Fearless Woman of the Week: Serena Burla

Bellin Health Physical Therapist and Wednesday training run co-leader Lisa Reinke offers the latest installment in this inspirational blog series.

Running saved her life.

Running does so many positive things for so many people. When looking for the “Fearless Woman of the Week” this week I found a website highlighting influential and successful women who have run marathons. Most of them are professional runners with really impressive marathon finishing times! Although all are amazing women, Serena Burla was the one who really caught my eye.

Serena was different from the other runners on the list. Under her resume there were several top 10 marathon finishes and a U.S. half marathon championship win — but the first line of the small clip on her stated, “This cancer survivor and mother…”.  Right then, I had to know more.

Serena is a St. Louis-born professional runner who, after the 2010 USA half marathon championships (in which she placed second), could barely walk. After battling pain in her hamstring, she was evaluated and diagnosed with synovial sarcoma, a form of cancer that had caused a tumor to form in her hamstring. After surgery to remove the tumor, the surgeon was confident she would walk again, but believed she would not be able to run competitively again.  

The surgery to remove the tumor was in February, and by mid-April of the same year, with the help of physical therapy and a great support system, Serena started to begin her journey back into running. By July, she’d won a Minneapolis 10K race. In November, she completed the New York City Marathon, her first since her diagnosis. The course ran by the very hospital where she’d had her cancer treatment.  

With determination, support and perseverance, Serena returned to running even when doctors doubted her ability to do so. Beating all odds, she has qualified for the Olympic trials in the marathon, courageously returning to a very competitive running career.

Serena truly believes that running saved her life.

Here is my favorite quote from the Runners World article on her, “Years ago, I learned certain things are beyond control,” she says. “When this happened, I didn't ask, ‘Why me?’ But for a fleeting moment, I asked, ‘Why my leg?’ And I realized that, as a runner, my legs are where I pay the most attention. That is essentially what saved my life. Everything happens for a reason. You just have to live fearlessly and love every day.”

Every Wednesday morning (and Saturday!) we bring together lots of mothers, daughters, sisters, friends, cancer survivors and people diagnosed with and fighting diseases of all types, both  mental and physical. People of all backgrounds come together to put all barriers aside and just run.

Maybe not to the extreme as Serena, but on a smaller scale I think running has saved my life.  Not only does it keep me physically healthy so I can be a good mother, wife, physical therapist, daughter, sister and friend, but it also gives me the mental release and energy to take on the daily grind, or the unfortunate things that might cross my path.  

How has running “saved” your life?  

Click here to read a 2016 Washington Post article about Serena.

See you Wednesday morning at the training run!


Lisa Reinke is a physical therapist with Bellin Sports Medicine who specializes in the treatment of running related injuries and gait assessments for the injured runner. Lisa has participated in several road races, bike rides and triathlons. Lisa is the mother to a one-year-old little boy and is running with determination and joy through the ups and downs of running as a “new” mom. You may email Lisa with any questions regarding running or walking injuries: Lisa.Reinke@bellin.org.


Category Tag(s): Running Training

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