Although health concerns didn’t allow her to run, the Maitland resident was at the finish line to cheer on runners in this year’s RDV Jingle Run 5K.
Standing out in the cold drizzle, Donna Craigo took in the sights and sounds as runners approached the finish line Dec. 9 at the RDV Jingle Run 5K in Maitland.
She watched on intently, cheering every time someone crossed the line, but in earnest, she wished she could have been out there running the course again.
Earlier in the week, she had been hospitalized with a heart infection that popped back up, but despite lying in a hospital bed just a few days prior, Craigo wouldn’t let that stop her from being there to show her support.
For her, the race was symbolic — but not only because it’s her “hometown race.” It was the first race she had ever run, and it was a major step forward in her journey to become healthy.
“I actually cried,” recalled Craigo of finishing last year’s RDV Jingle Run 5K. “My mom was here — who I almost lost the year before — and before this, she had only seen me on crutches or walker — not running. I ran across the finish line, and for her to see me cross the finish line, it meant a lot.”
Running 5Ks and other events is one of the big milestones for the Ohio native, and now Maitland resident, but her journey actually started a few years back.
Life hasn’t been easy for Craigo lately. In the last three-and-a-half years, she has endured nine different major knee surgeries, including two replacements — the last surgery came in March. Despite the physical rehab, at one point Craigo found her weight hit up to 600 pounds — she knew something had to be done.
From there, she brought on two personal trainers to help her set goals and get into better health. She has also made RDV a second home.
Four to five times a week, for an hour or two, Craigo works through a variety of exercises including strength training, agility training and learning how to properly run and walk.
Of all the exercises in her routine, the ones that infuriate her the most are basic in nature — such as walking up and down stairs.
“Having to learn how to walk up and down stairs again, that is pretty frustrating,” Craigo said. “And stuff that I could do before with no problem, I have to be trained and worked on — that has been frustrating.”
It’s those small things that have also kept her from going back to her passion job — working as a trauma nurse.
Before all the setbacks, Craigo had worked seven years as a nurse before taking a position at Florida Hospital — where she now works on a multi-system progressive care unit at the hospital.
Although she enjoys her current job, Craigo said she would still love to make it back into trauma nursing, but that it won’t happen until she proves that she can, in fact, do the job she had been told she couldn’t do.
Despite the setbacks, Craigo has made some impressive strides toward getting back to her old life.
Since starting her workout routine, she has lost a total of 260 pounds while becoming an inspiration to many members at RDV.
“I’m a lot stronger than I thought,” Craigo said. “When I come into the gym, I’ve had people come up to me and say, ‘Hey, we see you coming in here and we know some days it’s not easy for you, but because of you that’s why we come in and we work out, and why we give our best and our all.’”
Helping to inspire people and make them better has been one of those added perks that has helped motivate Craigo, but there is still one thing that sits atop her list of goals: Participate in the event that inspired her to run in the first place — the Princess Half Marathon at Disney in February.
“My nickname is ‘Warrior Princess,’” Craigo said. “I just had to have something to help me get through the recovery, so I said to finish this story, I’m going to run Princess at Disney.”