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Supermodel Anne V. might’ve earned her runway wings walking in Victoria’s Secret fashion shows. But she became an angel of a different sort (you know, the guardian kind) a few years ago at the New York City Marathon. Here’s the rundown on how the Russian-born bombshell found herself going the distance for a good cause. 

My dad was a really big runner—both my parents are doctors. He was in sports medicine and wasn’t really the dad who took me to school every day or went to my dance recitals because he traveled his whole life for work.

But I do remember having some amazing memories of him running. And when I was little, he would always drag me for runs. I thought of it as torture back then, but when I was 18 years old, it really brought back some amazing memories—once I began running on my own in New York.

My career in modeling, which started when I was 15, had just taken off, really fast—I started doing all the shows and signed a contract with Chanel. But I was by myself, without my parents. And then, my body sort of changed overnight—it finally caught up to what it really should be—and my agency pretty much told me to lose weight.

When your life is unpredictable and it goes up and down, exercising is one stable thing you can do to take charge of it.

This was 15 years ago, where no one talked about being healthy or working out. I didn’t even know what to do. My mom never lost weight; she never talked about it. I’d never been to a gym.

When no one really explains to you what to do or how to do it, and when you don’t have role models, you kind of get lost. You start abusing your body and being like, “Oh my god! Do I have to starve? Do I need to workout more?”

The answer is: No, you don’t. What you do need to do is eat healthy and exercise. For me that meant finding a workout that I loved—and the only thing that I really knew was running. I just kind of started doing it and remembering all those great times with my dad. And the more I did it, the more I loved it.

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Anne V. and her father at the NYC Marathon in 2009.

When your life is unpredictable and it goes up and down, exercising is one stable thing you can do to take charge of it. If you want to be No. 1 for yourself and be the best—you can be. And I think that’s what I started doing with running, and that’s why exercise became this big part of my life.

Eight years ago, someone introduced me to this organization called Achilles International, which supports athletes with disabilities who want to participate in mainstream running events. The woman who oversaw the organization called me and she said, “Hey listen, we have this athlete from Russia. He’s in a wheelchair, and he doesn’t speak any English. He’s coming to do the New York Marathon, and we don’t have anyone who speaks Russian. Would you want to guide him?”

I just remember thinking, “I’m not going to leave this guy alone.”

It was always kind of a dream for me to run the marathon, but I could never commit to it because I was on a plane every other day. I was running, but I wouldn’t say I was necessarily finishing 10Ks daily. So, I was like, “I don’t think I can run a marathon; I’m not in that kind of shape. But what if I do the beginning and the end? And then you find someone to get him in the middle?”

We agreed on that, but when the time came to do the marathon, I started with him, but somehow we lost the other guy who was supposed to take over in the middle of the race. I felt incredibly responsible for this person because there were so many runners. And I just remember thinking, “I’m not going to leave this guy alone.”

So we just did the whole thing together. It was the most amazing experience because I stuck out the battle and helped someone achieve their dream (and mine, too)—we did it together.

If you’re now feeling super motivated to put in some miles—for a marathon or just for fun—here are the best running apps and activewear to keep you pacing toward your goals.