As Valery Perry sat in class at University High School in Orlando, Fla., she followed intently as her teacher wrote on the blackboard.
She had no choice. Perry not only was learning a new subject. She was attempting to comprehend a new language.
"I was trying to translate what the teacher wrote," said Perry, whose family moved from Venezuela to Central Florida when she was 14 years old. "We didn't have smartphones. Google didn't exist back then, so it was more like take a book, English to Spanish, and try to translate word by word.
"And it really didn't translate, so that was like my whole afternoon."
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Perry discovered running in South America but truly emerged after changing continents.
The former state high-school runner-up in the 800 meters went on to compete for UCF and finished second last month among female finishers at Disney's Wine & Dine Half Marathon.
"Running is something she's meant to do," said Perry's husband of 11 years, Matt. "It's like therapy for her."
Since she was encouraged to try running in first grade by her physical education teacher, a Hungarian immigrant who escaped Europe after World War II, running provided a safe haven for Perry.
It made her feel comfortable. It engulfed her in a friendly environment. It made her more confident and outgoing.
Most of all, running provided Perry with a sense of home after her parents, Carlos and Carmen Martinez, moved her and her two siblings to Central Florida. The Martinezes were small-business owners and left Caracas, the Venezuelan capital, because of the tenuous economic and political situation there, Perry said.
"(Running) made me feel like I belonged to a group of people, and through running, you were all accepted," Perry said. "A lot of times, it didn't even matter if I didn't speak."
Perry and her younger sister, Yentl Clemens, ran on relay teams together.
"There were times we'd give her the baton, and we'd be dead last," said Clemens, an Orlando resident. "And this is the 4 by (800), and I would see her go so fast and catch up to everybody.
"She wouldn't give up, which was crazy because most people, if you get the baton and you're so far behind, it's discouraging. For her, it was a challenge."
Perry, an Oviedo, Fla., resident, faced another challenge as she built her career as a real-estate agent and her family, which includes two children – Eli, 6, and Tatiana, 4. She did not run for nearly a decade after college until rediscovering it in 2013.
It was slow-going in the beginning, though, as rust lingered and injuries, mainly in her abdomen and legs, kept her at a standstill.
"She could be probably one of the top three runners in the region and one of the top five to 10 runners in the state," said Perry's coach, Bill Vanos. "She was consistently winning her age group across all the local races before her injuries."
Perry's goals include breaking 18 minutes for five kilometers (3.1 miles) and finishing her first marathon. For now, she is just focused on half mararathons.
And that's enough.
"Sometimes I run really fast," Perry said. "Sometimes I don't. It's still rewarding."
That feeling transcends any barrier, language or otherwise.