Sunday, September 30th Sundays are for doughnuts. The line at the bakery proved it once again this morning. I know I should be thrilled to have such a thriving business and I am BUT it’s also very difficult. Currently, my biggest struggle is being around crowds of people. Part of my brain is occupied thinking about each step I take and each obstacle coming toward me. The other part of my brain is consumed with trying to find the right thing to say to everyone who asks questions.
My mom came to visit for the first time since she came to help me prepare for my birthday party, 7 weeks ago. After she left to drive back to Maryland, Brad told me he had a conversation with her about how I can be very short tempered with people and he advised her not to be offended. It’s the new me. I was thankful he was looking out for me and for her, but it made me realize how much this accident is affecting everyone close to me.
I get rattled so quickly. I remember a time when my co-workers described me as unflappable. I long to get back to that mindset. Minor disturbances become deafening. A few months ago, the guy on the patio with his yappie dog would have blended into the noises on the street but today, I can’t hear past it. The sound of the the toddler kicking the wooden bench seemed as if it was amplified. Every time the door closes it echos in my brain. It’s overwhelming.
I think I am ready handle a given situation and I can, until I can’t. My mind and my bones are almost the same. Neither can tolerate more than an hour in one position. Bakery meetings, group runs, social gatherings…I enjoy being around people but then it’s like someone flips a switch and it goes from fun to torture in a few seconds. I start to become short with people until I can finally flee the scene.
Hillary was at the bakery preparing food for our annual Oktoberfest Run. It’s my favorite Fueled by Doughnuts event of the year. Runners are given half pint cups to carry through three miles of beer stops. There are a total of five stops, each highlighting a different local brewery. When participants complete the course, everyone comes back to a smorgasbord of bratwurst, pretzels & beer cheese.
I didn’t know how I could possibly muster the mental energy to make it through the event. After my mom left, I went home and showered, hoping to reset my brain. When I returned to “help” with preparations (I sat and pointed to where things reside), Necole, Lizzy & Chris had arrived. I felt at ease.
I wasn’t able to make it to the end of the party but I hung on as long as I could. It was the first time I felt comfortable drinking a beer outside of my apartment. Even though I’ve been drug free for a week now, I didn’t trust my balance enough to add another variable to the mix. Sitting on the patio, eating bratwurst and drinking beer with my running family is the most normal I’ve felt in a very long time. My brain is finally starting to heal in time with my bones.
Monday, October 1st A few weeks ago, I bought a collapsable cane. The bulk of all my supporting devices was getting overwhelming. I wanted to take up less physical space.
On Saturday, I was feeling strong. I tried to take a couple steps with the cane instead of the crutch. My left leg buckled as the cane wobbled from side to side. I wasn’t ready.
I realized how much weight I was putting on my single crutch and how dependent I still am on my devices. Over the next couple days, I tried to walk more upright, lean less and ultimately, put more weight on my left side.
I went to PT and told Dr. C about my cane trial. After evaluating my walking form, he asked me to put my crutch in the opposite hand, on my bad side. This would force me to put more weight though my left leg. The first couple steps were shaky. It’s like the rub your tummy, pat your head routine where you body is forced to do something that just doesn’t make any sense. Then I got the hang of it.
Next, he put the crutch in my right hand but turned it around so I only had the handle and not the forearm support. I was able to walk without any buckling or wobbling. He told me I was ready to use a cane.
When I got home, I swapped my crutch for my cane, showed Brad my new party trick and never looked back.
Tuesday, October 2nd Last night, I asked Barbara and John to help me set up my bike on a trainer. A trainer is a metal frame that attaches to the back wheel of a bike to render it for stationary use. In minutes, they had my bike ready to go inside our running clubhouse.
I set my alarm to get up for the 5:30am Sunrise Run with the group. I struggled to put on a pair of bike shorts, remembering the pain I felt the last time I had to take them off. I unearthed my bike shoes. For a while I thought I’d never be able to wear them again. I spent weeks searching Ebay and other resale sites for these shoes last year. The company didn’t make them anymore but they were a perfect match to my bike and I NEEDED them. They’re designed for triathletes. They have one big strap across the top rather than several straps and/or those little knobs that need to be tightened. They drain fast, dry fast and I can wear them without socks…perfect for going from swimming to cycling. My dented helmet and scuffed up gloves match my bike perfectly too. I was obsessed with making all my accessories look like one cohesive unit.
