My closet looks like the fatal hunting grounds where the couture of my past have come to fight their last battle. Labels from all eras of my life are represented-Pink, Juicy Couture, True Religion, the $5 leggings from the inexpensive little shop off Grand Avenue around the corner from my condo. They have all fought and served valiantly. The KSwiss gear fared many miles with me during intense training and the electric blue chiffon club dress…yep we had many memorable cab rides. And how could I forget the gold platform heels? We stole the show at that epic outing Derek, Jill, Billy and I had last fall in Del Mar. I think I can still make out the scent of chocolate martinis embedded in the leather. So much has happened in my life in such a short amount of time I sometimes wonder how I have landed where I am. And not just landed, but landed on my feet. Yes I have suffered some bruises. Usually a result of mixing stilettos, wine and great friends. Definitely incurred some bumps too during my escapades. The latest has stayed a year, the result of stress fracture the cracked right to the marrow of my bone. Painful yes, permanent maybe. As I sit amidst this melange of cotton, cashmere, lycra and linen, I am trying to decide what stays and what goes. What staple pieces will I need to take with me to my new house. Yes I am moving again for the sixth time in the last year and half! What should I just toss out and never look at again. I will leave those uncomfortable too tight and itchy items behind just like I left in the past the brutal scars of the eating disorder that almost cost me my life. Finally, what do I want and need to add to my repertoire? Maybe some new racing shoes for the Hollywood Half Marathon I will be running in April. You know what I think I really need? A black pencil skirt and some kick ass black heels. Something I can wear to the Vitalyte office so I actually look the part of the account executive. That’s what my title on my business card says “Milena Glusac-Account Executive, Vitalyte Sports Nutrition.” Yes that is actually what I need to buy.
That’s where I am in my life now.
My name is Milena Glusac and I am going to tell you how I went from being the top high school distance runner in the nation to a seven-time NCAA All-American at the University of Oregon to a top ten world ranked professional distance runner and now to the account executive for Vitalyte Sports Nutrition who is making her comeback to the stage of professional athletics. But the journey you are going to read about is circuitous at the very least. There has been a lot of drama, a lot of pain, a lot of loss and a re-birth. I am going to tell you all about that stuff. It is part of what has brought me to where I am now in my life, I am not ashamed of it and I think many of you can even relate to my story. Just let me try to find my favorite Victoria’s Secret Angel Sleep Tee and Seamless Little Thong in this monumental pile and then I will be comfy and ready to tell you more.
To know me and look at me you might think, “Wow she’s full of energy, runs everyday, is up from 5:30am to 11pm, work work work non-stop go girl. She has it all together- the typical tan, fit California blonde with the constant French manicure.” My life, however, for an extended period of time, represented a more melancholic menagerie of tumultuous events that shaped the landscape of my entire being for a decade and a half and I wasn’t the happy, up for an adventure, full-of-energy girl I am now.
I graduated from Fallbrook High School in 1993 as the top high school female distance runner in the nation. I had full-ride athletic scholarships being thrown at me from distinguished universities across the country: Stanford, UCLA, Villanova, Berkley, University of Arizona, Providence, Syracuse, University of Texas, University of Florida, Clemson…the list goes on. I chose to attend the University of Oregon. After all, it was the mecca for track and field. I remember I was sitting in my senior science class when I made the decision. The choice just came over me and in my daze I said to myself, “I’m going to the University of Oregon.” I didn’t really know why other than that is where I was going to go. Later on the choice would become dangerously serendipitous. At the University of Oregon I became a seven-time NCAA All-American and I also competed for the Ducks at the PAC-10 Championships in tennis. I was a busy student-athlete. I was taking sixteen units or more each quarter, competing in cross-country, indoor track, outdoor track and tennis. I went on the graduate with a double-major in psychology and Spanish in three and half years and then completed my Master’s Degree in psychology in the next year and half while I finished my eligibility in track and tennis. I had been forced to red-shirt a season because of bilateral femoral stress fractures. Later on I would find out that the twelve stress fractures I amassed during my career had been a result of a genetic bone issue that eventually kept me bed ridden for several years. I knew my five year stop at Oregon had a purpose in my life for reasons I could not even explain. It wasn’t like me to trade the sun and surf of Southern California for the constant rain and cold of the Northwest, but something I couldn’t explain was pulling me there. I spent nights crying and begging my dad to help me transfer to a warmer climate and someplace closer to home, but he insisted I stick it out because I would lose too much eligibility if I transferred. So I persevered, as I was accustomed to during my races. Just push through, get it done, drive, go, surge, kick, finish. I did just that.
