beginning on Oct. 11 and did her leg in Richmond, Va., on Oct. 15. It was the same day her son began boot camp.
That began a series of invitations to “Freedom Marathons” across the Southeast. When her son called home from boot camp, as she said, “whining” about the six-mile runs at 6 a.m., she made a pact with him that she would do a daily six-mile run at the same time.
So she was effectively training, and running marathons every week or two. And when she ran one in Savannah, Ga., she heard about the “50 States Plus D.C.” running group, which anyone who has run marathons in 10 states can join.
She hit her 10th state in 2002 in Mobile, Ala., and at that point decided to finish the country by the time she was 50.
“That planning helped me stay focused on something,” she said.
By 2010 she had only three of the lower 48 plus Alaska and Hawaii to go, but three unpleasant things happened in quick succession: the end of her marriage, a layoff from her job as a cardiac nurse and the death of her father, Cesare Bonfante.
“Luckily, I had running to get me through that, and I was thankful for what I had,” she said. “It has always helped me get through the bad stuff that happens in life.”
More challenges, continents to run
She found a new friend in fellow runner Laura MacLean of Raleigh, who made the Alaska and Hawaii trips with her.
“She’s an expert traveler,” MacLean said of Scott. “And she has great endurance and consistency. I admire her for keeping up with her goal and her organizational skills to finish in her own country. She runs in freezing cold and when it’s extremely hot. For her it’s a mantra. For all of us it’s therapy.”
One of Scott’s most frequent training partners is Corinth Holders HIgh School swimming coach and former collegiate swimming standout Maureen Blandford, whose husband, Todd, is a marathoner as well.
“We’re both very competitive people,” Blandford said. “She’s amazing. She’s got a real competitive drive. It’s a hobby and an outlet for her, and I know she likes to travel. It’s one way to see the world, that’s for sure.”
And Scott has seen a lot of it, including many of America’s great cities, the scenery of the West, and the DMZ in South Korea. She has run in Jackson, Miss., with temperatures in the teens and Duluth, Minn., in a 90-degree scorcher (oddly enough).
Scott said she may try to do all 10 Canadian provinces and dreams of perhaps all seven continents, which includes a run-by-appointment in Antarctica with penguins as the only spectators.
But no matter what else happens in her life good or bad, she wants to keep running and running and running.
“I hope to run a marathon in less than six hours when I’m 90,” Scott said with a smile.