Keira D’Amato – Elite Runner Signs With Nike After a Breakthrough Year


Keira D’Amato, a full-time realtor and mom of two, thinks of her elite running career in two rounds separated by almost a decade.

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Round 1 was her college years; she raced for American University from 2002 to 2006, where she became a four-time All-American and 11-time Patriot League champion. After struggling with stress fractures in her post-collegiate years, this chapter ended in heartbreak when she underwent ankle surgery in 2009.

Round 2 started in the summer of 2016, after a seven-year hiatus from running; D’Amato’s husband Anthony was on deployment in the Air National Guard, and she was taking care of two toddlers at home in Midlothian, Virginia. It was a lonely time for D’Amato, and she used running as a way to reward herself amid busy days spent as a single parent for four months. During those solo miles, the speed she developed in college and her love for the sport returned in a way she never expected.

Last year was D’Amato’s best year of running to date—she notched an American record, a top-10 spot on the U.S. all-time list of fastest marathoners, obliteration of previous personal bests, and the return of her Olympic dream—all during a pandemic.

In her pursuit of what she calls “unfinished business,” those breakthroughs have led D’Amato to her first endorsement contract with a pro sponsor. In February, the 36-year-old signed with Nike.

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“Having a second chance at this is just, I can’t even tell you, I’m about to cry. I’m so grateful to try to rewrite my story with running because it didn’t end the way that I wanted it to end,” D’Amato told Runner’s World in a video call. “I feel so thankful that I get to pick a new ending, and I want this ending to be awesome.”

Finding purpose in and outside of running

To understand D’Amato’s desire for a greater ending, it’s important to know how her running career started.

Since her freshman year on the cross-country and track team at Oakton High School in Vienna, Virginia in 1998, D’Amato believed she would one day represent Team USA at the Olympic Games. “The day I knew I was going to marry my husband, that’s the most confident I’ve ever been in my life, but the second most confident I’ve ever been is about being an Olympian,” she said.

At American University, she developed into a competitive NCAA runner, posting personal bests of 16:09 in the 5,000 meters and 34:14 in the 10,000 meters. After graduation in 2006, she joined DC Elite, a running group coached by Scott Raczko—who is renowned for mentoring American record-holder Alan Webb. But she was plagued by stress fractures, and in 2009, she underwent surgery to repair a condition called tarsal coalition—an abnormal connection between two or more bones in the foot.

At the time, D’Amato believed her running career was over, and she felt like a failure because she didn’t achieve the goals she set for herself. “When I wasn’t running, it was confusing,” she said. “[I thought] how was I so wrong? I really thought [the Olympics] was where I was going.”

keira d’amato

Courtesy Linda D’Amato

Walking away from the sport she loved was a difficult adjustment, but the break gave her time to reflect, heal from the loss, and find a more multifaceted identity outside of running. She started cycling and joined an adult soccer league to fill the fitness void. And she became involved in the running community in new ways—including a role as the director of marketing at Potomac River Running—which gave her a greater appreciation as a fan of the sport. She also married her husband, Anthony, who now works as a manager at Microsoft, and became a mother to Tommy, 6, and Quin, 4.

“All of my life I was ‘Keira the runner.’ Then I was ‘Keira the runner who didn’t run.’ So that was an interesting transition, but I think that’s why I feel so strong and confident today,” she said. “It’s because I really figured out Keira. I got married, and I had kids, and now I have this whole family that’s so strong and makes Keira even stronger.”

Keeping a balance

In her return to running in 2016, D’Amato embraced a new perspective by dropping her ego with previous personal bests, setting new measurements of success, and prioritizing fun along the way. Anthony also ran track in college at the Air Force Academy and has helped her rediscover joy in running. For example, he’ll drive with the kids in the car and blast Miley Cyrus’s song “Party in the U.S.A” while following Keira on her long runs. And in the more serious moments, he’ll remind her to find the positive in every situation.

“Part of my role is to help give that balance that’s healthy and to not overthink it, to not finish that race and think about what could I have done differently to squeeze out a second here or there,” Anthony told Runner’s World. “It’s really taking the time to cherish the performance and to have fun from it, like it’s a culmination of all your training. It should be a fun moment.”

