Keira D'Amato
Keira D'Amato running the Up Dawg Ten Miler in November 2020 Credit: Dan DiFonzo

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Keira D’Amato is an open book. Her Instagram account gives followers an intimate behind-the-scenes look at the life of a 36-year-old professional runner and sales associate realtor living in the Richmond area. Her husband, Anthony, and their two young kids, Tommy and Quin, often make cameos. Anyone who wants to know how D’Amato trains can simply scroll through her public Strava account. There, on the social media app popular among runners and cyclists, D’Amato logs all of her runs, and always includes a joke or pun for the caption.

Her openness in sharing her journey from longtime amateur runner who had stepped away from the sport to Nike-sponsored pro has earned her plenty of fans. Last year, during the pandemic, she made headlines for her record-setting runs, including one around Anacostia Park in which she shattered the women’s only American record in the 10-mile road race. This past February, D’Amato ran a personal best of 32 minutes and 16.82 seconds in the 10,000 meters to qualify for her first U.S. Olympic Team Trials for track and field. The trials begin today and run through June 27.

This month should have been the next chapter in D’Amato’s unlikely comeback story. Instead, D’Amato will be watching the Olympic trials from home. Late last month, she made the decision to withdraw from the trials due to a lingering right hamstring injury.

“Immediately, there was a lot of sadness and questioning, just kind of trying to dig through and figure out what happened and how I can fix that,” D’Amato tells City Paper. “It was first sadness, then it was learning my lesson, and re-shifting the goals, and then it was putting my pants on and just moving forward. I’m a pretty resilient person, and I can bounce back pretty quickly.”

At the beginning of the year, D’Amato, a Northern Virginia native and American University alumna, sat down with her coach, Scott Raczko, to go over their plans for the spring and summer: Should she do the same training she did during the fall? Or was that not good enough anymore? Was it time to the take the next step?

“And we’re both like, yeah, let’s push the limit,” D’Amato recalls.

That meant working on her speed and turnover so that in a 10,000-meter race against the fastest women in the country, she could win the race with 400 meters or even 100 meters to go. But working on gaining more explosive strength exposed a weakness in her legs, and she started to feel pain in her hamstring around April. D’Amato continued to train, hoping that with occasional days off, she could heal in time for the Olympic trials. She would take time off and then build back up for two to three weeks without any issues before the pain would return, but she never felt 100 percent.

“I think we were more hopeful that it was smaller than I think it ended up being,” D’Amato says. “I think it was in a tricky spot that needs a little extra time to heal. And I think that we were hopeful and also just not quite aware of how much this could linger, and I think we were aggressive. We had the Olympic Trials in two months.”

In the meantime, while not running, D’Amato turned to pool running, swimming, and other forms of cardio. She is still working with a physical therapist and incorporating strength training in her routine. “This gave me an opportunity to work on some strengthening and some imbalances, and those won’t be issues in the future,” D’Amato says.

The decision to pull out of the U.S. Olympic Track Trials was not easy for D’Amato. She has spoken in the past about how much the Olympics or even hitting the Olympic qualifying standards means to her at this point in her career. In February of 2020, D’Amato finished 15h at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials with a personal best time of 2:34:24. But the Olympics, she adds, is “not the end all, be all” for her. Now without the track trials on her schedule, she’s shifted her focus to the fall marathon season. D’Amato doesn’t want anyone to feel sorry for her.

“I don’t want to waste any emotion, extra emotion, being bummed about it,” she says. “I have a lot to be thankful for, and I’ve really focused on all that and just realigning the goals.”

Due to the pandemic, several of the major marathons will take place this fall. The London Marathon is on Oct. 3, followed by the Boston Marathon on Oct. 11, and then the New York City Marathon on Nov. 7. Locally, the in-person Marine Corps Marathon will take place Oct. 31.

D’Amato plans to run the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run in D.C. on Sept. 12 as a marathon tuneup and will finalize her target fall marathon soon, knowing that the Olympics happening this summer and a packed fall marathon schedule could give her an opportunity to contend for a marathon title. “This is a really exciting opportunity to potentially try to win an event that I may not have been able to win,” she says.

This year may not have played out the way D’Amato or her sponsor would’ve liked, but she is still, after all, a rookie pro. This past February, D’Amato signed her first professional contract, with Nike. “They were supportive,” she says of her decision to withdraw from the track trials. “I mean, obviously, it’s not what they wanted either, but they understand, [and] pretty much just said, ‘We got your back, heal up and let’s get ready for the fall.’”

Ever since announcing the news of her injury last week on Instagram, D’Amato has been inundated with well wishes. She’s read every comment, and many of them have brought tears to her eyes. They serve as reminders of the power of her story and that disappointments are a part of the journey. Any runner, not matter what level, can relate to that.

“When you have a setback, it allows you to have another comeback,” D’Amato says. “So that’s kind of exciting.”