Marathon Woman Aids Diverse Charities

JACKSON HEIGHTS, N.Y.—Anahid Ugurlayan is not your typical marathoner.

Anahid Ugurlayan has run eight marathons, raising more than $20,000 to aid Armenian charities both here and abroad. Joining her (center) at the recent Hamptons Marathon are (L-R) Makrouhi Kalayjian, Magardich Nercessian, Stepan Ipekian, and Manoug Hazarian.

The more she runs, the better it gets for American and Armenian charities both here and abroad.

Of the eight marathons she has entered and completed, the endurance specialist has collected a grand total of $20,232.40. For those unfamiliar with the distance, a marathon covers 26 miles, 385 yards, and received its origin in the 1890’s. More than 500 marathons take place annually throughout the world.

Ugurlayan runs her races not particularly for self-merit and pride; instead, she looks to create a better society for those in need. No doubt, her cheering section at each event reflects high esteem and passion for the sport.

“The first time I ran track was in college,” she recalls. “I did the sprints because distance running didn’t appeal to me. I started running after my grandmother passed away. Her death devastated me and running was a great stress release. I’d watch marathons on TV and thought it would be fun.”

She entered three races and was rejected each time, finally qualifying in 2005. Her goal isn’t to win, but to break five hours and raise a respectable sum of money for a mission. The training can be chaotic, but like any challenge, Ugurlayan tends to persevere.

“I prefer training alone,” she says. “Your life sometimes revolves around your workouts. It’s three to four months of constant training leading up to a marathon. I know of other Armenian runners, some of whom are my friends, who are marathoners and do it for charity. It’s taken me to other parts of the world.”

Her first two were the prestigious New York City Marathon, joining some of the world’s elite looking for Olympic status. She’s done five others in the Hamptons, and in 2008 ran the Paris Marathon, pushing herself over the brink after insufficient training.

Here are her accomplishments: ARS Mother & Child Clinic and FAR Children’s Center in Yerevan, $5,500; St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, $2,000; Make It Right (Brad Pitt’s foundation to rebuild homes in New Orleans), $1,300; Armenia Fund’s Elderly Home in Yerevan, $4,000; Joyful Heart Foundation (actress Mariska Hargitay’s foundation to help victims of domestic violence), $550; Tufenkian’s School in Aragamough, Karabagh, and Armenia Fund’s Elderly Home in Yerevan, $2,500; American Cancer Society, $1,200; and the Armenian Relief Society’s (ARS) “Sosseh” Kindergarten and the Fund for Armenian Relief’s (FAR) soup kitchens, $3,182.40, which took place in September.

Her selected charities are not without reason. Twice she has run for FAR and the ARS; she’s been an active member of the latter since 1996. After visiting soup kitchens in Gyumri and the “Sosseh” Kindergarten in Medz Tagher (Hadrut region), she answered an urgent appeal for help.

In total, some 65 children and 11 supervisors at the “Sosseh” Kindergarten benefited from her run and the work the ARS has performed there since 2000.

Ugurlayan maintains her own strategy for completing the distance: She keeps a steady pace until the last six miles, then guts it out with a spiritual focus, reciting mantras, encouraging phrases, prayers, and whatever else it takes in getting her wilted body to the end.

“I don’t run with music anymore but I have a mental soundtrack of great music,” she confirms. “Throughout my run, I always think of my guardian angels who keep me going and the charities for which I am running.”

“Sometimes, you get sidetracked by the pain you are experiencing.” In 2006, a troubled knee raised havoc toward the end, but like all the others she managed to finish.

“I was running for St. Jude’s Hospital and I had on my St. Jude’s shirt,” she recalled. “Others along the way noticed the anguished look on my face and shouted words of encouragement. That was all the inspiration I needed to hear.”

Ugurlayan is an ARS member by design, taking after her mom, Makrouhi Kalayjian. Both are members of the “Mayr” Chapter and involved with humanitarian work, especially with issues relating to women and children. Anahid attended her first ARS Eastern Region Convention this summer in Florida and involved herself with the discussions.

She was born and raised in Jackson Heights, coming from an Armenian-Romanian lineage and a family of genocide survivors. Her scholastic merits are equally noticeable.

Ugurlayan graduated magna cum laude from Hamilton College with a degree in world politics and French, then secured a law degree from Hofstra University. She worked with the National Advertising Division (NAD) of the Advertising Self-Regulatory Council. Her assigned area was arbitration and advertising law, settling false advertising disputes.

She is currently involved with the New York City Bar Association, chairing the Consumers Affairs Committee, along with various other associations connected with her practice, particularly with women’s issues.

She sings with the choir at St. Illuminator’s Armenian Apostolic Cathedral and remains actively involved with the Armenian National Committee (ANC) of New York.

Taking it all in stride, Ugurlayan looks to her grandmother’s words in guiding her toward the Promised Land.

“She always told me there’s no such thing as ‘I can’t’ but only ‘I don’t want to.’ I think everyone should challenge themselves to perform an act that seems impossible,” Ugurlayan says. “It doesn’t have to be a marathon, but something that gives you an indescribable feeling of satisfaction. Push yourself to the limit and you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish.”

As for future marathons, Ugurlayan plans on continuing her quest with regularity, meeting her many missions with each step she takes—through snow or the blistering heat.

“I love hearing stories about elderly marathoners,” she notes. “I hope that’s me some day, running with (or after) my grandkids.”

Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian is a retired journalist with the Haverhill Gazette, where he spent 40 years as an award-winning writer and photographer. He has volunteered his services for the past 46 years as a columnist and correspondent with the Armenian Weekly, where his pet project was the publication of a special issue of the AYF Olympics each September.
Tom Vartabedian

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