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RUNNING ON EMPTY
A FORMER WORLD-CLASS distance runner who suffered from anorexia and bulimia, Ellen Hart Peña was once so weakened by her eating disorders that she could barely run a city block. Now recovered, the 38-year-old wife of recently resigned Transportation Secretary Federico Peña laced up her running shoes for four days last July to play an extra in an ABC-TV movie about her 10-year ordeal. Dying to Be Perfect: The Ellen Hart Peña Story, starring Wings' Crystal Bernard in the title role and based on a 1995 PEOPLE profile, airs Nov. 24 at 9 p.m. ET. "I showed up at 7 in the morning and finished at 6:30," says Peña, who took part in a re-created road race on location in Colorado, "and it was 95 degrees and bright sun."
No sweat for the onetime 30-km. women's record holder, who, having beaten the binging and purging that may have cost her a spot on the '84 U.S. Olympic team, finished first last September in a real-life Colorado competition. Still, the prospect of seeing her life dramatized is "a little scary," admits Peña, a consultant on the movie. "I thought Crystal did a really good job," she says, even if some scenes—such as her secret purging at home—"are hard to watch."
Now a healthy 125 pounds—15 more than she weighed at the height of her illness—the 5'5" Alexandria, Va., resident and full-time mother to daughters Nellia, 6, and Cristina, 4, credits her recovery to years of therapy. But, she says, "there are still days when I struggle with food." One strategy for coping: "I have clothes in my closet that are different sizes," she says, "so that if I gain a couple of pounds, I try not to get down on myself." The TV movie also "has helped in my remembering how awful it was," she says, "and that I now have freedom from that existence."
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