By Lt. Phoenix Winters Geimer, NSA Naples Public Affairs
Most days are the same in Quadrelle, a small hamlet in the hills of southern Italy, near Naples. Ever since COVID-19 caused the near-total shutdown of typical Italian life nation-wide, the stores and restaurants in Naples have been shuttered and the roads completely empty. All activities have been canceled or moved indoors and into isolation. Most houses still have the hum of domestic life occurring in as much normalcy as people can manage. However, inside one of those homes, a Navy couple is doing something extraordinary.
Alyssa Clark, a Bennington, Vermont native, Navy spouse, and two-year resident of Quadrelle, is a few weeks into her new daily routine: She starts every day with a breakfast of two rice cakes with peanut butter, a banana and a cup of coffee, and then she heads upstairs to run a marathon.
For roughly the next four hours, she grinds away over 26 miles on a tiny treadmill in a sparsely furnished room. The visual landscape consists of four plaster walls, a small window not quite aligned with the treadmill, an apartment-sized sofa, an old TV on a rickety stand, and a side table near the treadmill to hold her water bottle. To pass the time, she watches TV shows on a tablet she has attached to her treadmill with Velcro strips.
She has put over 500 miles on her current set of running shoes and has completed twenty consecutive daily marathons as of April 19th.
“I was lucky enough to get a pair of new [shoes] about a week in, but I will most likely need a new pair in a couple weeks,” said Alyssa. Besides eating up shoes, she also has to consume roughly 4,200 calories daily to keep her properly fueled. “If I do not replenish or come close to hitting the amount I need, it would be a struggle to continue to do this.”
In normal times, Alyssa is a Naval Support Activity (NSA) Naples Morale, Welfare and Recreation fitness specialist at the gym onboard the installation’s Capodichino location, as well as an avid ultra-marathon runner. While she still has some responsibilities that require her presence at the base a few times per week, the gym is closed for safety and she mostly works from home. Alyssa is particularly concerned since she has an autoimmune disease that affects her digestive system and makes her less able to fight infections.
After having life-threatening complications from her illness as a teenager, Alyssa turned to running as a way to reassert a sense of control over her life.
“It was my way to prove to myself I was not sick,” said Alyssa. She was inspired to try marathons and greater distances after reading “Ultramarathon Man” by Dean Karnazes. Once she recovered from a lifesaving surgery to remove part of her colon, she started doing five-hour training runs on the trails of New England. “Ever since then I have found such love and freedom on the trails, I just can’t stop.”
“All of my races have been canceled until October”, Alyssa explains, “so testing myself now is the perfect time to see where I am physically and see how I can grow.”
Her husband Lt. Codi Clark, a U.S. Navy submariner from Hudson, New Hampshire, stationed at Commander, Task Force 69 onboard NSA Naples, frequently comes in to check on her and keep up her spirits. He’ll sit on the sofa and chat, eat his lunch, and keep her company.
“Lockdown has had a positive effect in my life,” said Codi. “We have gotten to spend a lot of time together and really boost our relationship.”
As a junior naval officer, Codi did two six-month submarine deployments.
“I think that being a submariner, over other Navy professions, is more helpful when dealing with a situation like this,” Codi claims. However, he insists that it’s a “wonderful contrast” to spending time at sea, as he enjoys being able to spend time at home with Alyssa with the free time to do anything he thinks is important around the house.
“I oddly have spent more time with my cats, attempting to leash train them,” Codi said laughingly. He has also built some contraptions to practice ice climbing at home to help him stay in shape for his upcoming school at the Navy Diving and Salvage Training Center located in Panama City Beach, Florida.
Codi says that he is keeping fit because “the Navy is still open for business.” Codi continued, “I'm working on a new schedule that's designed to maximize both readiness and resilience to COVID-19.”
Despite the full work schedule and new hours, he feels fortunate.
“We are incredibly lucky to be in the position that we are in,” Codi said. “While some local Italians are struggling to feed their families, we are lucky enough to have no interruption of pay.”
To help their community, Alyssa and Codi have coordinated with their landlord to provide groceries directly to people in their small town who are struggling.
Alyssa explained how running in the present environment makes her feel even more connected to her community than before. “I think about all the people I care about and send them strength while I am running,” she said.
Typically though, her connections are through social media. After each run, she posts a photo of her posing with her distance-tracking watch displaying “26.2” and holding up fingers and toes representing how many marathons she has completed. Soon, she will have to figure out a new system as she runs out of digits. With her daily photo, she shares an inspirational message about taking this challenge and moving forward one day at a time.
For now, Alyssa will continue her ‘marathon marathon,’ although she plans to stop towards the end of May, just before she and Codi are scheduled to move to their next duty station with the Navy. “I don’t think I can keep doing it when we move,” said Alyssa.
She hopes that the mandatory social distancing measures will be at least partially lifted before then, as she has been longing to run in the mountains by her house and eat at her local pizzeria. “When I first started, my goal was to run until we were allowed to move freely outside without any restrictions.”
If she manages to complete a marathon every day up to her moving day, she will have run over 1,300 miles in 53 days, just eight marathons short of breaking the Guinness World Record for most consecutive days to run a marathon distance by a female. “I don’t know if we will still be here at that point.”
Between the global crisis of COVID-19 and viral spread-mitigating restrictions put in place by the Navy, there is plenty of uncertainty in when they could be leaving; both are known for operating on their own timelines. If their moving date slides, she could quickly find herself as an unofficial world record holder.
Alyssa is content to have gotten close, even if she doesn’t break the record. For her, this was always about building resiliency in her community, both in Quadrelle and online.
“I think the Navy teaches you how to adapt and make the most of uncomfortable situations,” said Alyssa. “We also have a strong sense of community that will step up and support each other through difficult times.”
For now, she plans to keep moving forward and take each day one step at a time.
NSA Naples is an operational ashore base that enables U.S. allied, and partner nation forces to be where they are needed, when they are needed to ensure security and stability in Europe, Africa, and Southwest Asia.
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