How Resilience, Pain and Determination Paved the Way to My Goals
Running has always played a positive role in my life, and that’s apparent by the times that I let myself stray away from it. My passion for running has its roots from when I attended registration night in middle school with my mother. My family never pushed me to participate in athletics or team sports, and I was very shy and out of shape at the time. When we got to registration, some of my friends were at the cross country registration table with their families. Before attending registration, I had no intention of joining the team, but I succumbed to peer pressure because I didn’t want to feel left out. I saw joining the cross country team as a way to meet and hang out with friends as well as a way to lose weight that I had gained from the combination of playing video games, drinking soft drinks and sweet tea as my main forms of hydration, and eating copious amounts of snacks and junk food. Doing so seemed to pay off because I met several friends, lost a lot of belly fat, and improved my overall fitness from running and the workout exercises that we did every day as a warm up.
I still wasn’t the healthiest kid because I maintained my lunchroom, cheap dinner, and junk food diet, but at least I was staying active. I joined the indoor and outdoor track teams for some seasons, which kept me physically active throughout middle school and part of high school. However, I would find myself struggling to enjoy the physical aspect of running until the very end of a season because I would become sedentary and mess up my diet between seasons. I kept joining the teams and following the same cycle until my sophomore year in high school. I ended up losing interest in long distance running, decided not to join the cross country team my junior year, and joined the track team for just one more season before quitting that too. By doing so, I lost connection with several of my running friends, ended up picking up bad habits, and lived a generally unhealthy lifestyle for the next six years.
I started smoking and drinking during the summer between my sophomore and junior years in high school. Several of my non-running friends began to experiment with smoking and drinking during this time, and I eventually fell under peer pressure. I understood that there were long-term negative consequences, as I have had other family members who have struggled with health problems related to alcoholism, substance abuse and addiction. However, being the teenager that I was, I believed I would be an exception to the rule and that I would be able to control any habit that I picked up if I started. Needless to say, this didn’t pan out well. I started smoking and drinking excessively, my grades started to slip, I began experiencing anxiety and depression, my attitude towards school and outlook on life changed, and family problems that previously existed were only made worse by the issues that I had created.
Eventually, I was able to rebound and gain some confidence back about my future during the second half of my college career, but I still struggled staying physically and mentally healthy. During my last track season in high school, I weighed approximately 175 pounds. By the time I graduated college, I had begun to drop below 150 pounds, which is underweight for my size. It wasn’t until after college that I decided to make lifestyle changes in order to become healthy again. During the spring of 2015, I joined Planet Fitness in hopes of gaining muscle mass. By doing so, I reduced the amount that I smoked, became more mindful about my diet, ate meals at regular times, and improved my sleep routine. I eventually started to feel healthy again, which was a big boost to my confidence.
After I had gained some weight, I began to run on the treadmills at the gym. Running was by far my least favorite activity at the time because of how painful it was. I had terrible endurance and stamina. Every time I ran, I would get side stitches, my lungs would burn as a result of smoking, and my legs would tire quickly. My first goal was to run half a mile without stopping. I continued to run on the treadmills three to four times a week until I was able to run five miles. This is a lot of treadmill running, I know, but for some reason it was the only way I could motivate myself to run at the time. I eventually started running outside once I realized how insane it was for me to be running on a treadmill every time given the distances that I began to achieve. It was the summer, so I started to run around my neighborhood late at night, no earlier than 9 pm, in order to avoid the heat. After a run one night, I had a crazy pipe dream that I would be able to run the 2016 Mercedes Marathon. I continued to run three to four days weekly, building up to an 8 mile long run before I quit running and going to the gym for two months.
By the time I decided to start running again, I had lost a lot of the foundation that I built. I didn’t feel comfortable committing to marathon training with such a small aerobic base, but I convinced myself that running sub-two hours in the Mercedes Half Marathon was possible. It was with this decision that I successfully quit smoking cold turkey. I had reached a point in my training where I believed I was holding myself back from success, and I had already fallen through on my hopes and dreams to run the full marathon. I started running on the treadmills again. I didn’t follow a formal plan, but I kept increasing my weekly mileage and capped my training with a 10.5 mile run on a treadmill a week before the race.
I registered for the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon in November because it was a relatively flat course and would give me another seven months to train. After about two months of training on my own, I learned that Cadence Run Coaching had a group of runners who also were training to qualify for Boston and run sub-3-hour marathons in Indianapolis. I kept building up my base mileage and eventually reached out to Cadence Run Coaching for a training plan. I received a training plan to run a sub-3- hour marathon, which was very intimidating but necessary to ensure there was enough of a time cushion for the 3:05 age group BQ. The training cycle was difficult, and I hit the wall on several of my training runs due to the heat and improper fueling. However, Cary Morgan kept insisting that I was on track and didn’t have anything to worry about. I ended up making huge gains during the second half of my training cycle, and I ran 2:55:40 on race day!
