Jaclyn Camardo has been an athlete since she was young; she played hockey through high school and college, but always despised one part of sports: running. In fact, she says that she graduated college without ever running more than two miles at once, as she avoided it at all costs.
However, after graduating from the University of Connecticut in 2012, Camardo moved home and started working with stroke and spinal cord injury patients at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, and her entire perspective on the sport changed.
“Seeing how much e ort it took them to stand up and take a few steps made me very grateful of my legs,” Camardo says. “So, I started running home from work everyday.”
Eventually, this motivation led Camardo to a 5K, a 10K, a half marathon and even a full marathon in 2013. Now, outside of working towards a masters degree in nursing at the University of Illinois at Chicago and being on the Chicago Blackhawks ice crew, Camardo is training for her third Bank of America Chicago Marathon.
“The fact that I run marathons still kind of blows my mind,” Camardo jokes. But after joining TEAM SALUTE last year, Camardo believes her running now has a purpose.
TEAM SALUTE is a nonprofit organization in Arlington Heights. Founded by a family whose husband was asked to go to Iraq after the Sept. 11 attacks, they work together to raise both money and awareness for retired veterans and their families.
“They don’t just raise money, they get to know each family really well and find out what they need,” Camardo says. “If they need help with their bills, or a new computer, or help paying for therapy, they provide that.”
The organization began as a 5K race, Camardo says, and has grown into an outlet for veterans and their families to get help in several different ways.
But running is still a big part of its mission, which is why TEAM SALUTE members are running in the Chicago Marathon this year.
While working at RIC, Camardo has treated several wounded veterans, which has allowed her to see the effects of the military rst hand for the rst time. Now in her nursing school clinicals, she works with veterans who su er from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other mental and physical injuries. Over time, helping injured veterans has become a passion of Camardo’s.
“Veteran communities are considered a marginalized population,” Camardo says. “A lot of veterans really fear that stigma of PTSD. If they suffer from those symptoms, they’re too proud to try to get help or admit weakness. That’s a huge battle they face.”
Camardo has always had a heavy heart for veterans; her current boyfriend and other friends from college served for four to ve years before getting a degree, which initially opened Camardo’s eyes to what they deal with.
“It’s not just your uncle who served in Vietnam, or your grandpa who served in World War II,” Camardo reflects. “Knowing people your own age makes it more relatable and puts things into perspective.”
In March, TEAM SALUTE announced its partnership with the Chicago Blackhawks for the Chicago Mara-thon this year, ultimately combining all of Camardo’s passions into one.
“It’s really great that TEAM SALUTE and the Blackhawks joined forces,” Camardo says. “Now, I can raise money and use my position on the Blackhawk’s to link to the two organizations and raise more awareness.”
The Chicago Blackhawks already have a reputation of supporting active service members and veterans, Camardo says. During the national anthem before every game, the team brings out an active service member and a veteran to recognize their service. The team does it again before the third period, where they always get a standing ovation from the audience. The Blackhawks are the first team in the National Hockey League to acknowledge veterans twice throughout the game, she adds.
Despite her busy schedule nishing up graduate school, Camardo’s training is going well, and she is very excited for the Bank of America Chicago Marathon to be with her TEAM SALUTE family.
“We just had our prerace party, where everyone in SALUTE shared their stories, and it really made me feel like I’m part of a community,” Camardo says. “Thinking about who this is helping gets me through the long runs … I’m not just running 26 miles to say I can, there’s a purpose and meaning behind it.”