All of this makes D’Amato’s debut far from typical. But that’s actually quite fitting, since her running career hasn’t exactly followed the usual path, either.

For one, she signed her first professional running contract with Nike at the age of 36—an age that’s pretty much unheard of in elite sport. D’Amato also has a day job—and will soon have two. She works as a realtor at her mother’s real estate brokerage in Fairfax, Virginia, and will open a run specialty shop in nearby Midlothian with her husband shortly. Add two kids to the mix—Tommy is 8 and Quin is 5—and it’s organized chaos. But D’Amato says she wouldn’t have her second chapter of running any other way.

A ‘Round Two’ for Running

D’Amato’s a marathon star now—and she was a running standout in her teens and early 20s—but in between, there were several years when she wasn’t running competitively at all.

After graduating in 2006 from American University, where she was a four-time All-American and 11-time Patriot League champion, D’Amato (née Carlstrom) briefly joined a pro training group in Washington, DC. But when a chronic ankle injury required surgery that her insurance wouldn’t cover, she figured that might be all her legs had to give. She retired from the sport, married, had two kids, and got a job.

Less than a decade later, though, she felt the itch to run again, and her running revival started in 2016. Her runs began casually at first, with a desire to get her endurance back following the birth of her children. Then in 2017, she and her husband, Anthony D’Amato, signed up for the Shamrock Marathon. D’Amato finished quicker than she had planned in just 3:14—but still 12 minutes behind Anthony. (“It was the last time I ever beat her in a race,” he told Runner’s World later.)

The race sparked her competitive drive: Eight months later, she shaved 27 minutes off her marathon time to run 2:47 at the 2017 Richmond Marathon in Virginia, just two minutes shy of qualifying for the 2020 Olympic Trials. So D’Amato started training a little more purposefully. She began working with her former pro coach, Scott Raczko, who guided her to a 2:44 at the 2018 Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota.

“I qualified for the Olympic Trials for the first time ever, and that’s what really lit the fire,” she says now.

But D’Amato’s improvement curve was just beginning. She cut a full 10 minutes from her time at the Berlin Marathon the following year, clocking 2:34, and though her name wasn’t on most people’s radar heading into the Olympic Marathon Trials, she entered the race with the ambitious goal to place top three and make the Olympic team. D’Amato ended up finishing 15th overall in what she describes as a tough day, but she still posted her best marathon time to date in that race, over 30 seconds off her Berlin time. Perhaps more importantly, her self-belief continued to fuel her forward, propelling her to an American record and World Championships berth for Team USA two short years later.

A New Perspective on the Roads

D’Amato credits a healthy balance of running, career, and family for giving her a different perspective than she had as a younger athlete.