Photo: Kevin Morris

Running with Purpose

Caroline Veltri’s maternal grandfather, Ronald Hughes, passed away two years ago. Her paternal grandfather, Italo Veltri, died a year ago. Both passed in the month of December.

And so when the 27-year-old Veltri stepped to the starting line at the Humana Rock ‘n’ Roll San Antonio Marathon on Dec. 3, she did so with a purpose.

“I set out Sunday to run the fastest marathon in my life, to date, in their memory,” said Veltri.

Now comes the good part, Veltri adding, “And I did just that.”

A Denver lawyer, Veltri made her late grandfathers proud, winning the race in 2 hours, 56 minutes, 8 seconds, besting her previous PR by more than three minutes.

Veltri speaks reverently and from the heart about her grandfathers. Hughes, she said, was from Scotland.

“He was just such a gentle soul, the smartest person I ever met,” she said. “He just had such a soft way about him. He always made it known to me he was very proud of my academic accomplishments.”

Veltri has only turned serious about distance running in the past two years, so Hughes missed her recent her athletic accomplishments.

“I know he would have been really proud,” said Veltri. “If ever I was down on myself he’d tell me I was destined for greater things. He had a strong faith in God, which he definitely passed on to me.”

Italo Veltri taught PE, umpired softball, loved pasta, was a night owl, taught Caroline how to perform headstands and was a master storyteller.

“Of any person in my family,” said Caroline, “I see a lot of myself in him.”

Veltri’s running backstory is a fascinating one. She ran track and cross country in high school in Kinnelon, N.J., modestly saying, “I wasn’t very good,” but adding, “I have always loved running.”

She did not compete for the university during her undergraduate days at Cornell. Two years ago in November, she dipped her toe back in the distance running waters, finishing the Raleigh City of Oaks Half Marathon in 2 hours, 11 minutes, 31 seconds.

One year later, she returned, ran the marathon and – talk about massive improvement – won the 26.2-miler in 2:59:27. She went from clocking 10-minute miles in a half marathon to reeling off 6-minute, 50-second miles in a marathon.

Stunning.

Needless to say, the woman who practices insurance defense law is blessed with some inherent talent. She enjoys dirtying her shoes on trails and going long, running the Leadville Trail 100 ultramarathon last summer.

Come January, she plans to run the Hawaii Ultra Running Team 100 on Oahu. Among her goals: meeting the Olympic Trials marathon qualifying standard of 2 hours, 45 minutes.

A reflective type, Veltri explained her passion for ultramarathons this way: “When I’m running ultras, nothing else matters but me and the natural world and I leave one cluttered by social media, skyscrapers and material possession behind. Every time that my body wants to quit I just tell myself, ‘One foot in front of the other. One step at a time.’ I think about how far I’ve come and thank God for how my struggles have inspired my strengths.”

During a phone conversation, Veltri was asked what it is about running that moves her. It’s a question she has pondered and one she took the time to recently sit down and write about.

“Through running, I have become empowered to take a genuine look at myself,” she wrote. “Who I really am, what I really want and what I really need. I’ve chosen to love my journey and to no longer to compare my journey to that of others. The journey running has taken me on is the greatest adventure of my life.”

In spirit, Ronald Hughes and Italo Veltri must be looking down, smiling at their granddaughter.