Even during the heart of the scandal, when her face was constantly splashed across TV screens and reporters surrounded her Washington, D.C., home, Paula Broadwell made time to run.
She would slip out of the house in the dark of night, hopping a back fence to avoid the ever-present flock of reporters out front. And for an hour or so, it provided a brief escape from a life quickly unraveling after news broke of her affair with celebrated CIA director David Petraeus.
“Running, to me, was a little act of defiance,” says Broadwell, who never missed a day. “It was one thing I could preserve about myself.”
And it has remained that way over the past five years, through the scandal’s immediate aftermath, when her marriage hung in the balance, and, more recently, as she has become — despite the potential for eye-rolling — an advocate for women’s empowerment.
On Monday, despite a foot injury, she’ll be among the thousands competing in the Boston Marathon, running on behalf of Grab The Torch, a Boston nonprofit aimed at teaching leadership, ethics, empathy, and philanthropy to girls across the country.
“In my eyes, there wasn’t a more resilient person out there,” says Dave Aldrich, chief executive and founder of Grab The Torch, on why he asked Broadwell to join the Marathon team. “What she went through was extremely challenging. But more importantly, she took a rather public and challenging chapter in her life and turned it into something very positive.”
By now, the details of that chapter are well known.
Broadwell, a West Point graduate and then-Harvard University graduate student, became acquainted with Petraeus at a Cambridge event in 2006. The two forged a friendship, with Broadwell later becoming the married general’s biographer — her book, “All In: The Education of General David Petraeus,’’ was published in 2012 — and romantic partner. She had uncommon access to Petraeus and, a Justice Department investigation would later say, to classified documents with significant national security implications.
It didn’t end well.
Petraeus resigned as head of the CIA, pleading guilty in 2015 to a misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified material. Broadwell, entering a time she describes in the darkest terms, “could not function.” For about a year afterward, she avoided the topic.
“I was asked to speak publicly in Charlotte, and I didn’t address it,” she says. “I spoke around it.”
As time passed, however, she began to regain steam. Never known for her passivity, she found herself falling back on her military background: In the absence of orders, figure out what needs to be done and do it.
In 2015, she formed a nonprofit organization, Think Broader, devoted to removing gender bias from the news media. She has also embarked on a quest to eradicate the word “mistress” from the media, a term that was often used to describe her relationship with Petraeus — and one she argues unfairly singles out women.
A couple years back, meanwhile, she met Aldrich during a chance encounter in New York.
Struck by the way she seemed to command a room, Aldrich — who was well aware of her history — decided that her story was one that could benefit the members of his program.
Before bringing Broadwell on, he says, he ran the idea past parents of program alums, as well as its board of directors — some of whom are women — to explain his reasoning.
Still, he says, his mind was already made up.
“I just believe in Paula,” Aldrich said last week. “And I was willing to take — I don’t want to say it was a risk — but I was willing to accept any criticisms from people for what I did.”
For Broadwell, the decision was easy. The organization’s mission dovetails nicely with that of her own, and she remembers fondly her time in Cambridge, when she’d run near Fresh Pond or along the Charles River.
Today, she says, she’s in a much better place. She’s still with her husband — with whom she completed her only other marathon, 17 years ago in Berlin. (He won’t be in attendance Monday — he’s back in Charlotte looking after the couple’s two sons.) And in some ways, she says, she has a better platform now than she did before the scandal.
On Sunday night, she’ll appear at a meet-and-greet for Grab The Torch. After the marathon, she’s expected to be a part of the organization’s summer programming, addressing the program’s participants.
And she has a story to tell.
“You need to serve your time in purgatory, and I’ve done that,” she says. “And you need to accept responsibility for your mistakes, and I’ve done that.
“But you can reclaim your own narrative.”