In March 2017—seven months after Keira gave birth to Quin—the couple completed the Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach together. Anthony finished in 3:02:43 and Keira crossed the line in 3:14:54, her debut at the distance. That fall, Keira improved her marathon time to 2:47:00 at the Richmond Marathon. After finishing the 2018 Boston Marathon in 2:56:44, she started working with Raczko again.

In 2019, she qualified for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials by running 2:34:55 at the Berlin Marathon. Five months later, she finished the national championship in 2:34:24 for 15th place overall in Atlanta on February 29, 2020.

keira d’amato

D’Amato will be racing in spikes for the first time since 2008 at the Texas Qualifier on February 26.

Courtesy Linda D’Amato

Amid the upheaval caused by the COVID-19 outbreak—including the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics—D’Amato created her own competitive opportunities in 2020, starting with a 5,000-meter time trial. On June 14, she ran 15:04, shaving more than a minute off the college PR she set nearly 15 years ago. The momentum continued with several more PRs, including a victory in 1:08:57 at the Michigan Pro Half Marathon.

In November, D’Amato and members of the Cherry Blossom organizing committee staged the Up Dawg Ten Miler in Washington, D.C., where she shattered the women’s-only American record for the distance. On December 20, her season ended with a runner-up finish at the Marathon Project in Chandler, Arizona; her 2:22:56 was a PR by nearly 12 minutes and put her seventh on the all-time Americans list.

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Looking back on her approach to running during the college and post-college years, D’Amato said she’s more fearless now because of her experience—and she has a more appreciative mindset.

“I feel like I have nothing to lose,” she said. “I have another life outside of this, which is very important to me. And I feel that gives me a lot of freedom to take risks and not be afraid of failing. … Everything that I wish I would have [done in round 1], I’m now doing it in the second phase. I’m taking it really seriously, but I also am having more fun than I’ve ever had in my whole life.”

A ‘different mold’

For the past few years, D’Amato’s goal was simple: to run as fast as she could while balancing a busy work and family schedule. And she takes pride in the accomplishment of honing a routine that suits her and finding success as an unsponsored athlete. While D’Amato said she didn’t consider a professional contract to be necessary, she recognized the significance of added support.

“I knew the right partner could really enhance my training, add a new level, and give me more options … but I didn’t take that decision lightly,” she said. “It took me a really long time to make that decision because I just didn’t want to rock the boat. Everything was going really well.”

“I’m taking it really seriously, but I also am having more fun than I’ve ever had in my whole life.”

Over the summer, D’Amato started working with agent Ray Flynn. The two met when he represented the DC Elite group years ago, and he offered to assist her in navigating sponsorship opportunities after she took off on a campaign of PRs last year. Unlike most elite runners who earn endorsement contracts after they come out of the NCAA system, D’Amato is in a later stage of her running career and works full-time while supporting her family. For her, that presents a different set of expectations for a sponsor.

“I’m a little bit of a different mold than a lot of his other athletes, but he really took time to listen to what was important to me,” D’Amato said.

Since 2016, D’Amato has run in Nike shoes and been injury-free while wearing them (her favorite trainers are the Nike Zoom Fly, and she races in the Vaporfly NEXT%). While going through the process of choosing a sponsor (she said she had some options), D’Amato realized she wanted to stick to a routine that works best for her, and her Nike contract allows her to do that.

“Keira is an amazing example of what dedication and self-belief means for an athlete,” a Nike spokesperson said. “Her journey is uniquely hers and reminds us all what is possible if we keep chasing our goals.”

With her contract, she’ll remain in Midlothian—where she runs solo on most days—and continue training with Raczko. Because she enjoys her job, she’ll keep working as a realtor for Stone Properties (her mom’s brokerage) with the understanding that she may pull back on the hours to accommodate her running schedule. But ultimately, every decision will be made to find the right fit for her and her family.

“There’s going to be absolutely nothing that changes but in a way, everything is changing now because I’m a pro runner,” she said.

D’Amato’s first race as a pro will be the Texas Qualifier in Austin, Texas, where she’ll aim for the Olympic standard in the 10,000 meters on February 26. It will also be her first time racing in spikes since 2008.

Her ultimate goal is to qualify in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters for the U.S. Olympic Team Trials scheduled for June 18 to 27 at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon, and finally chase the Olympic dream that’s been 20 years in the making.

“Now that I’m back, I [realized] I wasn’t wrong,” she said. “I have a chance to prove myself right, and that’s a pretty powerful thing.”

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