It has been almost five years since Jessica Myrick was shot three times, one bullet skimming by her heart and piercing her lungs.
Sometimes when she runs, her chest feels tight, as if it hasn't opened all the way back up, she said.
But Myrick, now 23, keeps pushing herself a little farther. She plans to run the Gasparilla Distance Classic 5K with several other residents of Metropolitan Ministries, where she has lived since June.
"If I can run the whole race, I'll feel more confident," she said, comparing it with her plan to take the GED test in May. She corrected herself. "I'm not going to say if — but when."
She and several other residents accepted an offer from Tim Marks, president of Metropolitan Ministries, to train and run together.
The ministries is a charity partner with the Gasparilla races this year for the first time. In his last job, Marks had coached two people overcoming addictions to run the Boston Marathon. Today, a picture of him and a 23-year-old woman crossing the finish line sits on his desk. She had been addicted to heroin.
"There are so many metaphors in running a race," he said. "You push yourself beyond what you thought you could ever do."
In Tampa, he trains with Myrick and other residents and staff on Mondays. Myrick grew up in Palmetto and had her first child at 14 and her second three years later. Just before she turned 18, she moved to Tampa with her mother and younger brother.
Three months later, on March 11, 2008, she was sleeping on a living room couch at 2 a.m., when someone came into the home and shot her brother, who was 17. The man then shot her twice. She fell to the floor, but got up when she heard another shot. She saw the man standing over her mother. When he saw Myrick, he shot her again and fled. She crawled to a phone and called for an ambulance.
"I felt myself passing out," she said. "I could barely breathe. Once I saw the ambulance lights, I dropped the phone."
She woke up in the hospital. Both her mother and brother were dead. No one has been charged in the shooting, and Myrick still feels nervous at night.
She bounced around Tampa for a few years living with relatives and friends until last year, when she moved into a motel on Busch Boulevard. After three months barely scraping by, she got a room at Metropolitan Ministries.
In addition to studying for her GED, she has taken classes on healthy relationships and boundaries, and takes a Zumba class at the nearby YMCA.
"I started in the back of the room," she said. "I was nervous. As I caught on, I made my way to the front. Now I love it."
Myrick had run track in high school but has never run a race. She said training is a good chance for her to think.
"I never thought about the future so much," she said. "I'm seeing it so much I know I can do it."
She dreams of a house with rooms for each of her three children and a back yard. She will have a career as a home health aide. Not a job. She will depend on no one. Her past relationships, she said, were messing her up.
When she runs, that's all she thinks about.
"How I'm going to do better. How I'm going to get where I need to be. I think about it every day. I can't just say it and not do it."
Elisabeth Parker can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3431.