Thursday, October 24, 2019

Celebrating 13 Years of Healing....Part III - I'm a Runner

It's World Polio Day: “A world where no child lives in fear of paralysis from poliovirus”

World Polio Day is October 24 and arrives at a critical moment for the polio eradication program. In 2019, the program has seen both important milestones and has faced critical challenges.

In 2019, we will celebrate a couple of incredible milestones: the 25th anniversary of the polio-free status of the Region of the Americas and the Global Certification Commission’s certification of the eradication of type 3 wild poliovirus (WPV3). The announcement of the eradication of WPV3 will signify an important step toward a polio-free world with only one type of wild poliovirus (WPV type 1) still in circulation in just two countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Despite this tremendous progress, the final mile to eradication is an uphill road and will not be easy. The global polio program is facing multiple, ongoing, serious challenges with the increase in the number of wild poliovirus cases and the continued spread of circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus (cVDPV) outbreaks in countries around the world. In 2018, we saw an increase in wild polio cases with 33 reported cases in two countries – Afghanistan and Pakistan. As of October 24, 2019, a total of 95 cases of wild polio have been reported. The two-remaining polio-endemic countries must reach all children with polio vaccine to achieve zero wild poliovirus cases, and ultimately for the world to achieve polio eradication. This will require increased commitments from governments, local communities, donor partners and multilateral organizations. Furthermore, to address the ongoing circulating vaccine-derived polio viruses, all countries must work to strengthen their immunization programs to close any gaps and ensure that all children are protected against polio – the world depends on it!

I was called one of the lucky ones in June 1959 because I did not need to be in an iron lung and had movement returned to my right side fairly quickly after contracting the virus. I was in a leg brace for 3 years and was in physical therapy for 8 years to coax weakened muscles and nerves back to health.

I am one of the miraculous ones who have made a full recovery after the diagnosis of Post-Polio Syndrome in December of 2006. I was called to the sport of running despite all appearances to the contrary and became, what Dave McGillivray calls, "a most unlikely runner!"

On the road to the 2009 Boston Marathon, I tested my mind, body and soul in every imaginable way. The running community welcomed me with open arms; quite the contrast to the jeers, taunts and teasing I experienced from my peers while lugging a full metal leg brace or being called "Easy Out Alper" in gym class.

I cried and poured sweat not knowing at times what was sweat and what was tears. With each mile and every foot strike I was transformed from being a survivor of paralytic polio and trauma to a powerful, resilient woman emboldened through the sport of running to share my story and leave the past behind.

It was a moment of redemption when I crossed the finish line of the 2009 Boston Marathon:

But my quest to heal did not end after I crossed the finish line of the 2009 Boston Marathon. I had been bitten by the running bug but I needed to take time off from running to heal after putting my body through the grueling Boston Marathon training.

I went back to Dr. El Abd, my cervical spine doctor and he referred me to physical therapy. She wasn't so sure if I would ever be able to return to the roads but I agreed to take time off if she would help me be in the best possible shape to run again.

That summer I was back on the roads!

My life came to a screeching halt after my nephew's suicide in March of 2011 and I turned away from the sport that was my medicine not realizing that it was the very thing I needed to keep on going.

But once a runner...always a runner and after the 2013 Boston Marathon, I had a wake up call to get back to the sport that had given me so much joy and healing.

I had an epic running come back until December of 2014 when my left knee blew out. I was told it was game over. I really never should have started running in the first place. The MRI showed that my knee had torn cartilage beyond repair, bone spurs, degenerative arthritis, and was told to prepare for a total knee replacement in a few years. And since I was going to run anyway, I needed to cap my distance at a 5K.

I took a referral to physical therapy and made an appointment with the Post-Polio Clinic for a reassessment having been told that it was only a matter of time before the decline associated with Post Polio Syndrome began again.

I fired the physical therapist and cancelled the appointment for a re-evaluation of my degenerative neuromuscular condition and was led to a wonderful chiropractor. He was enthralled with my journey and held the same beliefs about the body's tremendous capacity for healing beyond what we were ever led to believe.

We used mind/body techniques, chiropractic, KT taping and a new strength training regimen to prevent further injury to help get me back on the roads.

In July of 2015, I had my comeback race where I met the Race Director for the Bermuda Marathon Weekend:

Anthony Raynor and Clarence Smith had me at hello at the Bermuda Marathon Weekend Booth at the Finish at the 50 Expo. Tom started chatting with Clarence "Stoker" Smith. I hung back but cocked an ear to the conversation. I gingerly eyed the pink Bermuda wrist bands, the bling from Bermuda Marathon Weekend races and the samples of pink sand. I glanced at Tom and felt we each had a tug at our souls. The tug got stronger with each moment we talked with Clarence and Anthony. We reminisced about when we went to Bermuda. I felt goosebumps and a warm feeling come over me, while a part of me was wondering why was I even having this conversation about running in Bermuda. Several months ago I was told to cap my distance and prepare for a total knee replacement.

“If you can get up to the Half Marathon distance, you’ll be better off than running the 10K with all of its steep hills,” Anthony said in his delicious Bermudian accent.

“The last time I was in Bermuda I was in a leg brace using a cane and a wheelchair.”

Clarence's wife said, "Look at you now girl."

There was no stopping me now. We exchanged information. Clarence told us he'd pick us up at the airport. I chatted with Anthony about the weather in January.

"Look," he said with a deep warm laugh, "I was told you people still have piles of snow near the Seaport Hotel from this past winter. I can guarantee you this. You will have no snow in Bermuda in January."

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails.” ~Mark Twain

It was time to sail away from safe harbor and go the distance again. This time on the magical Island of Bermuda.

“Running is about finding your inner peace and so is a life well lived. Run with your heart.” ~Dean Karnazes

I went on to run 3 Bermuda Half Marathons in as many years having wonderful training and running adventures along the way.

I'm blessed and grateful to be celebrating 13 years of healing from the effects of paralytic polio and severe childhood trauma and praying for the day when polio is eradicated worldwide.

I went from being told to prepare to spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair to many finish lines and so very blessed and proud to call myself a runner.

To your health and wellness
From my heart to yours

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 "Feel the Heal" and "The Adventures of Runnergirl 1953" are available in Natick Center Cultural District at Paula Romero Dunbar's Celebration Boutique Paper Fiesta coincidentally located on Mile 10 of the Boston Marathon Route.

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