It was such a joy to be able to run in the Run For Roo this month. With my 2 major spinal surgeries and permanent foot drop (paralysis of my left ankle/foot) I felt like I’d already won the race just by stepping to the starting line. At the Run For Roo I felt especially grateful since I was there helping a friend, Lisa Winn, run her first-ever 4-mile course but more importantly I was there to cheer on Reid Martin who has survived some very serious medical issues of his own.
When I was injured nearly 9 years ago I never dreamed I’d be where I am today. After a 9-hour spinal fusion surgery the doctors didn’t think I’d ever walk normally again, much less ever run again. Having been a 2-time Boston Marathoner and avid athlete this prognosis devastated me. After a brief period of feeling sorry for myself and slipping into a lengthy bout of depression I finally saw how much my situation was hurting my family and friends; I vowed to do whatever I could to get better if only to ease their pain.
This was a long process but one in which the YMCA played a huge role. I was able to use the pools for my physical rehabilitation and gradually added other activities to the list of what was possible. The Y was a place of healing for me…both physically and spiritually as the fellowship with other members helped to prop me up when I was discouraged.
After more than 2 years and yet another surgery I was finally in a much better place in life… I had become much stronger and had returned to most of my normal daily life. The one thing still missing was the ability to run; I couldn’t find a brace or other solution to combat my foot drop. I kept researching “runners with foot drop” or “athletes with paralysis” but I could find nothing out there about anyone with my spinal birth defects and/or foot drop who was actively running or competing in any sport. Considering the fact that there were so many people worse off than I, this may seem like a small thing. However, the passions you have in life help to make you who you are; your activities and dreams help to form your unique identity. Having been an athlete all my life I felt like I was somehow less of a person and I wasn’t willing to give up my dreams without a fight.
Finally one day I learned of an orthotic device that had some promise for me… I discovered a site online where professional orthotists weighed in on my situation and many of them suggested I try Allard’s ToeOFF brace. The head of Allard USA actually offered to send me a brace free of charge in exchange for sharing my story if the brace indeed worked.
You know the rest of the story since you’ve seen me in so many races since then! The Allard brace was a dream come true and with this technology, not only was I able to run but incredibly I was able to qualify for and compete in the Boston Marathon 3 times with spinal fusions and foot drop. Having “gotten my life back” I no longer looked back at where I had been and looked only forward to a promising future for myself. I figured that was the end of the story… little did I know it was only an early chapter.
After much soul-searching and intense discussions with my husband and family I made the choice to share my story and thus began working for AllardUSA in the position they created for me called “community outreach manager.” I told them I would give them a few years in hopes that together we could raise awareness for people with mobility issues and the ever-advancing technology available. I knew I couldn’t be the only person who had struggled with spinal cord injury and foot drop and I was hoping to reach some of these people.
This is where Reid Martin enters the picture. Reid saw one of the first newspaper articles that explained my journey and current running success. He recognized my name as we had been casual friends way back in high school. He reached out to me looking for any hope he could find as he was facing serious back surgeries of his own. He was excited to learn that running WAS possible, even after my (now 3!) major spinal fusion surgeries. We stayed in touch and offered each other support through emails and Facebook. His situation was so dire, however, that I wasn’t sure he’d ever return to running… I simply prayed he would have the same success I did.
Reid is just one of hundreds of people I’ve been in personal contact with since taking on my role with Allard… all with serious medical conditions and many with foot drop. I knew I wasn’t the only one out there but I never dreamed we’d have such an immediate impact on so many people across the country! Not every person I speak to each week gets better, which makes my job very emotional and extremely sad at times. However, so many people ARE getting better by connecting to the right professionals and technology and this makes my job so rewarding… and Reid Martin is one of the best success stories out there.
Reid posted his goals to run again and aimed to compete in The Run for Roo as his debut comeback event. In addition, Reid was fundraising for the charity in order to help “pay it forward” and I was immediately drawn to contributing. With my donation and words of encouragement posted online, Reid knew I was rooting for him but didn’t expect to see me at the event. When I learned that I could actually be in town the weekend of this run I was determined to make a surprise appearance… I wanted to be there if indeed he was able to complete the challenging 4 miles.
My outreach campaign motto, after seeing this on a wall in my doctor’s office, became “Fall 7 Times, Get UP 8”. For anyone dealing with serious health or depression issues (like Reid and myself) it’s important not to focus on the falling but on the getting back up. Reid personifies this motto and I was able to award him with a Get Back UP Today medal at the Run for ROO. As you saw, I was able to cheer Reid to the finish in a very emotional moment for both of us.