Every runner participating in the return of the Charlotte Marathon on Saturday has a story. You don’t train to run 26.2 miles without powerful motivation of some kind. For Charlotte mom and fitness studio owner Jen Dufresne, Saturday’s race will serve as a reminder of what she can do even starting from zero.
Last February Dufresne suffered a concussion in a car accident on Church Street and couldn’t work out for two months. For the former record-holding pole vaulter at Virginia Tech, who has made fitness her life, that’s a big deal.
“Having been through that, I think I’m just happy to be able to run again,” said Dufresne, who owns Cross Conditioning Fitness on Providence Road.
Dufresne had just dropped off her youngest of three children at preschool and was on her way to teach a fitness class when her Suburban was struck by a vehicle which ran a red light and hit her from the side. Dufresne was driving through a green light at the intersection of Church Street and Hill Street, approaching the I-277 overpass. It’s the same intersection where Panthers quarterback Cam Newton had his wreck in 2014. A stoplight has since been installed there, but the intersection is still treacherous.
The force of the collision sent Dufresne’s car careening off the road, where she spun and hit a tree. Hitting the tree saved her from rolling down the hill and onto 277 but it also jarred her head from side to side. She said her head actually didn’t start hurting for nearly 30 minutes after the wreck because of the adrenaline rush she felt just trying to get out of the car.
“Your fight or flight response is so high at that point, all I could think about was getting out of the car,” she said. “It was sitting sideways on the hill. I thought it was going to roll over. I knew I had to get out of the car as fast as possible.”
Once the ambulance arrived and the pain started, Dufresne said she recognized what was going on. She’d suffered a concussion in another wreck 10 years earlier. This was at the height of COVID when the emergency rooms were overflowing, and before the vaccine was readily available, so she decided to avoid the hospital and instead go see a client who is a physical therapist specializing in treating athletes with concussions.
“I think it was important too for a lot of my people to see that you can literally start from zero,” she said.
Dufresne said the 2021 Charlotte marathon has been on her radar since the 2020 race was postponed because of COVID. She’d run a personal best in the Charlotte marathon in 2019 but she suffered through it, not feeling good physically, and vowed to run it again better in 2020. But after the accident in February, her motivations changed.
“My body actually feels better now than it did before I ran in 2019,” said Dufresne, who will be running in her fourth marathon. “Something finally clicked, where I’m not overtraining and feeling worn out. I trained smarter. I’m eating better. After I had the accident, I sat back and was like, ‘OK if I’m not going to be working out, I’m actually going to properly build into this, I’m going to figure out where my nutrition needs to be. I’m going to sleep more. I’m going to prioritize (drinking enough) water and making sure I’m not letting my training interfere with time with my family.”
She saw the results in early October when she ran the Chicago marathon with a client.
“I just had fun,” she said. “I found fun in everything again.”