Anyone who has been in town over the last decade and driven through Wilton Center on almost any sunny morning has had a good chance to have spotted Wilton resident Alex Grano running.
The fact that Grano is even running at all is miraculous, but this is a man who has run countless 5Ks, a number of 10ks, a half marathon, and remarkably, a full marathon. He is currently training for the Fairfield half marathon — and just found out this week that he has been invited to run in the 2021 TCS New York City Marathon.
And to think, it all began seven years ago at the Wilton Education Foundation’s (WEF) Get Smart for Wilton 5K, held annually each Memorial Day Weekend.
On Your Mark, Get Set …
Grano was born in Mexico City in 1992 with some serious medical challenges. He was diagnosed with hydrocephalus, a condition characterized by the buildup of fluids in the brain, which can lead to lasting brain damage. At the age of 2, Grano and his family moved to the US, settling in Stamford to be closer to Yale-New Haven Hospital where he underwent treatments and had life-saving surgery.
It may have saved his life, but as he told GOOD Morning Wilton in 2015, the surgery was still traumatic. “What this did to me was I lost my ability to walk, talk, or pretty much be human. Now I am gradually getting this back. I didn’t even think I would be at this point to be honest with you,” Grano said six years ago.
Through physical training and a religious running schedule, Grano has worked hard to overcome the residual impact of those early medical issues, which are most pronounced in the areas of his balance and mobility — and make Alex’s love for running and his accomplishments all the more amazing.
Alex attended all of Wilton’s public schools concluding with his graduation from Wilton High School in 2011. He has fond memories of his time in the Wilton schools, and made a point to say that his teachers “really supported him, and taught him far more than just what was in the textbooks.”
Giving back to that school district is part of why he has enjoyed running in WEF’s annual 5K, a race that has given Alex so much by sparking his love of running.
Alex’s father used to walk at the WHS track regularly and would bring Alex with him. Alex began to jog the track while his dad walked. On one of those visits, Alex noticed the sign for WEF’s Get Smart for Wilton 5K. Having never run a race before, he felt compelled to try.
He registered, not really knowing what to expect for his first race. Alex’s mom was nervous, but she fully embraced the idea and has since supported all his running endeavors as his biggest fan.
”I didn’t know if I could do it, but I wanted to take a shot,” Alex recalled. He did finish, and discovered he loved the feeling of being among others trying to accomplish that goal. He loved the energy of the group and the way he felt as he took each step and eventually made it to the finish line. It was a race that launched his life-long love for running races, which now number over 25 and counting.
Alex now runs miles upon miles weekly. He pounds pavement four to five times per week, uses one day for strength training and another for rest. He usually runs between three and five miles for a regular workout when he isn’t training for a major event.
On all his runs Alex wears bright-colored pullovers, mostly neon yellow, so everyone can see him — both because he deserves the attention, but also for safety.
For Alex, running is not as effortless a task as it is for most. He wears a heart monitor to keep close tabs on his stats, and he must work hard on his core strength to help with his balance as his legs and feet naturally leave him off balance, making him more prone to fall.
He always lets his friends and family know where he is heading and when he will return, sometimes texting friends mid-run to say, “Hey, meet me at Lilly Way, I am pushing my limits today!” He always enjoys and appreciates when his friends cheer him on.
In 2020, Alex set a major running goal. “Everyone should set a really big and crazy goal, one that sounds almost impossible to achieve,” he explained.
Taking his own advice, Alex signed up for the 2020 New York City Marathon. He entered by way of a fundraising effort on behalf of the NYRR Team for Kids, which helps children access opportunities for play after school and in youth sports. Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic derailed the official, in-person NYC event he’d worked hard to prepare for.
That didn’t deter Alex, though. With the support of Heather Pech of Knight Training and Megan Searfoss of Ridgefield Running Company, a group of Alex’s running friends got together to organize and host a special, virtual NYC Marathon that began in Ridgefield and ended 26.2 miles later in Darien.
The race began in the bright sunshine, but concluded in a downpour for the last seven miles. For an average runner, the conditions may have forced a concession, but Alex and his team of supporters persevered.
He finished his first-ever marathon, crossing the line to cheers, tears and hugs from his closest running friends. “It was the best moment of my life,” Alex recalled.
He’ll get a chance to repeat his feat this coming November as he retained his place in the now-confirmed in-person 2021 NYC marathon. In fact, just last week Alex received the official invitation.
Alex is a beacon of hope and an inspiration for so many community members. He runs because he loves the fitness he gains from it; loves the sense of accomplishment he gets from starting and finishing and the routine it provides; but most of all, he loves the community of people and friends running attracts.
Alex is eager to return to his roots this Sunday, May 30 at 8:30 a.m. for the 2021 Wilton Education Foundation Get Smart for Wilton 5K. “We all missed the event last May. I am so excited to participate again,” he said.
WEF is still accepting online registrations for the race. Runners can choose to either run the race in person at the WHS track, participate virtually, or simply donate. (Email organizers to sponsor or contribute to the race.)
Alex shared one important final piece of advice: “If you have never run a 5K, just sign up. Don’t worry about running fast or even running at all. Just try to finish. I promise you, it will be a great accomplishment and a feeling you will never forget.”