Town Hill runner won’t slow down

Melissa Ossanna is raising money for the MS Society, a cause close to her heart, during her training for an Ironman competition in Mont-Treblant, Quebec.  PHOTO COURTESY OF MELISSA OSSANNA

Melissa Ossanna is raising money for the MS Society, a cause close to her heart, during her training for an Ironman competition in Mont-Treblant, Quebec.

BAR HARBOR — When you ask Melissa Ossanna about her first night running, she humbly will tell you how absolutely terrible it was. Her house is located on a road that is a fourth of a mile long, and she made it only to the end before walking home.

“It was awful. I had random tennis shoes from the back of my closet, cotton sweatpants and a T-shirt,” she said.

Now, having run 14 marathons, three 50-kilometer races and three triathalons, it seems Ossanna has gotten the hang of it. What she doesn’t dwell on is the fact that she has achieved all of this with multiple sclerosis, a disease that attacks the central nervous system. Ossanna was diagnosed with the illness when she was 26.

“I actually started running after I was diagnosed with sleep apnea … We had thought it was MS fatigue. I was having to nap every day,” Ossanna said. “Then I attended this lecture, and the speaker said if you benefit from a nap, like you feel like you can go on a do more stuff after sleeping, you could have sleep apnea, not MS fatigue. So I went to my neurologist and had the tests done.” When they came back positive, she was rewarded with adaptive gear and a new store of energy.

So, in the fall of 2011, when some simply would have rejoiced in a return to full power, Ossanna decided to run a marathon. To keep herself motivated, she posted to family and friends on Facebook that she would be running the Mount Desert Island Marathon in the fall of 2012. Then she took her journey one step further, deciding to raise money for MS research through the MS Society. She ended up raising a total of $3,000.

She ran just one race before her MDI Marathon debut, the Shipyard Old Port half-marathon in Portland. “It took a lot of the anxiety out. … I learned a lot of what not to do, like stand in the front of the starting line when you’re running your first race.”

Ossanna finished the 2012 MDI Marathon in 4 hours and 42 minutes, well under her goal of five hours, despite an ankle injury just two weeks before the race. Although she had achieved amazing success, Ossanna admits to feeling a little lost after she finished.

“When it was done, I had this feeling of ‘now what?’ It had been such a big goal, and I was feeling good, I was feeling energetic, I’d had no MS exacerbations the whole time I was training. But it was over, and I hadn’t had another plan. Then it was winter, and I got feeling really depressed. Do I keep running? And then I heard about a race in Lubec in June.”

Ossanna would run the race in Lubec after signing up in March, laughingly admitting that it continues to be her slowest race ever run. After that, she was officially hooked, embracing the running community both on MDI and in the greater Maine area. She branched out to triathlons after coming in first in her age group at the 2014 Bangor YMCA sprint triathlon, a shorter version of the traditional triathlon.

So what’s left for an athlete who loves big challenges? How about an Iron Man, one of the most grueling athletic events in the world.

Established in 1978, Iron Man competitions involve a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, followed by a full 26.2-mile marathon run. Ossanna will be running hers on Aug. 19, in Mont-Tremblant, Quebec. “One, I can drive there,” Ossanna said, when asked why she chose it for her first competition, “Two, the water temperature is pretty much guaranteed to be wetsuit legal. And finally, it’s a wave start, not a mass start, and my age group starts last. I’d definitely rather be passing people than having a bunch of them passing me.”

She will once again be raising money for the MS Society, citing this race as another new beginning in her athletic life, and so a fitting opportunity to raise money for a cause close to her. “This is the next big thing, and it’s seen as one of the hardest events in the world. So I figured if I’m going to do this, I definitely am going to raise money again. I hope we can do really well raising money.”

When she isn’t training, the 46-year old mother of a 9 year old works a full time job for a pharmaceutical company. Ossanna cited this balancing act as one of the biggest factors on her training regimen.

“I don’t really follow a strict training plan – they actually stress me out,” she laughed. “I ran a fifty mile trail race in May that took around 12 hours and 20 minutes. So I can exercise for 12 hours and 20 minutes and still be alive. I’m really confident in the running, because I do that all the time. My biking and my swimming I definitely still need to work on before the triathlon.”

Despite her personal success, Ossanna offered this humble advice to new runners: “I think running is very personal. Never compare yourself to others. You may only be running a mile, but maybe next week you’ll be running two, maybe if you like it you’ll run three. Focus on the positive part. The first half-mile I ran and walked back was awful. When you start running, it’s very few people who say ‘Oh, I’m going to run and just go out and run five miles.’ Just keep going.”

There are 50 qualifying spots at the Mont-Tremblant event for the national Ironman Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, each year. When asked if she would be interested in attending, Ossanna just shrugged and laughed, “Maybe if everyone ahead of me rolled over and I somehow managed to qualify. I mean it would definitely be a new, exciting challenge.”

If you are interested in donating to Melissa’s cause, visit

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