I wanted to replace every reminder of that day. Then I decided, they’re just shoes, they’re only here to serve a purpose and this morning that purpose is allowing me to take part in a physical activity. I went downstairs to meet the morning runners. When they took off on their run, I headed to the back room to ride my bike.
Learning how to go up and down stairs on crutches, I used a single practice step borrowed straight from a 90’s step class. The step proved itself useful again this morning. I placed it next to the bike to help me get on and off. When I’m fully functioning and riding on the road, I can tilt my bike to the side to swing one leg over. Having the bike positioned on the trainer, upright, makes getting on and off difficult for any rider. The step gave me enough height and allowed me to balance on my good side while hoisting my bad leg over the saddle.
My bike felt foreign to me. I thought I took the brunt of the fall and the bike was unscathed but there are a few things slightly out of wack. My left handlebar is bent just enough to remind me that neither of us are back to normal.
My goal was to move the pedals around for 15 minutes, no tension, no speed, just rotate my feet. I queued up My Favorite Murder to entertain me. I have a serious podcast addiction. Some of them like This American Life, Serial and Freakonomics, I listen to the second a new episode is released. Others like Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, I reserve for car rides. I have a whole list of podcasts I only listen to while running, like My Favorite Murder, because the banter between the hosts is like having a couple of friends along for the miles but too distracting to listen to while I’m at home.
After I reached the 15 minute mark, I thought 5 more minutes wouldn’t be so terrible and they weren’t. My 20 minute ride made me feel like a whole person again. I set my alarm and got out of the house before sunrise. I wore workout clothes (good thing because the laundry hasn’t been done in a couple weeks and there’s nothing else clean). I broke a sweat! It was the only thing resembling a cardio workout I’ve completed in nearly two months.
Of course I couldn’t just rotate the peddles. I had to push the pace ever so slightly toward the end. When I got off the bike, my legs felt like they had really worked. Having the ability to use my bike AND get in a pool gives me hope. Lifting a 50 pound bag of flour or running a mile may still evade me for the next several months but this is enough for right now. I’m not longing for the next big thing. My stitches are out, I can sleep on my right side, I can (mostly) walk, I can drive and I can break a sweat!
Wednesday, October 4th In all the times an injury has prevented me from being able to run, the only thing I was unable to do in life was run. I could walk, lift heavy objects, spend hours sitting or standing, I just couldn’t run. I was completely miserable, every time…stress fracture, strained tendon, plantar facisitis, tendonitis…
When I went to the doc, I’d try to get a few more miles, or any miles at all, approved. If he said walk/run one, I’d run two. I’ll never forget how angry Dr. Mayes was when my ‘Snow Run’ posted on Strava. It was the kind of anger only a dad could invoke. He cleared me to run one mile. I ran three (in four inches of snow) because it was too pretty not to and everyone else was doing it. I told him it didn’t hurt but I’m certain it did.
This injury is different. There’s something about being unable to do anything at all, lying in bed for weeks, winded by a trip to the bathroom, that changes the perspective.
Tonight, I was able to join the Fueled by Doughnuts trainer ride led by Mara Miller. Every Wednesday, during the group run, Mara sets up bike trainers in the clubhouse and invites everyone to bring their bike for a coached cycling session. The bikes are set up in two rows facing each other. You can see the pain on the faces of the people across from you as they push through the workout. During the hour long session, I wasn’t maxing out my effort by any stretch of the imagination. I just kept the peddles rotating and picked up the pace a bit when everyone else did.
What I realized, while watching Francois’s face show his struggle, is how profoundly happy I am to be able to get on a bike and move my legs. I’ve chased so many goals and I’ve achieved many of them but no BQ, no AG award, not even standing on the podium as the fastest female alum at the Culinary Institute of America (it’s a small field, fast is relative) made me happier than having the ability to sit on that bike and move my legs.
My goal for this recovery isn’t to crush a 5K once and for all. It’s not to finally shave enough time off my BQ to actually run Boston. I’m not even sure if I want to train for a marathon again. My goal is to hold on to this happiness as long as I can.
Every other injury made me so angry even though they didn’t limit my ability to live, work & play. This injury rendered me completely useless in every possible way but rather than anger, I feel joy every day I can take a step forward. I never want to forget what a gift it is to be able to take that step, get on the bike, get in the pool or just to be able to stand up and hug my kids.
