Usually, running coach Kathy Pugh’s More than Miles Bootcamp group doesn’t cross streets for their runs, but Pugh said when they do, Roberta Stewart is there to serve as “safety patrol.”
Even if there are no cars coming, Stewart backs Pugh up on not crossing without a “walk” signal.
This behavior is something Stewart sees in D.C., along with drivers not always stopping at lights.
For pedestrians, it’s better to wait than risk crossing to get to the other side a little faster, she said.
“It is absolutely worth it to wait those 30 seconds,” Stewart said. “It’s not worth it to say I’m in a hurry. Because that car is going to win against your body every time.”
Stewart, 46, of Capitol Hill, has reason to be concerned about people crossing streets. On a cold December morning in 2014, she was hit by a car while on a run, even though she started to cross the street when she saw the “walk” signal, she said.
“All of a sudden I heard brakes screeching and I thought, ‘Oh my God, where did that car come from?'” Stewart said.
Even though part of her scalp was taken off in the crash and she suffered from post-traumatic stress, it never crossed Stewart’s mind to eliminate running from her life.
And a little more than a year later, while she was undergoing treatment to fix her scalp, she decided she wanted to run another marathon.
“I wanted to feel strong and feel empowered and just build myself back up,” she said.
Stewart has been running with Pugh’s group since January 2019, and Pugh described her as a joyful and encouraging person with a big personality. Pugh recently featured Stewart as the Runner of the Month/Decade in her newsletter.
“We run at 5:45 in the morning, and it’s kind of hard to be cheerful at 5:45 in the morning, and she comes with a smile on her face and everybody loves her and loves being around her, and that’s Roberta,” Pugh said.
She also mentioned Stewart’s light-up Noxgear vest, and Stewart said she encourages runners to use lights and reflective gear.
“I’m really vigilant about people being visible when they run,” she said.
Stewart works as a deputy assistant chief counsel for the Federal Railroad Administration and started running in 2005. She’d previously gotten a black eye playing Ultimate Frisbee, she said, and she wanted to still exercise but not have a black eye for her wedding day.
In that first year, she ran the Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run and the Rock ‘n’ Roll Virginia Beach Half Marathon.
Stewart has been doing social media and outreach for the Capitol Hill Classic, which benefits the Capitol Hill Cluster School, for several years. She has a 7-year-old son who is a student there and an 11-year-old daughter who attended there. The race includes a 10K, 3K and fun run.
“I just get to connect with so many people and get to help put on this really, really fun day for our school and for our community and I just love it,” Stewart said. “It’s just so much fun to do that.”
Jason Levine, race director for the Capitol Hill Classic, said Stewart is passionate about the school, the cause and the race.
As a doctor, fellow runner and friend of Stewart’s, her being involved in the crash scared him. But her reaction demonstrated her personality well, he said.
“Rather than let it be the thing that either made her not want to run anymore, or not want to run on D.C. streets, or retreat to a treadmill, she was like, ‘OK, what’s next?'” Levine said.
In addition to the scalp injury, Stewart had fractures around her hip joint and in her tibia, along with bumps and bruises, she said.
She was given a $5 ticket for putting herself in the path of a moving car, which made her question herself. But she said she later heard from the passenger in the car, who said the driver had sped up with the light about to change.
After the crash, crossing streets scared her, but she knew that was something she couldn’t avoid doing.
“I’d hear a car engine and it would just make me flinch and my heart would pound,” Stewart said.
Although she thinks she’s pretty much gone back to normal when it comes to crossing streets, she hasn’t returned to the intersection where the crash happened.
In January 2016, Stewart started the process to remove the bald spots on her scalp, which involved having tissue expanders under her scalp that would be filled with saline on a weekly basis, she said. Her last surgery was in May 2016.
The 2016 Marine Corps Marathon — the one she decided to do — was a tough race for Stewart. She said she came down with a sinus infection before the race, and it was also hot out. But she still ran. She saw friends and family cheering for her around miles 17 and 18 and she figured she had to keep going, she said.
“I’m just really proud of myself for doing it and finishing it even though everything about it was really hard,” she said.
Stewart’s husband, Seth Kaufman, said he wasn’t surprised that Stewart decided to run a marathon. He was thinking she might — although he didn’t mention that to her.
“When she started running again as part of recovering from her accident, at some point I said, ‘you know what, I bet she’s going to want to do a marathon just to prove it to herself that she can do it,'” Kaufman said.
He said Stewart’s dedication is something he admires about her.
“One thing about her is when she puts her mind to something and commits to something that she sees it through to the end,” he said.
Now on the horizon, Stewart has the Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Miler and the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati, where she will be running a challenge that includes a mile race, a 5K, a 10K and a half marathon.
Stewart said her experiences relating to the crash have also made her feel more compassion and empathy for people facing challenges. She talked about running for her friend Patti Tempio-Wilson, a fellow runner unable to run because she was fighting cancer. Stewart wrote in an email five days later that Tempio-Wilson had died.
Even when Stewart was in the emergency room after being hit, she knew her own situation could have been worse, and she would recover, she said. And she’s grateful for that.
“There wasn’t any question that I would be able to do what I wanted to again,” she said.