I’ve had several breakthroughs in running this year. Since running my first marathon in November, I’ve set a 5k PR, set a half marathon PR at the Magic City Half Marathon, ran my most successful half marathon at the Thanksgiving Day Half Marathon in Atlanta, and am in the middle of training for the 2017 Mercedes Marathon. More importantly, this year of running has allowed me to make significant improvements to my physical and mental health. I’ve made several lifestyle changes to optimize my training. These changes have greatly reduced the stress, anxiety, and depression that I’ve experienced in previous years. While I may be tired some days from the accumulated fatigue of intense training weeks, I enjoy what I do.
It’s hard for me to describe the array of emotions that I’ve experienced recently while reflecting on the positive and negative aspects of my past. The decision to start running again was easily one of the best yet most difficult decisions that I’ve made for myself. I started running again as a way to rebuild myself after spending half of my high school and entire college career living a generally sedentary lifestyle and making poor health choices. I knew that running would not be enjoyable during the first few months due to the chest pain that I’d experience after years of smoking, especially since I was still struggling to quit at the time. However, I knew that my health and fitness would eventually improve if I stayed committed.
What I didn’t know at the time was how far I’d push myself to make it to where I am today. My overall health has greatly improved, I’ve met several wonderful people through the local running community, and my future prospects are brighter than ever. What makes me most happy and motivated about running, however, are the people who have reached out to me recently saying that I’ve been a source of inspiration for them to kick their own bad habits, become more physically active, and make other healthy decisions. The ability to learn from my past mistakes and endure the consequences has been key for me to achieve resiliency. I hope that I’m able to continue inspiring others to push themselves to achieve peace of mind and to lead healthier, active lifestyles through running and physical fitness.
Ever since I moved to Indianapolis in 2012, Monumental has been a huge part of my life, something that I have participated in every year and big events in my life seem to coincide with the race.
The 2012 Monumental became my second ever 5k and the thing I remember most about that race is that it was the first time I got to experience shaving time off of a PR and I had run the entire thing without stopping. After that race, I decided to not only continue to push myself with running, but also to fully commit myself to adopting a healthier lifestyle and losing weight, as I had spent the vast majority of my life overweight. The 2013 Monumental became my first half marathon and I ran it 75 pounds lighter than the year before. In 2014 I pushed myself even further and ran my first full. It was also the race where my boyfriend, who had traveled from California to run it, finally asked me to be his girlfriend.
So my goal, 16 years in the making, became a reality at the 2016 CNO Financial Indianapolis Monumental Marathon. It was an absolutely perfect day! So many little details all came together to make it an unforgettable day. It was a special treasure to share this day with Mike Fitzgerald (December 2015 #BeMonumental story), who also completed his goal of running the 50 states that day. I had so much fun taking the race at a slower pace and just taking in the scenery, talking with my friends and family along the course, talking with fellow runners about their journeys, taking a bunch of pictures along the way, and just truly enjoying all 26.2 miles and the memories it made for me. Thank you Beyond Monumental for putting on a great race which helped create the perfect ending to this journey.
I work as a Firefighter/Paramedic in Schaumburg, IL and my wife and I befriended another couple of which, the husband was a Firefighter/Paramedic in the Department neighboring mine. Our relationship grew quite close and when they announced they were pregnant with twins, my wife became godmother to their son. Shortly after birth, his sister, Madison showed signs of Liver disease. She was diagnosed with alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, a somewhat rare Liver disease. At 7 months old, it was determined she needed a Liver transplant.
by Nicole Sheetz
As I began my service at Joy's House, I decided that I wanted to get to know our Guests personally. To do this, you have to spend time with each of them. You have to ask them questions. Eat lunch with them. Play games. And you have to be patient and listen. Most guests are very willing to talk and once you find what makes them tick, it's pretty fun to carry on a conversation with them, or simply sit and craft together. One Guest, however, intimidated me. His name is Mr. Robert. He is a tall man (6'4") and he is living with Huntington's Disease. Now, if you are like me, you will have to Google this disease. What I found was that many describe the symptoms of Huntington's Disease as being like having amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson's and Alzheimer's – simultaneously. It slowly takes away your ability to control your muscles and your ability to talk. It's not a "kind" diagnosis and I was nervous that I wouldn't be able to understand Mr. Robert. You see, he can't control his bodily movements and he wiggles around a lot. His voice is soft and his speech is not clear. His gait, when he stands, is very unsteady and I am honestly shocked that he stays upright with his walker. But, one day, I decided that I'd sit by him and just listen.
by Lynn Kendall
"...If you do what they tell you in physical therapy, and work hard, you should be able to walk pretty well."
