The Run4Roo 4-miler was my 1st “race” in over a year. I began running 2 1/2 yrs ago after seeing an unflattering, 2010 Christmas photo of myself. Having been a workout nut in my 20’s, I knew it was the fastest way to drop pounds fast. At that point in life, it really changed my world for the better.
Now, I am slowly recovering from 3 spinal surgeries and a long period of paralysis. A little over a year ago, my hands were becoming progressively numb though I continued to work out, run, & swim. My daily workout was 1 hour of weights, 6 miles of running followed by a 1.5 mile swim. I ran in many 5k, 10k, & various-distance marathon events. My goal was to run a full marathon (26.2 miles), and eventually complete an Iron Man Triathlon. I put on so much muscle with all the weight lifting that I ended up weighing about the same as when I had started.
Then gradually, my legs began to feel heavy, as if I were running in water. My 6 miles/day went to 3, then 1, then none. I was diagnosed with severe cervical stenosis, and told that surgery would be the only way to prevent bone from slowly crushing my spinal cord. Left alone, it would lead to permanent paralysis. I accepted the surgery. Some time before that, I had read a story in the newspaper about a woman who had a similar experience and was running, despite a surgical complication that required she wear a special leg-brace. She now travels the country, running in half-marathons as a spokeswoman for the company that makes her leg brace. Becoming scared, I contacted her through her web log. I think I just wanted to hear someone tell me that everything would be ok. She sent me an encouraging note as I recall. We became friends on facebook.
My surgery was scheduled. It seemed successful at first, then after about 10 days, something terrible happened. I awakened in excruciating pain and had lost partial use of my arms. There were numerous theories but nothing really fixed it. After 3 months, my arms had wasted away to nothing. Other muscles began to fade also. Walking had become difficult. I could no longer type or even write very well. I could not button a shirt or tie my shoes. My balance was so poor that I was sent for a drug-test at work for the 1st time in a decade of employment.
I spent 4 nightmare-ish months enduring severe pain, loss of function, and deterioration of my body. For a time, I only wore long sleeve shirts because I couldn’t bear to look at my arms in a mirror. My face was very swollen from the steroids, the only thing that helped with the pain. I considered deleting my facebook page because I didn’t even resemble my own pictures, and doubted I ever would again. My entire appearance was dramatically altered. Some friends didn’t recognize me.
I sought a 2nd opinion from a neurologist who ordered a battery of tests. He regrettably informed me that certain nerves in my arms & legs weren’t receiving signals from my brain. The tests showed that a portion of my spinal cord and certain nerves were permanently damaged and could not be reversed. He said I would not recover.
I was told that a friend had gone through a similar experience and found a spine specialist to help. It took my friend quite some time to convince me to make an appointment. I was out of hope. Even if somehow my nerves could be ‘re-activated’, there was nothing left. I felt like I had the arms of a 9-year old boy, and that I was too old (49 in 2 weeks) to ever rebuild those muscles. It was like waking up to discover my legs had been cut off.
I met the new surgeon to get a ‘third’ opinion. He believed he could help if we acted fast. He & his team pushed me to the top of their 6-week surgical waiting list. It took 2 surgeries. The 1st to remove the detached hardware and a lot of damaged bone. He replaced it with more hardware. The 2nd surgery added cables along the back of my neck to hold the new structure together. There are 25 pieces of metal including the jack. Yeah, there’s a jack inside my neck, really. It was necessary to fill the space of removed vertebrae.
I still lack feeling in my hands but my balance returned. My arms began to improve some, and yes…I could run again. I started out just walking and then transitioned to a pseudo-jog. I called it a “shuffle”. No pounding or bouncing but, …it was something.
I looked online for an upcoming event to try and strive for. I registered for the next race of the Greensboro Race Series, “Run 4 Roo”. It was far enough away that it seemed ‘possible’ for me to get ready for it. 3-5 days a week I went out to walk, shuffle, walk, and shuffle some more. Some days it was really hard to keep trying. Friends helped by pledging donations to the event in my name. Those made me feel guilty for not trying, so, I’d go out and hit the pavement again. I posted my “training progress” on facebook. Friends who had watched my nightmare unfold began cheering me on & pledging more to the Roo-Run.
One day I felt so defeated, a total “what’s-the-use-anyway” kind of day. I considered quitting all together. That day I received a message of encouragement from the woman I had read about so long before. “Fall 7 times; get up 8”, Beth wrote. She told me to “focus on the next step only, never the top of the staircase”. And, she pledged to the run. So, out to the pavement I went, again. There were many days like that, and many friends like her. That’s how I became the top fundraiser.
I saw my surgeon 2 days before the race. He gave me the all clear to go “slow & easy”. Feeling grateful, I asked if I could get a company T-shirt for the race. He got one for me. That shushed everyone who said I was pushing too hard.
I didn’t try to set any records. I just did my run, or shuffle. It felt so great just to tie my own shoes and step over the start line. The run was great & quite emotional but the real surprise was at the finish line. It was Beth. She gave me a running medal from her company. It’s called the “Get Back Up Today” medal.
I’ll be in the Run 4 the Greenway 5-miler this weekend. I hope to one day resume my gym training where I used to run to Battleground Park & Country Park (and back) before the 1.5 mile swim.