Last month, when I ran Boston, I was able to fulfill a dream 14+ years in the making. And despite the cold, the wind, the rain and me being sick…it was everything I could have hoped it would be. I also had shared on Facebook that participating in the event was something that, 13 years ago today, I was told would never happen.
On the morning of May 29, 2002, I woke up excited to run (as I always did) and headed out the door with the end game in mind; all of my training was laser focused on getting me to my goal – I would qualify for Boston that Fall. It was simple as that; I had a goal and I was going to make it happen.
Not even five minutes into a six mile run, I took a step that changed everything. While approaching a crosswalk at a light, I placed my left foot onto a section of sidewalk that had been lifted up by a tree root, and as my foot came down at a weird angle, my knee buckled, hyperextending. To paint you a pretty picture, my knee was now bent backwards, and my foot was pointing towards my face – and not in a good way. I heard a “pop” and the pain was incredible. I was dropped to the concrete and couldn’t get back up as my leg was no longer functioning properly.
Turns out, I had fractured my medial tibia plateau head, or, in non medical terms, I had essentially crushed the inside portion of my knee joint (of the lower leg), about a half of an inch. Following my first surgery, the orthopedic surgeon said I had completely displaced all of my cartilage as well. He was able to go in and rebuild the fractured area with screws and bone paste, and basically put my cartilage back where it was meant to be, but the big concern was I had bruised my femur at the joint so severely (the bone was a nasty, bruised purple in the surgery pictures) that he was afraid I was going to lose the joint completely. Oh yeah…and he walked out of the surgery, looked my parents straight in the eye and said not only would I never run again, there was a serious chance I’d always walk with a limp. Assuming the joint healed at all.
So, after a week in the hospital, I was sent home to lay in a hospital bed at my parents’, in a locked brace from my hip to my ankle, for about 2 months. I wasn’t allowed to roll over, lie on my side, or put any weight on my leg. When I say bed rest…I mean sponge bath, bed sore, bed pan bed rest. We’re talking serious fun times. That reminds me, I should probably thank my parents again for putting up with me during that period of time. I was NOT a fun person to be around. I was on some serious pain meds, and I don’t even remember half of what I said or did…which, actually, is probably a good thing.
Turns out the severe bone bruise healed, and over the next 6 months I progressed from bed rest, to wheelchair use, to crutches and then being able to walk (albeit with a very defined hitch in my giddy-up) My muscles had atrophied so much, I was learning to walk again as I started to trust my body.
As painful as all that was, what came next was the hardest for me. Now that I was “in the clear” I had to learn to live a life knowing I was no longer able to do the activity that meant the most to me. Running had been such a huge and integral part of my life (both health wise and socially) that I felt absolutely lost without it. I went through some of the most stressful periods of my life without my “go to” coping mechanism.
But then I started finding other ways to challenge myself, mentally and physically. Having gone through physical therapy, I was inspired to help others, and while living in England I hired a personal trainer (love you, Herman!) that showed me what I knew I was meant to do, what my purpose in life would be. Before I had always “just” been a runner, but now I saw that in order to stay strong and fit, I needed another outlet. And I wanted to help other people in that way, too. I began working at a gym in the local area, gaining certifications, cycling, lifting, and working on helping others reach their goals. And I loved it! I was no longer sitting in the ugly sea of self pity – I had a purpose, I was having fun, I was meeting new people and discovering all the fun ways I could still challenge myself.
But after 6 (long) years, and 3 surgeries/procedures, I still missed running terribly. My knee had never felt better, and I started to wonder if maybe, just maybe, if I couldn’t see if my surgeon had been wrong. So I went out to meet with him again, did some tests…and lo and behold, while I wasn’t given the “Yes!! You may run” I was told that *if* I did run, as long as it didn’t swell or hurt, I was good to go.” What, what?!? So. I started slow. Crossed trained a lot….and never looked back.
I’ve since qualified and run Boston. I’ve fallen hopelessly in love with trail running. I’ve run a 100 miler. I had my last bit of hardware taken out in March of 2014, and I’m running better than ever. Next Saturday, I will be lining up to take on my second 100 mile race in Wisconsin, something I never thought I’d be able to do…even before my accident!
This experience has made me stronger, more patient with myself, more present in the moment and so much more thankful for my body and all it can do. I feel I can relate to my clients more now when they are facing an injury or setback, and I’ve also learned not to sweat the small stuff. I’ve also learned to listen to my body, and to not run through pain. (Something that doesn’t come easy for most runners!)
People always ask me why I’m so darn happy to run; and while I have always (really!) had a passion for running, I appreciate it in ways now I never thought I could. They say you have to lose something to truly appreciate it, or maybe just appreciate it in a different way (it’s so easy to take things for granted, isn’t it?) And I have to agree.
So, May 29th is a day I celebrate, because this day, although awful at the time, really ended up being a blessing in disguise.