CLINTON HILL — Adrienne Walsh was 12 when she began to run through the streets of Clinton Hill with a neighborhood friend.
At 16, she ran her first New York City Marathon. In 1997, at the age of 30, she became the first woman in the history of the New York Fire Department to join the elite rescue company. Four years later, she strapped on her running shoes and ran passed deadlocked Brooklyn traffic just in time to reach the South Tower before it fell Sept. 11.
This year, at 45, she will run her 31st marathon — but it's suddenly got a fresh twist.
Walsh, of Clinton Hill, was chosen from thousands of applicants to represent Brooklyn this year in the 26.2-mile race Nov. 4. The Foot Locker Five Borough Challenge picks one person from each borough to run the first 13 miles together. Then they race against each other to win a “Tiffany trophy, and city-wide bragging rights.”
She'll be ready.
Walsh gets out of bed six days a week, eats yogurt and a banana, pulls on running clothes, and pounds the Brooklyn pavement, running as many as 40 miles a week. She says she's not in love with running, and does not consider herself an addict.
“Almost every morning is a struggle to get out there,” she said. “The hardest part is putting my shoes on.”
But once she laces up, autopilot kicks in and Walsh’s feet find their way to Brooklyn Bridge Park, the Botanical Garden, or the Heights Promenade. She has run those routes countless times, rain or shine.
Walsh says she runs because she likes to use her body, because it makes her feel efficient, and because it offers time to be alone. And since the Sept. 11 terror attacks, running is her time to not think about that day and the two years of funerals, street re-namings, and plaque dedications that followed.
“Running allowed me to focus away from the events of 9/11,” she said. “It gave me something to take me away from it all, if only for a moment.”
In 2001, Walsh finished the marathon with the Fire Department, running with the painful reality that seven fellow firefighters from her firehouse, Ladder 20 in SoHo, were no longer with them.
"For a while it felt like everyone was gone, we lost so many to death and illness," she said.
And in the years after 9/11, working endless hours at Ground Zero, Walsh still found the time to run.
"I would run to work," she said. "It was often the only time I could find."
The rigorous Foot Locker application process included a three-page essay and an in-person interview.
“Foot Locker is proud to recognize these remarkable runners for their incredible determination and optimism in overcoming hardships while maintaining healthy, active lifestyles,” said Foot Locker, U.S. President and CEO Jake Jacobs.
“We are inspired by their tenacity and strength they exhibit in their lives.”
Walsh was a shoo-in, being Brooklyn to the core.
She was born at Brooklyn Hospital Center, her uncle worked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and her parents met at the Alibi Club on DeKalb Avenue. She said she is proud to have grown up running the streets of Fort Greene and Clinton Hill and to now race in the name of her home borough.
"I like the idea of representing Brooklyn as a runner," she said. "I hope to be a little old lady still running through the streets of my neighborhood."