So many people told me this was a ‘life changing’ accident. I thought that meant I would never run pain-free again. My hip will always ache when it’s rainy or cold. Now I realize, my life HAS changed forever. I’ve gained more than I’ve lost. I am learning to be more patient and more grateful. I’m learning to be less angry and more accepting. Above all, I’m learning to find happiness in the seemingly mundane.
Thursday, September 4th Before I started running, I didn’t know much about physical therapy. I’ve never been prone to injury but I did have some interesting accidents in my lifetime. As a freshman in high school, I broke my shoulder performing a cheerleading stunt. I was supposed to jump onto another cheerleader’s back into a star position where my legs rested on the backs of her bent arms or something along those lines. Ridiculous, I know. I made it up and then I went down. My arm was in a sling for weeks. It was the end of my cheerleading career. Thank God.
Once my shoulder healed, I decided the tennis team was a lot cooler than the cheerleading squad. They smoked cigarettes and drank beer before, during and after practices. Ryan Grim wore tie dyed shirts to every match. Uniforms were seemingly optional. I came from a long line of exceptional tennis players. My great uncle coached the local college team. I was mediocre at best. I held down a solid #5 singles position when I wasn’t pushed back to #2 doubles.
One day at practice I was at the net and my cousin Mike was behind me. I missed the volley and I turned to see if Mike returned it. He did. The ball hit me square in the eye. I was blinded. I wore hard contacts at the time. The lens shattered in my eye and my retina detached. I had to spend five days in a dark room with my eye taped closed until it healed. I missed my National Honor Society induction banquet.
The most extensive injury I experienced was in college. I made meat fondue for my boyfriend on Valentine’s Day. I dropped a pot of hot oil on the floor. It exploded. Burning oil launched up my sundress and stuck to my skin before dripping all the way down my legs to pool on my feet. I spent a week in the hospital where they nursed, dressed and redressed my third degree burns. I was in a wheelchair for a month. It made getting to and from classes difficult. I almost failed out of school but I settled for a couple D’s on my transcript instead. On a scale of shattered pelvis to third degree burns - I’ll take the broken bones.
None of my prior injuries required physical therapy or maybe they did but I never went. I associated PT with geriatrics. I’ve since discovered PT isn’t just for injuries or old people, it’s for general body maintenance as well…like getting an oil change to keep your car lubed. The best part of PT is knowing I have a safe, supported space to test my limits.
Since surgery, I’ve been extremely cautious of every move I make. Part of me is afraid if I move in a certain way, it’s going to hurt. The other part is afraid, moving in a certain way will disturb the plates and screws and put me in line for another surgery to repair the damage. During my sessions with the physical therapist, I learn what pain is acceptable muscle soreness and what pain means my joints and bones are doing too much and I need to take a step back.
The doctors know how to push me just to the edge without going over. Today, Dr. Mayes took my cane away from me. After I showed him I could walk without wobbling, he instructed me to march, holding my knee up as high as a could for three seconds at the top of each step. This forced me to put all my weight on my left foot and hold my balance. I would have never mustered the courage to try this on my own.
After the marching, I moved on to walking side to side and front to back with a giant rubber band tied around my waist. Dr. Mayes held one end of the band creating resistance and making it difficult for me to take each step. If that wasn’t enough, I finished out my exercises with forward lunges, trying to get my back knee down as low as I could without toppling over. The tightness in my left quad and hamstring made it almost unbearable but I persevered.
When I got home, I couldn’t wait to show Brad how I learned to walk, unassisted, for the first time in two months! I can finally pack up the crutches, canes, walkers & wheelchairs.
Friday, September 5th As my mobility increases so does my ability to integrate back into society. I went to the grocery store this week. Thankfully, Trader Joes has a small footprint so it wasn’t too difficult to maneuver. Between the meals prepared by friends and the easy access to the bakery, I haven’t needed to brave the aisles until this week. I didn’t realize how much I enjoy picking out my own avocados and bananas. It’s these simple tasks we take for granted.
After the grocery expedition, I drove myself to the Y where I discovered that handicapped parking spaces don’t require meters. I felt like a princess getting a spot right by the door that I didn’t have to pay for. Although I was moving very slow, I didn’t need to use my cane to get in and out. I walked all the way to the back set of lockers to change. The shower and walk to the into the pool were far less scary this time.
