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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Carolina Ortega has the look and grace of an experienced marathoner.

That wasn’t the case two and a half years ago though, as she was being prepped for surgery at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine with Dr. Allan Levi, who is the Chairman of neurosurgery.

The challenge facing Dr. Levi was a grape-sized tumor embedded in her spinal cord.

“He said I would have trouble walking, that I would not be able to run long distances,” Ortega explained. “So that was the moment I literally broke down in his office. Thankfully, that has not been the case.”

Ortega says the surgery and recovery was as painful as child birth.

“That surgery typically involves removing some bone at the back of the spine and removing the tumor within the spinal cord,” explained Dr. Levi.

The combination of Dr. Levi’s skills and a runner’s mindset worked well together and produced amazing results.

“Sheer will power and the urge to be a superstar,” Dr. Levi said.

Eventually, Ortega got back into marathons.

Short ones at first, running and walking to the finish line.

There are still nagging pains and other sensations, but Ortega sees the big picture.

She has run in several marathons and is set to run internationally.

And then there is the big one; this weekend’s Boston Marathon where she will compete in a class for folks that have overcome medical issues.

“Whatever I do in Monday’s race will just be icing on the cake, so to speak,” she said with a smile. “I get emotional. It is what it is.”

It’s an amazing story of persistence and no matter where she finishes in the Boston Marathon, Carolina Ortega is a winner.

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