Theresa Giammona spoke to her husband, Vincent Giammona, twice on the morning of September 11, 2001.

The first was a call to plan the day. It was Vinny’s 40th birthday. A lieutenant in the fire department, he had just finished a 24-hour shift at Ladder Company 5 on Houston Street in Manhattan, and he stuck around longer at the firehouse so he could go for a run.

Vinny was training for the New York City Marathon that November, which was to be his first attempt at 26.2 miles.

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Theresa wished him a happy birthday, and they made plans for how they’d celebrate when he got home.

The second call was a short one after the first plane hit the World Trade Center. She asked him if he was coming home. Although his shift had ended, there was no way the man his firefighters dubbed “Lieutenant Fun” was leaving. (Vinny was renowned for dressing in an Elvis costume for roll call and holding country western parties at the firehouse.) 

Vinny told his wife, “I have to go,” Giammona recalls. “I was like, ‘Okay, be careful.’”  

She told him she loved him, and that was the last time they ever spoke.  

Vinny left behind Theresa and four daughters, then ages 8, 6, 3, and 2.

There was also a smaller matter after her husband's death, but one that nagged at Giammona for years: Vinny’s unfulfilled dream to run the NYC Marathon.

In November of 2001, 13 of Vinny’s friends and firefighters ran it as a relay to honor him. In 2008, Steven Giammona, Vinny’s younger brother, ran it when he turned 40, wearing Vinny’s shoes.

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Theresa Giammana thought about trying to run the race from time to time. But it’s hard to train when you’ve got four young girls to raise alone and you’re nursing a broken heart.

“I always said, I’m going to do it,” Giammona said. “I wanted to do it when I turned 40. Life always got in the way. My kids were little. And I just never had the time to put in the training.”

She’s now 45. Her oldest three girls are in college; the youngest is a junior in high school. In February, an email arrived from Answer the Call, the benefit fund for New York’s police and fire department widows and children. The organization was looking for people to run the marathon and raise money.

“I was like, ‘This is perfect,’” Giammona said. “I’ll be able to run it for Vinny; that was my main objective. And then also I’m raising funds for the organization that has helped me and my children for the past 14 years.”

Training got off to a rocky start for Giammona, who says she’s not a runner. She sustained a knee injury early on. She started again in July, just as New York Road Runners began its 16-week virtual trainer program.

In September, as her training was in full swing, she was hit by a car while she was riding her bike. No fractures, but she required stitches in one elbow and was pretty banged up. Two more weeks off.

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Giammona was able to get in a long run of 19 miles three weeks before the marathon. On race day, she caught a bus with other FDNY runners out to the start on Staten Island.

The firefighters of Ladder 5 were waiting for her with hugs as she came off the Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan at mile 16. Family members stood and cheered at 116th and First Avenue, and more were in the Bronx.

And she felt the presence of one, in particular, for the entire run, which she finished in 5:40:21.

“I felt like Vinny was with me the whole time. Because, like I said, I’m not a runner,” she said. “I really felt him with me.”  

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Giammona said that in the years since Vinny’s death, the family milestones have been particularly painful. A new normal set in, but with every birthday and graduation, the loss feels fresh again.

“Time does heal, but you never forget, you know?” she said. “Vinny and I were only married nine years, and we were blessed with four beautiful kids. We didn’t even make it to our 10-year anniversary. But if you told me back then, ‘You’re only going to get this amount of time,’ I would do it all over again.”

This milestone, though—the five-borough milestone—had a different feel than the others: uplifting.

By Wednesday morning after the marathon, the woman who says she’s not a runner had already gone out again for a three-mile run. A few of her friends are now saying that they want to do a marathon with her. Giammona’s on the fence.

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“It was such an amazing experience that I can’t ever beat what happened on Sunday,” she said. “It was just—I felt like it was me and Vinny. And nothing could ever beat that.”

This article originally appeared on RunnersWorld.com.