PHOTO: In addition to running four marathons, Ninette Menna has also run half-marathons such as shown here in the St. Jude Rock ‘N’ Roll half-marathon in Nashville last year. She will be running in the Boston Marathon Monday, April 15. / Photo submitted
By JOHN McBRYDE
From the first time she tasted alcohol, Ninette Menna of Franklin said she realized she was in trouble.
A sip is all it took, and it bedeviled her. As a young teen, it tormented her soul and her well-being for what would end up being another 21 years.
“I started at 14 and knew something was wrong the first time I drank,” said Menna, now 44 and sober for the last nine years. “I drank a lot, and it was not a good experience… and yet I still wanted to do it. I always knew from the first time I drank that something wasn’t normal.”
She was able to function through all her drinking over the years, but the functioning ceased after she was arrested for her third DUI in January 2010 and later began a jail term of 45 days on May 13. Without access to any alcohol, that became her sobriety date — but, of course, there was no celebrating it.
In fact, life got much more difficult. Menna wondered if jail was her only sanctuary. And when she got out, could she ever be able to start a new normal life?
These and other thoughts tore through her, but nowhere in her processing did Menna ever think she would one day be running in the Boston Marathon, the world’s oldest and most iconic marathon.
Despite all odds, however, and through the salvation of a program started by Williamson County Judge Denise Andre, Menna will be running in her first Boston Marathon on Monday, April 15.
“I can’t believe I’m sitting here talking about a Boston Marathon when nine years ago I wouldn’t have guessed that I would have made it,” she said, pausing before adding, “I wouldn’t have made it. I thought the only thing keeping me alive was being in jail. And that’s not even a stretch of the truth.
Time for change
Fact is, she certainly would have struggled with making it had it not been for the new recovery program starting in August. It was known as DUI Court and was being put into motion by Andre and others. Its premise was not for the faint of heart, but Menna’s attorney encouraged her to enroll. She joined four others in the program’s first year, 2010-11, graduating in September 2011.
“Never in my wildest imagination or wishful thinking could I have envisioned my life to be as good as it is today,” said Menna, a massage therapist with her own company, Kneading Solutions by Ninette. “I am forever grateful to the DUI Court for helping me get on my feet and for the support of the community as a whole. It did take a village and it worked. It’s hard work but oh so worth it.”
Participants have to wear an ankle monitor throughout the duration, and there can be no alcohol whatsoever in their house. They have to attend recovery meetings once a week as well as meet with DUI Court leaders and staff. They have to get a job and also do community service work.
Menna did break a rule at the time that prohibited participants from driving.
“I got busted driving to a meeting and had to spend 24 hours in jail,” she said.
Andre also made her write a long paper on how her life would be different if she were not in DUI Court, and as she wrote about all that had happened since she entered the program, Menna had an awakening.
“It was mind-blowing to me,” she said. “I woke up and thought, ‘Oh my gosh, what have I been doing? This is actually helping me. This is working and I’m changing.’
“You expect [recovery to] be like a [sudden] miracle, when it’s actually this slow, miraculous process. Just the fact that I wasn’t obsessed with drinking alone was huge, and that my daughters could be around me and not be scared that I was hiding things.”
Menna’s counselor for DUI Court, Tony Owens of Educare in Franklin, said the program was just the ticket.
“I think it was the perfect treatment option for her as far as a recipe for change,” he said. “She was a good fit for it and it was a good fit for her. As far as having the combination of the treatment, the judicial supervision and the probation, it was the perfect opportunity for Ninette to make some life changes.”
A runner’s high
Menna never thought of herself as a runner. She had what she thought were bad knees, and the idea of running and enduring the pain seemed pointless.
But on Labor Day 2015, circumstances led her to run in the Franklin Classic 5K. Her oldest daughter was running in the 10K as a source of punishment for having missed a meet on her high school’s cross country team.
“When we got there, it was like a party at 6 in the morning,” Menna said of the race’s beginning in downtown Franklin. “The energy was electrifying. I had never seen anything like it. I thought, I wish I could be a runner. So I ran the 5K and she ran the 10K. My knees hurt, but I ran the whole thing. When I went to see my chiropractor afterwards, he did some testing and said ‘you don’t have bad knees, what you have are weak leg muscles. If you approach it slowly and build your leg muscles, you’ll be okay.’”
More than okay, as it turned out. Menna kept entering more races and began piling on the miles to each run. It became euphoric.
“Once I began getting a little more mileage, I noticed this difference,” she said. “You get into this zone — I guess what they call the runner’s high — it was like, wow, this is different. It really is like a high. Colors are brighter, birds sound prettier, I cry sometimes with joy. That’s what got me really into running more. I just kept adding more miles.”
By November 2016, Menna was running in the Nashville Marathon, her first. She qualified then for the 2018 Boston Marathon with a finish of 3 hours, 41 minutes in her age bracket, but missed the cut-off by 8 seconds.
She ran a marathon in Indianapolis the following year, and that’s what got her qualified for this year’s run in Boston. Menna has run two more marathons, the Illinois and the Chicago.
For those who may be enduring what Menna went through with alcohol, she said have faith.
“If they have lost hope, to not lose hope,” she advised. “We have the ability to really make changes if we’re willing to take a leap of faith. It’s hard, and usually things get worse before they get better because now you’re actually participating in your life. The biggest thing to tell anybody is hang on and don’t let go.”