It happened around the 19-mile mark in the 2016 Boston Marathon, three-quarters of the way into the race. Rhea Macaluso started to feel the infamous “wall” creeping up on her, as she was about to tackle the rolling hills in front of her, made more difficult by a strong headwind. As described by runners, the wall is the point where your body begins to shut down even as your mind wants to keep going.
But like waking up in a crowded room, Macaluso felt the silence of her thoughts beginning to fill up with voices coming from all around her, stirring something within her, and helping her break through the wall.
Loud cheers of “Go Guam!” and “You can do it!” surrounded Macaluso. She absorbed the positive energy, letting it lift spirit higher. Legs that just a moment ago felt so heavy willingly carried her forward once again. She herself became aware of her breathing again and could feel her muscles come alive. As bystanders held out gummies and edible energy gels for the runners, Macaluso grabbed one and consumed it, thankful for the generosity of the crowd and the extra boost of energy. She thought about her family, her friends, the months of training, the support surrounding her, and the island she’s there to represent. That boosted her all the way through the dreaded wall, and into the end of her amazing run.
When Macaluso talked about crossing the finish line at The Boston Marathon, she also lifted her arms to show her goose bumps while her eyes began to fill with tears. “I could see it on the horizon and think, ‘I’ve dreamt about this,’” she said. “My dreams are coming true, and I couldn’t help but cry at the finish line.”
Her road to that finish was not a short one. She had to train first to meet the qualifying time within her age group. Once that was accomplished, her training continued. It also meant watching her diet and doing long runs, speed workouts, and cross training.
Macaluso discovered her love for running through her father. In 2005, he was diagnosed with high cholesterol, and his doctor’s orders included running. He would pick Rhea up after school, and she would sit on the bleachers as her father made his laps around the track. One day she decided to join him, and then her mother began to run with them resulting in a new bond building around then. Her parents are now ultra runners even in their 60’s, and she ran her first half marathon with her mother.
The motivation to run started with her parents, but it didn’t end there. Macaluso’s husband, David, is also an avid runner, as well as her friends. Her face lit up as she talked about the community. “Everyone is so welcoming and friendly. We’re supportive of one another, and I now consider them my family,” said Macaluso. “Minerva Tanag, one of my running mentors, was with me when I ran my first long distance (16 miles). With her by my side I was able to push through. All these people and my family inspire me to reach for bigger goals.” Goals that have taken her to represent Guam at the 2015 Gold Coast Airport Marathon in Australia and the 2015 Fujiyoshida Road Race in Japan.
As you may have concluded by now, Macaluso leads a very active lifestyle. Hitting the pavement isn’t the only part of her training. She can also be found in the gym lifting weights with her husband, who, along with her friends, encouraged her to also try bodybuilding even as she was in the thick of things with her running. And so in 2013, she approached a bodybuilding coach to help her with her new goal. But she had to put it on hold once she learned that she was pregnant.
In 2015, back in training mode almost two years after giving birth to her son Myles, Macaluso resumed her bodybuilding goal. Soon enough she was competing in the bikini division. With Tony Morrison as her coach, her husband as her number 1 support, and her hard work she won her division and the overall title for Women’s Bikini, International Short at the 2015 Michelob Ultra Guam National Bodybuilding & Fitness Championships and International Invitational—another athletic challenge conquered.
Many athletes will tell you that it is hard to strike a balance between competitive bodybuilding and running, as the training for one can be a disadvantage to the other. “Bodybuilding is a different monster,” said Macaluso. “But the training has actually helped my running. Knowing my body, and through trial and error, I am fine-tuning that balance between both sports.” As a top-level athlete, she continues to search for that perfect harmony as her goals for bodybuilding and running grow.
Balance is a key word in Macaluso’s life. She must find it in her training, her diet, and her various roles as athlete, wife and mother. Her biggest supporter, motivator, and mentor remains to be her husband. After their son was born, the two sat down and figured out a schedule that would allow them to both train and be there for their son.
“I wake up at 3:15 every morning and train. David and I train together in the afternoon, and we dedicate the rest of the day to our son and our family,” said Macaluso. “I want to be healthy, active, and to increase the longevity of my life for my husband and my son.” She often takes her son with her on runs, wanting to expose him early to an active and healthy lifestyle. She, proudly, finds him running through their house imitating the moves from their much-loved sport.
Macaluso’s next big objective is to achieve an International Federation of Bodybuilders pro card. She also wants to set a new personal record at the Boston Marathon in 2018. With her endless support system and physical and mental drive to meet her goals, she wants to continue to represent Guam in both sports. “People come up to me and say that I motivate them,” she said. “What they don’t realize is that their confidence in my abilities is what deeply motivates me to keep going and to try harder every time.”
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