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Taped on the wall to the right of her bed, Jessica LeBron has a list that she looks at every morning when she first wakes up. It’s her daily routine and written in bright red, which happens to be her marathon lipstick color of choice (more on that later). “Thank god and pray. Meditate, journal or read for 5 to 10 minutes. Fix my bed. Take my vitamins and medication. Make tea.” For some, this list of to-do’s could be read as optional, but for Jess, it’s foundational. “These are the things I need to do to help me feel more responsible for myself,” she says.
Given how heartily Jess laughs and how readily she smiles, it’s hard to believe that just over two years ago, this effervescent 45-year-old special education teacher, avid runner turned running coach, community leader and entrepreneur found herself considering suicide. “I was in a constant battle with my health, relationships and work/life balance. I felt pulled by the need to always produce, perform and keep going,” she says. “I was highly functioning and trying to pick up the pieces at the same time. All the while, I was thinking about not wanting to be here.”
When suicidal ideation turned into counting the number of pills she had at home, Jess knew she’d hit rock bottom and reached out to her family–an incredibly close-knit unit consisting of her mom and five younger siblings–for help. “They immediately worked with my therapist to come up with a plan, thinking I’d go to the ER, get evaluated, then receive the therapeutic services I needed.” Instead, she was sent to the highest level psychiatric ward for five days, during which she also had a mini stroke.
In the months that followed, Jess had a hysterectomy and struggled with the heartbreak of a separation from her fiancé. “The level of emptiness I felt was horrendous,” she recounts. Her healing process was a slow one, but one that she approached in the same way she does her running, a passion that she discovered when she turned 30. “I’ve always been on the run-walk-crawl team since I started running. So no matter what, whatever I need to do, I’m going to cross that finish line,” she explains. “When I got home after my surgery, I was very weak and couldn’t stand for very long. After years of caring for others, I was the one that needed to be cared for by my family and friends. I couldn’t even walk past the tree in front of my apartment and as someone who has run multiple ultramarathons and marathons, I had to really learn how to give myself grace.”
That June, just three months after her surgery, Jess decided she was ready to run another marathon. “Every marathon has its own journey and when I ran New York in 2021, my only goal was to make it to the finish line. I knew that my body was fighting a different fight, so I gave myself the space to say, ‘It’s OK to stop, recover and start again.’ Mile by mile, borough by borough, I kept picturing myself at the finish because if you keep seeing yourself there, by the time you get there, you’re done. And then you get to bask in your own perseverance and your own resilience and your own boss bitch energy. I thought, ‘I got this and I’m going to get through this marathon with my red lipstick.’” (That day she wore her favorite by Clutch Cosmetics, a black-owned makeup brand started by a good friend).
As an after school track coach, running coach for countless companies and non-profits, and active member of local running crews like NYC Bridge Runners and Girls Run NYC, Jess has helped thousands of runners get to their finish lines through lessons that ultimately become life lessons. “What it takes to cross that finish line, how you cross that finish line, it’s a lesson that applies to every aspect of your life. Sometimes you won’t make it to the finish line and you have to create a different finish line. You have to reassess and know that there’s no one way to get there,” she says.
The ability to constantly check in with herself is a practice and skill that has helped pull Jess out of her darkest moments. “When there are times that you feel that you are less than or can’t do it, find that thing that helps you get to the next little part that you have to get to,” Jess explains. “I had a therapist who once said to me, ‘You know, if you just floss one tooth, and then maybe you’ll start flossing the other tooth.’ It was so simple and matter of fact, but this was 15 years ago and I still remember that.”
In 2022, inspired by her time working at a pop-up flower shop created by Khadija Tudor, her friend and co-founder of Life Wellness Center in Brooklyn, Jess enrolled in New York Botanical Gardens’ floral design certificate program. “I’ve always loved flowers and during the pandemic they helped me heal and brought a level of beauty and joy that I needed. Putting my hands in the soil, the act of keeping things alive kept me aligned with myself. Because if I’m watering my plants, I’m watering myself, reminding myself that I need water, too,” she says. “Flowers do the same thing for me that running does for me. I’m able to build community and share my knowledge. I’m able to create healing spaces through the work of florals, showing people how they can manage their depression.”
This year, in addition to growing her own floral design business, Golden Sol NYC, Jess has her sights on her 13th marathon–the London Marathon on April 23, 2023–and a new note, a daily reminder that she’s just written for herself. When asked what it says, she throws her head back in laughter and says, “Jess you’re the best and fuck the rest.” We couldn’t agree more.