Jennifer Budd's biggest accomplishment is also her biggest heartbreak.
Jen, an MRI scanning technician at Mayo Clinic in Florida, started running in 2009 to get into shape and to reduce stress.
Soon, running progressed into a passion, not just for her but also for her family. By 2013, she had completed eight half-marathons. But she'd also had two knee surgeries — an ACL surgery and a meniscus repair.
The surgeries didn't slow her down — at least not initially. She actually was thinking bigger.
She had watched her husband complete a marathon and wanted to try it herself. In 2014, she accomplished that goal.
"There is something cathartic about running. The simplicity helps to clear my mind," Jen says. "I also like the commitment it takes to run a marathon — following the training schedule, putting in the time, and then meeting up with thousands of other runners and crossing the finish line together."
Eventually, knee pain caught up to her, however, and she couldn't continue running.
"My knee pain steadily increased until 2020, when I had to wave the white flag," Jen says. "My activity level was greatly reduced due to the pain in my knee, and I knew it was time."
That's when she met with Cedric Ortiguera, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon at Mayo Clinic in Florida.
Jen was no stranger to Mayo Clinic. She calls herself fully "Mayo-nized." She was born at Mayo Clinic in Rochester and next year will celebrate 25 years of working at Mayo Clinic in Florida.
During Jen's appointment, Dr. Ortiguera recommended that she undergo surgery to replace her patella-femoral joint, also known as a partial knee replacement.
Jen agreed to the surgery after talking through her goals.
"Dr. Ortiguera is amazing. He is incredibly kind and patient. He listened to me and knew what I wanted to achieve after surgery," Jen says. "I knew that without the surgery, I would have never been able to continue being active, and my quality of life would not have been the same."
There was work to do after the surgery.
"The recovery process was humbling," Jen recalls.
She treated recovery like a full-time job and began physical therapy right away.
"I got to know my physical therapy team well. They were so knowledgeable and gave me the right tools to help me regain muscle strength," Jen says. "It was fun celebrating milestones with them —– making a complete revolution on the bike, walking up stairs, bending my knee past 90 degrees."
Her commitment to physical therapy paid off when Dr. Ortiguera gave her the green light to start running again. She laced up her shoes and started training for her first post-surgery race — the New York City Marathon.
About a year later, Jen returned to see Dr. Ortiguera for a follow-up appointment.
"My favorite moment was when he asked what activities I had been doing," she says. "I told him I had been using my Peloton bike, doing strength training, and I ran the New York City Marathon.
"He was genuinely happy for me," Jen says. "I felt like I had crossed the finish line again."
Since that visit, Jen has completed three more marathons, and she doesn't plan to slow down anytime soon.
"My goal is to run the six major world marathons — New York City, Berlin, London, Chicago, Tokyo and Boston," she says.
With New York City, London and Berlin crossed off her list, that leaves only three.
"I am running the Chicago Marathon in October and have already applied to run the Tokyo Marathon. I am still chasing the Boston Marathon qualifying time," Jen says. "Running with my husband and sons has been such an amazing experience. I have never crossed a finish line without crying tears of pride."
And she says she can't thank Mayo Clinic and Dr. Ortiguera enough for fixing her up and getting her back on track to pursue her passion.