This soldier’s story is not just about a foot race in the deserts of Kuwait or in Atlanta.
It’s about a life journey.
Back in 2014, Army Sgt. Samantha Kanatzar, serving in Kuwait, would smile in her Facebook photos, but she was at a difficult crossroads in her personal and professional life.
And she was missing her young son who was back in the states.
She says now she was almost in a depression.
And almost on a whim, as a diversion, Sam began running with other soldiers, in the camp’s “Kuwait Running Mafia.”
“It was in December of 2014,” Sam recalls, “actually on Christmas Day.”
Something inside of Sam clicked.
“I kind of fell in love with it. And, through running, I was able to regain some self-worth.”
By May, Sam wrote, “Running saved my life,” changing her, she says now, on the outside and inside.
In months, Sam shed nearly 40 pounds. She refocused her spirit. And she found herself training for a July 4 road race at the camp that she’d heard about.
She writes, “I learned I didn’t have to chase happiness, happiness was with me all along if I would simply choose it.”
This was more than a hobby. She calls it, “A hobby that made me happy, and not only happy, but also healthy.”
So on July 4, 2015, during the non-stop downpour that morning in Atlanta, when tens of thousands of drenched runners on Peachtree were sloshing through their AJC Peachtree Road Race, Sgt. Sam Kanatzar was in the deserts of Kuwait, running her first Peachtree, with other soldiers — the official “satellite” Peachtree — running 10K-worth of circles inside the big camp, in 100 degree heat, past the occasional palm tree.
And that day, Sam earned her t-shirt.
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“It was actually a great race," she recalled. "It was sandy, it was windy — extremely, dry heat. The route is not as great as the one in Atlanta, because you have to run circles to get the mileage and the distance that’s required for that 10K. But it was a very great experience.”
Sam decided she would run every satellite race at the camp that the military offered each year, and then, whenever she was on leave, she would run those same races back in the states.
And that’s what brought her to Atlanta in 2016, to run The Peachtree, on Peachtree. The race that had helped save her life in Kuwait just a year earlier.
“The [Atlanta] hills absolutely murdered me,” she said with a laugh. “It was a very hard adjustment, as a runner.”
Sam now has the same, personal attachment to Atlanta’s Independence Day tradition that has enraptured countless other runners since it began in 1970. She hopes to be back in Atlanta from the Middle East in time to run the 2017 Peachtree -- on Peachtree.
“It’s just become a part of me, the people, the city, the race, it’s amazing.”
Stronger, wiser, happier than ever — her new tattoo, on her thigh, is a rendering of the chemical compound for endorphins, the “runner’s high.”
Sgt. Sam Kanatzer’s transformation since 2014 continues. She says nothing is stopping her now, on her life journey.
“There’s always going to be someone faster than you, there’s always going to be someone slower than you….It’s not always about crossing that finish line first, sometimes it’s just about actually finishing,” she says.
As she puts it — it’s all about living to run, and running to live well.
On July 4, 2017, the AJC Peachtree Road Race will take place at six, official “satellite” locations overseas. Two thousand runners are registered, and they will receive the same t-shirts at the finish line that runners in Atlanta will receive.