When a runner attends their first Steel City Road Runners (SCRR) group run, one of the first people they’re likely to meet is Deanna Skvarla. Deanna’s job as an SCRR ambassador is to make all runners feel welcome and supported by the group. Her positive, outgoing personality makes her perfect for the role.
“My favorite part of being an ambassador is meeting new people who haven’t joined SCRR yet,” Deanna said. “When they come to group run for the first time, I love seeing how much they enjoy it and how impressed they are by the group.”
Deanna started running in 2014 and quickly became hooked. She joined SCRR in 2015 to surround herself with more experienced runners and for the social aspect. She quickly made friends in the club and loved the weekly group runs so much that Deanna started pacing local races and became a club ambassador in 2016.
Last summer, while Deanna was training for her second marathon, she felt like something was off. She felt especially tired after long runs and had a longer time recovering. She had a “hunch” that something was wrong.
Shortly later, doctors diagnosed her with breast cancer. She would need surgery — a mastectomy and breast reconstruction, followed by chemotherapy. Running was put on immediate hold for Deanna.
Worried she wouldn’t be able to keep up with duties as an SCRR ambassador, Deanna considered stepping down. But SCRR was important to her, so she stayed on. Since she couldn’t run, she spent more time volunteering at group runs and supporting the other runners.
For everything Deanna did for them, SCRR members wanted to give back and support her during her surgery and recovery. This winter they hosted a “Pink Out” run in her honor. The club members planned to surprise Deanna as she recovered from surgery and run by her window at Magee-Women’s Hospital of UPMC.
Deanna recovered more quickly than doctors expected and was released early. Not wanting to miss seeing the club members who she now considered her good friends, Deanna had her husband drive her down to watch the “Pink Out” run. She was moved by what she saw and started crying. Members had dressed in pink and made signs such as, “Rain, Fog, Ice, Heat, Snow, Cold nor Cancer Stops a Runner!”
The support didn’t stop after the training run. One club member set up a charity ride at CycleBar, other members provided meals through Meal Train and several sent her messages and words of encouragement.
“When I got diagnosed with breast cancer, I was blown away by the amount of support I received from SCRR members and even the club members I hadn’t even met,” Deanna said. “The amount of support was so heartwarming.”
Deanna’s doctor cleared her for running on March 13. Though her runs now are slower and she has to take more breaks than before, Deanna was determined to participate in this year’s DICK’S Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon weekend of events.
On Saturday, May 5, Deanna ran the UPMC Health Plan/UPMC Sports Medicine Pittsburgh 5K Run. She then ran the Toyota Pittsburgh Kids Marathon with her six-year-old daughter for the second time, which she hopes will be an annual mother/daughter run. The following day, she also ran the last leg of the FedEx Ground Pittsburgh Marathon Relay.
“Pittsburgh means a lot to me because it’s the 10-year anniversary. It’s my hometown, and I want to be there,” Deanna said. “I knew if I didn’t sign up for the races, I would have a hard time getting back into running. It’s been quite a year and to get to this point and being able to run, I feel so blessed and thankful that I can run.”