Friday, March 1, 2019
It's Read Across America Day! Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss!
It's Read Across America Day, held annually on the school day closest to March 2, which is Dr. Seuss' birthday.
What pray tell you might ask does that have to do with Adventures of Runnergirl 1953?
On June 3, 1959 I collapsed without warning in kindergarten gym class. After a spinal tap done at my house, I was diagnosed with paralytic polio. After a few months, I was able to leave my house to see one of the nation's top rehab medicine doctors who specialized in polio. I was blessed that he was not far from our house in Westchester, New York.
From "The Adventures of Runnergirl 1953":
Miss Holly sat next to me in the waiting room and asked me to choose a Dr. Seuss book from the array of Dr. Seuss books spread out on the round coffee table next to my chair. My legs were outstretched; my left leg bore the hip to ankle metal leg brace inserted into my red polio shoes. My crutches were propped against the wall behind me. She read Dr. Seuss to me in the waiting room, led me into the treatment room and removed my leg brace. She placed heavy hot wool blankets on my legs. To this day I cannot bear to wear anything that is made of wool. As she coaxed my muscles and nerves back to health, she recited the first line from the Dr. Seuss book I had chosen (invariably “The Cat in the Hat”).
“The sun did not shine it was too wet to play…now it’s your turn.”
“So we sat in the house all that cold cold wet day.”
“I sat there with Sally….we sat there we two…your turn.”
“And I said how I wish we had something to do…”
We would recite in tandem throughout the treatment. She was a physical therapist ahead of her time. I often wonder what inspired her to use the rhythm of the poetry to distract me from the painful treatments. She tenderly put my leg brace back on after she finished the treatment. She commended me on my courage as she wrapped her hand around my hand on my crutch, and led me into Dr. Moskowitz’s office.
Fast forward to twelve years ago. It was the dark night of my mind, body and soul. I was given the diagnosis of Post-Polio Syndrome and told to prepare to spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair. I was told I should quit my award winning career as a social worker at the VA just 3 years shy of when I was eligible for retirement. I had difficulty swallowing, breathing, walking and experienced chronic pain and fatigue. I used a toe up leg brace and cane and at times, a wheelchair for mobility.
It was a cold, dark evening in February of 2007. I sat at my dining room table and had printed out newsletters and information from healing luminaries. Gratitude was at the center of their teachings. The prompt was to finish the sentence, "I am so happy and grateful now that I can...." bringing the vision of one's future self into the present moment.
An example was provided... "I am so happy and grateful now that I can create."
"Ha" I thought to myself. "Create what? My twins are young adults. My career is over...my life is over..."and then I felt a stirring in my soul.
I put my hands on my laptop.
This poem in the cadence of Dr. Seuss poured out of me:
Running the Race
Early summer 1959 my kindergarten year
everyone around me filled with nervous fear.
Despite the Salk vaccine hope polio would disappear
the polio virus crept right up and knocked me in the rear.
Dancing all around the gym feeling free just like a bird
I dropped to the ground just like a stone and no one said a word.
The pain it was so searing-the diagnosis even worse
"It's polio" the doctor said...he was abrupt and terse.
Called one of the 'lucky ones' I had a 'mild case'
but with the other athletes I could never keep their pace.
Miss Holly physical therapist, curly hair and a warm, broad smile
it tempered the pain of being apart - to walk I'd take awhile.
I always wore those 'special' shoes the kids they poked and teased
with no support and much abuse with childhood I wasn’t pleased.
But put nose to the grindstone and learned all that I could
I couldn't kick a ball but my grades were always good.
Years went by and no more thought to polio did I give
I accepted the limp, everything else and decided my life I would live.
But symptoms of weakness and muscle pain did grow
I kept a stoic face hoping no one else would know.
Life no longer was my own I struggled through each day
suffered in silence, alone and afraid tried to keep depression at bay.
And with the grace of glorious God my world it opened wide
I discovered there was a Post Polio team and they were on my side.
Sought out paths for healing and my spirit flew free
for the first time in life, I could truly be me.
The chains are gone and possibilities abound
I'm a tree with my roots planted firmly in ground.
Using wheelchair to travel, set limits on what I could do
resulted in joy to realize I could live life anew.