But my unhappiness unveiled itself in my 5’6” 85, 83, 82, 80 pound frame. I confidently assured everyone, from my coaches to friends to family that I was just fine. Yep, didn’t need help, didn’t want it. You know I’m a distance runner, I’m “supposed” to be small. Well small and close to death are two different identities and I really DID want help. What I really really really wanted was a female I could relate to. Someone who didn’t treat me as an athlete, but treated me more like a daughter who could reveal her true emotions, passions and desires. All those “feeling” were just to be put aside though so I could just push through, get it done, drive, go, surge, kick, and win.
That is when I met Karen Nelson, counselor at the University of Oregon. Truly a divine intervention. I remember her perfectly manicured french nails, soft soothing voice and compassion that was a constant with every meeting. That was all I needed. Not a lot. Just someone to talk to the person, not the athlete. So I left the University of Oregon and at graduation my parents finally revealed something to me. I had been conceived in Eugene, Oregon when my parents were there exploring a job option for my father twenty-one years prior. Ironic, so ironic. I traveled back to my starting point so I could find my self, the non-athlete self, while the athlete excelled.
The next few years I spent regaining my health and I eventually clawed my way back to the top in distance running. This time at the world stage. A few new pieces would be added to the melancholic menagerie and a few old ones would re-enter: The eating disorder would resurge as I entrenched myself in the world of running and a family environment that was crumbling due to infidelity and financial decline. I would see my father’s clothes slowly disappear from the closet, one garmet at a time until I uncovered the new closet they were being transferred to. It was hard confronting your childhood best friend and hero but once again I just pushed through, got it done, drove, went, kicked, and finished. That was one of the few times I didn’t feel I had won anything at the end of a race. But, I got it done. And so I put my head down, toed the line at my debut marathon at New York City that year in 2001, smoke still swirling up from the destruction of the Twin Towers a few months prior, and I ran through Central Park to the finish line at Tavern on the Green. Thirteenth place. That year I would win three national championships and continue into 2002 as a top ten world ranked road racer. But as the demands at home weighed heavier and I took on a parent role, running didn’t feel so good.
I would suffer multiple stress fractures as a result of my genetic bone disorder and be bed ridden for many years due to the chronic bone inflammation. I constructed a plan in 2007 to move from Fallbrook to the beaches of Del Mar, CA. Deep down there was something pulling me towards the ocean. I knew I needed out and needed to build my own life away from the drama of the family. I did just that. I had a business venture that failed and I lost a lot financially but during those years I was able to do something I hadn’t been able to do since those conversations with Karen Nelson at the University of Oregon. I could reveal my true emotions, passions, and desires. No judgment, no finish tape, no getting it done or surging. Just being me. Not the parent or the athlete. Just Milena.
And that’s when I came alive. Running became a joy again and a lot less painful. The melancholic menagiery, well I threw it out and replaced it with amazing friends, a few surfboards, a snowboard, convertible red beetle, two basset hounds and an amazing job as the account executive for Vitalyte Sports Nutrition. There is still drama in my life but it usual involves trying to balance full-time training, work, weekend expos, writing and coaching jobs and of course a few chocolate martinis and platform heels. Now I can happily say I am one true Southern California girl who happens to be able to run pretty damn fast, loves shopping at Victoria’s Secret and will always be sporting the French manicure while driving my Beetle. Oh and for the couture left on my closet floor…I got rid of everything that no longer fit and I can’t wait for you to find out what I bought for last Sunday’s San Diego Track Club’s award dinner that I hosted. It was quite a night…