Once I made it into the water, I was determined to swim at least 800 yards. I alternated between 200 pulling and 200 swimming. I lost track of a few laps and ended up with 950 yards total or about half of what a workout would have been for me before my injury. It felt great. I didn’t experience any of the uncomfortable pulling around my incision I felt the week before. My kicking capability has definitely diminished and I didn’t try to push it on the cardio front but overall, it was a solid swim.
I only required a 30 minute nap to recover from my exertion in the pool this week. When I woke up, I went to the bakery to catch up with the staff and caught my kids getting off the bus. Keegan was the first to notice I was walking without a cane. The excitement they displayed to see me walking is something I will never forget. I imagine it’s how I felt the day I saw each of them take their first steps. My career has been dedicated to showing my children they can follow their dreams and work hard to achieve their goals but none of the newspaper stories, television appearances or marathon finish lines could hold a candle to the amount of happiness on their faces when they saw me walking today.
Saturday, September 6th Occasionally, I stop to reflect on what an incredible community the Fueled by Doughnuts Running Club has become. Most often, the reflection comes when I see it through someone else’s eyes. In addition to the group run this morning, Iron PT coached sidelined runners through strengthening exercises as an ongoing series of alternative activities for our members. Being injured can be incredibly isolating when running and socializing is a normal routine. This ‘bubble wrap’ group, created by Barbara Foley, allows everyone to continue to have the social interaction while they’re healing OR taking a break OR adding another component to compliment running.
There was an incredible turn out for our first week. Dr. Castania & Dr. Wortman spoke to me about how impressive our community is both in size and in substance. There have been several businesses and organizations who have tried to replicate what we have, once our club started popping up on the radar. The thing is, there’s no checklist or formula to making it happen. If the goal is to get a huge group of runners to show up 3 times a week, it’s not going to happen. If the goal is to find a couple friends to run with and create a welcoming environment other runners want to join, then and only then, it could grow to be more.
Anne, Anne, Cara, Ryan and I struggled to launch the first Fueled by Doughnuts group run. When word of our desire to create a running club got out, other groups were upset. Some thought we were looking to take away from existing organizations which couldn’t be further from the truth. I can’t count the hours we sat around Anne’s dining room table orchestrating. We went through all the group runs currently being offered in the area. We looked for gaps where we could create new opportunities for people to run together.
In planning the launch, we considered the elements that make running with a group desirable and the things that make us feel uneasy about joining. Our number one goal has always been to ensure no one runs alone, no matter what pace they’re running. There is nothing worse than showing up to run with a group, only to be left to run by yourself. Then, we wanted to make sure to acknowledge runners new to the group and introduce them to everyone. Again, there’s nothing worse than feeling like the odd duck in a sea of friends. We decided to focus on people first and running second.
When it came time to organize the running part we wanted to create a variety of routes with different distances and amenities already in place. Our courses never take runners more than three miles away from an existing public water source. Each of the weekly group runs use a different route to vary the Montclair experience as much as possible. The runs have easy cut-offs available so runners ending at 3 miles and at 8 miles get the same benefit of running with a group for the majority of their distance. Anne quickly became an expert at maximizing the capabilities of Google Maps and Strava. I’m pretty sure the help desk at Strava headquarters knew her by name.
After an internal email about how we were going to ruin the running community and our friendships if we moved forward with the launch, lots of anxiety and more strained relationships…Anne A., Ryan and I decided to invite other people to join our standing 5:30am Tuesday running date. Cara and Anne M. were evening runners; they would lead the PM group in due time. There were seven people, including the three of us, who attended the first run. Anne and Ryan took turns circling from the front of the group to the back of the group. We had doughnuts and coffee waiting when we returned to the bakery.
The group picture at the start of every run serves as a token to memorialize time well spent with friends but it’s so much more. We take the photo at the exact time the run is supposed to start. No one wants to miss the photo so everyone is on time. It is quiet when the photo is taken. This provides the perfect opportunity to make announcements and find buddies for new runners. Who knew the simple act of taking a picture could play such an essential role in building our community?
As more and more people join the club, more and more ideas are brought to the table. I do not have the bandwidth to act on them all myself but I do have a foundation to support them. This is how Hillary came to organize Oktoberfest, Sarah leads our community service initiative, Wayne was given the opportunity to start a trail race and Barbara created the Bubble Wrap group! It’s not about the doughnuts, it’s not about the miles or the time on the clock, it’s about the people. It’s about the family we choose, the family we created.