Sunday, June 9, 2019

Strength and Courage

Yesterday Team McManus running for Team Big Heart went to Jamaica Pond to get in our training run. It was a spectacular late Spring day with sunshine and low humidity. Jamaica Pond is one of my favorite places to run and one that holds many treasured memories of training for the Boston Marathon.

Tom and I run in opposite directions so he can run at his pace and I can run at mine which is slower than his. Yet he is always quick to remind me that for somebody who was supposed to be in a wheelchair, I run pretty fast! Running alone lets my mind wander and sort and sift through thoughts while also experiencing the beauty of the present moment.

As I ran by the rocks along the wall, I remembered how those once snow covered rocks in the winter of 2009 inspired me to write this poem:

Courage from "Feel the Heal: An Anthology of Poems to Heal Your Life":

The fear of ice and snow and slush embedded in my soul
a training run in winter - the path to Being whole.
A winter scene - Jamaica Pond - a feast for eyes' delight
to witness nature's splendor and behold this glorious sight.

A leaf - a tiny dancer - skating free without a sound
God's breath directs her movementsnas She guides her twirling 'round.
Families of ducks decide to walk or take a dip
a comedy of errors into icy water slip.

Branches now bejeweled though bare bend with loving Grace
sparkling diamonds' anchor water's surface hold in place.
God's hand a glove of glistening snow hugs rocks along the wall
their heads peek out reminding me I'm answering God's call.

A scene I'd never witness if I let my fear take hold
courage triumphed, steppin' out with footsteps sure and bold.
Knowing that the pain subsides and Spirit can prevail
the Marathon is beckoning - through those miles I shall sail.

Training for a marathon, especially the Boston Marathon takes tremendous strength and courage. Add in that I had been diagnosed with Post-Polio Syndrome, a progressive neuromuscular disease in December of 2006 and was told if I used it I would use it, it took tremendous strength and courage to defy medical advice. I was also told to be very careful in winter and carry a cane with an ice grip. One slip on the ice and I was a recipe for a hip fracture!

I defied medical advice again in January of 2015. In December of 2014 I sustained a serious left knee injury. MRI indicated that the knee was beyond repair and I should prepare for a total knee replacement in a few years. Oh and I should stop running or cap my distance at a 5K.

I once again harnessed the power of my mind/body connection, sought out chiropractic, incorporated strength training and cross training into my health and wellness reginmen and went on to run three consecutive Bermdua Half Marathons. I grew new cartilage, dissolved bone spurs and grew a new gastroc muscle that had atrophied from childhood paralytic polio.

It took strength and courage to start at the beginning after the knee injury but since I needed strength and courage to face adversity since the time I was 5 years old, I had a solid foundation from which to draw what I needed to heal.

I have 3 weeks to go until the Finish at the 50 5K at Gillette Stadium. I pushed my pace yesterday visualizing how it is going to feel to be a part of a big race again. I have not been part of a big field since Bermuda Half Marathon 2018.

I imagined the course and steadied myself to run from the inside out while taking in the magnificent scenes along the way:

Tom and I took our traditional end of run selfie:

On our ride home, Tom and I reminisced about our training runs around Jamaica Pond including this precious memory from "Going the Distance: The Power of Endurance":
We have many fond memories of our Jamaica Pond training runs like the day that Tom lost me on our training run:

And who could EVER forget us losing each other around, emphasize the word a-round Jamaica Pond. Tom had stopped at the car to fill up the water bottles and get some snacks. He had his iPod on really loud. I was in the zone and ran by him. I saw him looking for me in the opposite direction and yelled to him that I was over here. I felt so great and the weather was wonderful that I did not want to interrupt my rhythm. Tom thought that since I had to go to the bathroom (and the bathrooms were not open yet) that I went off the trail and went to pee in the woods. We finally caught up with each other and laughed so hard at the irony of losing each other around Jamaica Pond.

From the Foreword of "Going the Distance: The Power of Endurance" by Jacqueline Hansen:

Eleanor Roosevelt once said “Many people will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart.”
I have found this to be true throughout my life.

I have also found that I am attracted to strong women friends, who are strong willed, strong minded, with lots of endurance. At least once a day I must tell myself, “thank goodness I’m a marathoner.” I am guessing that Mary McManus tells herself the same thing. She is certainly someone who has left indelible footprints in my heart. I have rarely met anyone with so many life-threatening challenges who portrays such an onward thinking attitude.

In fact, another Eleanor Roosevelt quotation reminds me of Mary: “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

When you read about Mary’s life experiences you will wonder how does she not only endure, but lives her life with positivity in abundance. My closest friend in life lives by the motto “Be relentlessly positive,” which is written on her office door. Mary exudes this same attitude. You will not encounter a more positive person than Mary, despite all the challenges she has endured in life.

Try to imagine what it must have been like to be diagnosed with paralytic polio as a child. Try to imagine suffering child abuse at the hands of those very family members who are charged with your upbringing. Try to imagine them together. It’s unbearable to think about. Then imagine surviving the unthinkable, and in adulthood being diagnosed with Post-Polio Syndrome. This is a story that needs to be told. This is a story of challenge, of resiliency, and a story of heart, tremendous heart.

I am fond of using the word “heart.” When coaching young athletes, which I have done my entire adult life, I often tell them to “run with heart.” As I explain to them, I can coach them on skills, on running form, on race strategy, on everything to do with their running, except I cannot create “heart.” This is something that only they can produce from within. I go on to say that “you have to want this (running or racing) more than I do – more than I want it for you.” “Always run with heart.” I am here to tell you that Mary McManus always runs with all her heart.

Just for a moment, let’s ponder the word “heart.” The Latin word for heart is “cor.” Cor is also the root of the word “courage.” I would attribute both heart and courage to Mary. Even Mary herself has said that “It takes incredible courage to heal trauma . . . healing both paralytic polio and trauma.” Author Parker Palmer wrote that “The heart is where we integrate what we know in our mind with what we know in our bones, the place where our knowledge can become more fully human. When all that we understand of self and world comes together in the center place called the heart, we are more likely to find the courage to act humanely on what we know.”

Besides being a former record-holding runner who became a coach, I am also an educator. I teach teachers about health education, so in turn they will teach the youth. One of the most important lessons we impart is how to build resilient young persons. In brief, I can tell you there are no apparent factors in Mary’s childhood that would lead to her developing into a resilient young adult and woman. Yet, none-theless, she became so. When faced with the prognosis of spending her life in a wheelchair, she did not “settle.” She chose to reclaim her life with fervor.

A musician and poet, Patti Smith, wrote the book, “M Train,” for which she was described as having the rare gift of projecting radiance despite experiencing melancholy and grief in her life. Patti Smith once said “If we walk the victim, we’re perceived as the victim. And if we enter glowing and receptive . . . if we maintain our radiance and enter a situation with radiance, often radiance will come our way.”

In my heart, I believe our author Mary McManus has mastered overcoming challenges, maintaining positivity, possessing resiliency, portraying radiance; and in doing so, she provides great inspiration for others.

Jacqueline Hansen, M.Ed.
University Course Instructor, Health Education for Teachers
Track & Field, Cross Country Coaching Education
January 2017

From my heart to yours
In Health and Wellness,

Be sure to visit my website at

Hear my interview with Kendra Petrone on Magic 106.7's Exceptional Women Show by following this link

My books are available on Amazon and at Paper Fiesta in Natick on Mile 10 of the Boston Marathon route. Proceeds of book sales for May through July are going to Tom McManus's Falmouth Road Race run for the Joseph Middlemiss Big Heart Foundation. You can also make a direct donation by following this link.

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