As she ran through the entrance of Folsom Field on Monday, Valentyna Veretska held a Ukrainian flag with both hands above her head, letting it fly in the breeze behind her.
There was already a roar from the sizeable crowd inside the stadium as they cheered the professional runners to the finish of the 42nd Bolder Boulder. The volume of that roar increased as Veretska and her flag ran to the finish line.
Afterward, Veretska, 31, had goose bumps on her arms as she humbly recalled that moment.
“The people here show love not just for me, but for Ukraine,” she said.
Veretska finished 13th out of the 16 women in the pro race, while fellow Ukrainian Valentyna Poltavska was 16th.
The results of their race didn’t matter as much as simply being here, feeling support from fans as their home country is at war with Russia.
Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. A day later, when Veretska could hear the sounds of attacks from her home in the city of Mykolaiv, she and her 11-year-old daughter, Alisa, fled for Krakow, Poland. Veretska said she and Alisa left their home with important papers and the clothes on their backs. Her husband, Pavlo Veretskyi, stayed in Ukraine to help in the fight against Russia.
In the three months since fleeing Ukraine, Veretska and Alisa have continued to hope and pray for a quick end to the war and to be reunited with Pavlo.
Meanwhile, Veretska has continued to run. Amid all the heartache of the war, running has brought positive energy to Veretska, who has felt support through all of her races. It’s also allowed her to help the people of Ukraine.
On March 25, just one month after fleeing Ukraine, Veretska ran in the Jerusalem Marathon. She didn’t get the invitation until a couple of weeks before the race.
“I hadn’t done any training,” she said, adding that she ran in shoes she got as a gift just a few minutes before the race.
Veretska won that race in 2 hours, 45 minutes, 54 seconds — nearly 16 minutes ahead of the field. She has since competed in several other races, including a victory in the Baku Half Marathon in Baku, Azerbaijan, on May 15.
As she has kept running, Veretska and her daughter have done their best to support the people in Ukraine. Verestka sold the trophy she earned for winning the Jerusalem Marathon and donated the money to be used for food, clothes, etc.
Veretska has helped to raise some money, but also food and clothing donations that have been sent to her family still living in Mykolaiv.
When the opportunity to run in the Bolder Boulder came up, Veretska wasn’t sure she would accept it. Doing so would mean leaving Alisa home alone for a few days.
Alisa encouraged her mother to run, insisting she would be fine. So, Veretska made the 20-hour journey from Poland to Germany and then to the United States, arriving on Saturday.
In her first visit to the United States, Veretska ran in the Bolder Boulder, wearing the same pink running shoes given to her before Jerusalem Marathon.
Veretska will fly home on Monday, but won’t forget the love and support that gave her goose bumps in Boulder.
“Today was a special day here,” she said.
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