Celebrated my body-creaks, groans and need for a brace
while in my mind I focused on winning a 10K race.
I'm now off the sidelines, no need to sit and whine
so much gratitude fills my heart and love and beauty shine.
After all these years I can join the loving human race
I exceed all expectations and now I set the pace.
It was as though a spigot was turned on in my heart and soul as poems poured out of me in which I visualized myself as healthy, whole and healed. I imagined myself splashing in a puddle without my leg brace. I saw myself running unencumbered and free and composing poems that sprung forth from my imagination....
I'd never run a day in my life. "What's all this about running?" I asked myself.
I did walk away from my career on May 25, 2007 to heal my life although at the time I had no idea what that meant.
I was discharged from outpatient rehab at Spaulding and hired a personal trainer in October of 2007 to see if I could build on the program Spaulding gave me and get a little stronger.
After 6 months of weekly personal training sessions, my trainer asked me what my next goals were.
“Well I want to feel free in my body. I want to dance. I want to be able to walk outside and feel unencumbered when I take a walk.”
Janine feverishly wrote down my goals, and we worked out a plan. She gathered up her belongings and had her hand on the door knob.
“Wait. I have one more goal.”
Janine stopped and turned around.
“I want to run the Boston Marathon for Spaulding Rehab Hospital. I know they have a Race for Rehab team and I want to do it next year.”
Did you ever have one of those moments when words fell out of your mouth after rising up from the depths of your soul without going through any thought process?
Janine was non-plussed. I don’t know what kept her from turning tail and getting as far away from me as she could. She came back into my house, set down her things and without missing a beat said, “Well the first thing you are going to need is a pair of running shoes.”
My pen became my divining rod for healing as I wrote poems throughout the grueling training for the 2009 Boston Marathon all in the cadence of Dr. Seuss!
Oliver Sachs, a renowned neurologist did studies showing how music that adults listened to as children affected their brain. He concluded that those early sensory experiences were stored and when the music was listened to, lit up the brain. Music that had not been listened to as a child did not have the same effect.
The cadence of Dr. Seuss became a part of the very fiber of my being. When I got still and asked for Divine Guidance, the healing and soothing cadence that brought me through the crisis of paralytic polio came forth to help me transform my life after the diagnosis of Post-Polio Syndrome.
On April 20, 2009, I crossed the finish line of the Boston Marathon and went on to have many many more running adventures.
To think it all started with a poem that foreshadowed excavating the runner within me and healing from the effects of paralytic polio and severe childhood trauma. Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss! Hats off to you for all the lives you have touched and blessed and continue to touch and bless with your gift!
To your health and wellness
From my heart to yours
Be sure to visit my website by following this link.
My books are available on Amazon.
“The Adventures of Runnergirl 1953” takes you on Mary McManus’ healing odyssey from a wheelchair to the finish line of the 2009 Boston Marathon and beyond. After the diagnosis of Post-Polio Syndrome in December 2006, Mary got still and asked for Divine Guidance tapping into the powerful connection she experienced to the Divine from an early age. She harnessed the power of her mind to heal her body, feverishly writing poetry in which she imagined herself healthy, whole and free from the shackles of her youth. Mary’s quest to heal her life led her to the sport of running. Her story is one that will leave you cheering for the underdog, discovering the meaning of different ability and experiencing the stunning view from the back of the pack of a race. You will have the privilege of bearing witness to how Mary overcame every challenge that life presented to her. The sport of running provides the backdrop for her journey of transformation from a survivor of childhood paralytic polio and severe trauma at the hands of family members to a woman who embodies faith, grace under fire, courage, determination, endurance and resilience. Running became a way of life for Mary that tested her mettle while forging friendships to last a lifetime. As you’ll discover in “The Adventures of Runnergirl 1953” nothing, not even a serious knee injury in December of 2014 could stop her on the roads or in her life.
Feel the Heal: An Anthology of Poems to Heal Your Life
Coming Home: A Memoir of Healing Hope and Possibility that chronicles the first 7 years of my healing journey:
Going the Distance: The Power of Endurance (With a Foreword by Jacqueline Hansen):
My healing journey using the power of visualization is featured in David R. Hamilton's book, "How Your Mind Can Heal Your Body-Anniversary Edition." It's available on Amazon.