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Face of the Race: Woman runs through grief

CHAMPAIGN COUNTY, Ill. (WCIA) -- Growing up, Kelly Barbour-Conerty never considered herself athletic. She was the studious one in her family.

About seven years ago, though, she started getting outside and using a "Couch to 5-K" app on her phone.

"As we were coming up on the five year anniversary in 2011, I was having a hard time. It was kind of a milestone thing," she says.

Her teenage daughter, Lexi, had died in a car accident five years earlier. Getting out of her comfort zone felt like the only solution to her grief.

"I had a lot of friends who were like, 'Okay, you need to snap out of it and there's mud runs, like the warrior dash.' You can't be depressed and miserable when you're covered in mud from head to toe."

Conerty used running as her therapy. She started with 5-Ks, then 10-Ks, then half-marathons. She was finally ready for the big race.

"The Illinois Marathon in 2015 was supposed to be my very first full marathon and I made it 17 miles, and they called it off for lightning and I was just, 'Ugh, you've got to be kidding me!" she says.

Later that year, she ran and finished the New York City Marathon, running not only for herself, but in honor of Lexi, too.

"Part of me thinks that she's cheering for me, 'Yay mom!' and part is just that is not my mom, my mom is not athletic," says Conerty.

This year, she plans to run the full I-Challenge at the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon.

"There's no better feeling in the world than going into the stadium, running to the 50 yard line and finishing," she says.  

That feeling has transformed her life. She says the endorphins help her deal with stress and depression.

Conerty also now as a platform. She travels to schools around the state talking about safe teen driving, and she's met a group of parents who are also dealing with loss. She's even written a book about Lexi's death and dealing with grief.

"I don't know if I would have the energy and strength if I didn't run, and hopefully it's allowing me to help other people," she says.

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