Running with purpose: Zoë Balkan’s journey of remembrance and resilience at the Boston Marathon

By Tyler Johnson

Boston University News Service

In the early morning light that covers the Boston Esplanade, the rhythmic sound of running shoes striking the pavement provides a steady backdrop. Among the many runners is Zoë Balkan, a 20-year-old Northeastern University student, whose strides carry a weight beyond physical endurance. For Zoë, each step is a tribute to a lost loved one, a journey through grief and a testament to resilience.

Zoë’s running journey began unexpectedly. “I was never a runner,” she said, recalling her initial reluctance. Her transformation from casual walks with a roommate to training for one of the world’s most prestigious marathons is nothing short of remarkable. It was the loss of her father in her sophomore year that reshaped her path. An unexpected tragedy that led her to lace up her running shoes and chase a new purpose — running not just for physical health, but to honor her father’s memory.

“My dad was a huge influence in my life,” Zoë said. His sudden passing from complications was a pivotal point. She said he always encouraged her to pursue excellence in everything she did. Now, she channels that drive into running; pushing herself through Boston’s historic routes where community and camaraderie speak loudly in the brisk New England air.

The Boston Marathon is more than just a race for Zoë; it’s a constant tribute. Here, amid the throngs of runners and spectators, Zoë said she finds solace and support. She describes the Marathon’s atmosphere as electric, filled with the supportive cheers of a city known for its strong community spirit. “Watching the marathon during my freshman year, I fell in love with everything it represented — the resilience, the endurance, and the camaraderie of it,” she said.

Training for the marathon has not been without its challenges. Physical ailments, rigorous academic schedules and the emotional rollercoaster of grief have all played their part. Yet, Zoë’s determination has not wavered. Her goal extends beyond crossing the finish line; she is also committed to raising awareness and funds for diabetes research — a nod to her father’s life’s work in pharmaceuticals.

As the marathon approaches, Zoë looks forward with a mix of anticipation and reflection. “Well, we’ll see after the marathon if I run another marathon for the same cause. But I think I’ll keep running,” she said. For Zoë, the act of running has woven itself into her life’s fabric, a healing process that transforms loss into legacy.

For those standing by the sidelines or watching from their screens, Zoë’s story is a poignant reminder of the power of personal resilience and the profound impact of channeling grief into positive action. As she navigates the storied course of the Boston Marathon, Zoë Balkan is not just running a race; she is redefining strength, one mile at a time.

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