by Monica Guzman
In today’s society, physical activities such as running are encouraged to promote good health. For Marta Kapriel, who grew up in a strong Catholic-influenced town in Poland, this was not the case. Kapriel had to hide her hobby, as time devoted to personal enjoyment was looked down upon. According to Kapriel everyone was either at work, school or church. Even with such structure, Marta has fond memories playing with her younger sister and two brothers.
For much of her youth, Poland was still a Communist country, which added other restrictions. Coupons were used to purchase basic necessities including clothes and often stores would run out of supplies. Because of this Kapriel remembers there were only black shoes available for her first communion and she had her mother adjust the skirt on her dress to cover her feet. Since candy was rare, during one year Kapriel saved to buy her family a Snickers bar for Christmas. Kapriel’s eyes watered as she described carefully cutting the Snickers bar into six even pieces and neatly arranging them on a dish for her and her family who were all sitting on a bench. “Everyone enjoyed it because it was such a luxury,” Kapriel says.
Transportation was limited to buses and walking, so Kapriel began running to get to places quickly. When it turned into a hobby, her mother feared their neighbors would think badly, and asked Kapriel to run after dark. Kapriel understood her mother’s concern and agreed. On many of her runs Kapriel was attacked by wandering dogs and one incident still remains prominently in her memories. Kapriel decided to run the night before her friend’s 18th birthday party. On her run two dogs chased her and bit her leg, causing her to fall in a rocky area. She was left very injured and showed up bandaged to the party. “I did not have many pictures growing up and it was sad because everyone was taking pictures that day and I couldn’t because I looked like a mummy,” she admits.
The village was too traditional for Kapriel and she knew a college education would be her only ticket out. She said women had to know how to cook chicken soup starting with a live chicken, milk a cow, and pull apart feathers for stuffing in order to marry. Kapriel used to say she would never marry if that was what one had to do.
Kapriel worked to support herself through her studies. She attended a university14 hours away by train on weekends to have the weekdays available for work. Later, Kapriel used her school breaks to work as an au pair in Italy and the United States where she saved enough money not only for herself but for her siblings to pursue higher educations as well. The United States left Kapriel amazed at how much freedom people had. “No one was discriminated for running,” she says while laughing.
With a Masters in Marketing and Economics and Bachelor’s in Psychology Marta found employment as a Marketing Director at a petroleum company. At first the perks were appealing; the company provided her with training and her own apartment and car. After two years, Kapriel was ready to progress but was not allowed to because of her age. Tired of all the restrictions, Kapriel quit and moved to the United States where she eventually settled in Pebble Beach.
Now Kapriel works in real estate and is appreciative for all the skills life has taught her. She still enjoys running, and all of the challenges Kapriel overcame growing up made her a strong believer that hard work makes anything achievable.