"I treated a girl with almost the same injury a few years ago and I saw her recently. When she walked by, I could barely detect a limp. You'll never run a Marathon, but you should be able to live a normal life."
It was about 7 years after the accident before I first tried to run. In my mind, there was probably nothing more pathetic looking than an out of shape man with a limp, trying to run around the block in a pair of cross trainers. Every now and then, I'd "go out for another run". I remember the first time I was able to run half a block. I was really excited and proud, but it really took a toll on my leg and even though I've never been a smoker, I was gasping for air like I just finished a pack.
As time went on, I learned to pad my shoe to accommodate for the length difference (the damage to my right leg left it ¾" shorter than the left) and if I padded it a certain way, I also found it could help accommodate for the flexibility that I had lost in my ankle.
I soon learned that training for a Marathon is really hard painful work. But I also learned that runners by and large are some of the nicest people on the planet. I couldn't have made it through the training without the support and guidance of this group of experienced marathoners that were willing to take me under their wing. I will be forever grateful. They taught me that a runner sees all other runners as friends and winners just by the fact that we are all out there on the road together.
by Brian Duffey
"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."
In 2013, weighing 210 pounds, and no longer wanting to put it off for "tomorrow" I made a promise to my daughter, but most importantly to myself, to run at least one marathon with her. So on May 4, 2013, I committed to the ride of my life. After watching my daughter complete her first 500 Festival Mini-Marathon, I went home and began my own journey, jogging 1 mile (at 13 minute pace).
Race day was like a "story untold". It started off as a cold and blustery morning and I was certain that most of our students, parents, and even staff would choose not to participate; but as the morning began to unfold I was proven wrong. We had approximately 97% of the runners and 100% of staff show. As I stood in my corral before the start of the marathon, I realized that this was the first time I was alone, not with the students and staff. All morning my thoughts were on my students and their goals and their safety. Qualifying for Boston was at best just a fleeting thought, but as the race unfolded like a house of cards, I realized that I was ahead of the required pace to qualify but still knew many things could go wrong. The desire of potentially qualifying began to erase all doubts, my pace was still strong, but more importantly my belief was stronger. Nearing the finish line the feeling of accomplishment started to engulf me. Knowing all the hard work and steps taken meant something and that my students were there waiting to talk about their moment being monumental as well as supporting me in my journey.
You love to run. What would you do if you suddenly lost that ability? It's human nature to wish for something more instead of celebrating what we already have.
On July 28, 2013, my life changed forever. I had an accident practicing acrobatic yoga, which resulted in a C6 incomplete spinal cord injury. Initially, I was paralyzed from the neck down and I was hospitalized for 1 month. I had to learn my new body and hope to regain some mobility. I always considered myself an athlete: a marathon runner, rock climber, mountain biker, and snow boarder. Not only did I lose my identity as an athlete, but I also thought I lost my career as an outpatient orthopedic physical therapist. In the past, running was one way to manage my stress. I felt completely lost and didn't know how to cope with the new life that I was suddenly forced to face. My role has completely flipped, as I became a patient to receive therapy instead of providing therapy.
With help from numerous outstanding health care providers, generous support from friends and co-workers, my stubbornness/determination and some luck, I regained the ability to walk. I also returned to climbing as an adaptive climber with help from the non-profit organization called Paradox Sports based in Boulder, CO. Through this experience, I realized that I am still the same person who loves physical activities and has the heart of an athlete despite my disability. I felt a tremendous accomplishment when I first walked 1 mile on my own which took me nearly 30 minutes. Over the next 2 years, I kept increasing my speed and duration of walking just like how I used to train for marathons.
by Mike Fitzgerald
Then one January morning in 2007, I awoke to notice the vision in my right eye was not normal. It was as if a dark curtain had been drawn over half of my field of vision in that eye. A visit to Dr. Zak, my optometrist, was followed quickly by emergency surgery to repair a badly detached retina. This was followed by six weeks of immobility in my Clarkston, Michigan, home - face down on a couch to allow the retina to heal. After another six weeks of restricted physical activity, I found myself able to see again but badly out of shape.
I also found myself with a renewed sense of life. Early in the recovery process, I was uncertain about the success of the surgery and my ability to see again. The retina in my left eye also showed signs of weakness and, while not detached, would recover additional surgery. During the weeks of recovery, I'd found peace with the notion of not being able to see again, yet promised myself if I could see again, I would find a way to live life more fully. Fortunately, my recovery and all future procedures were completely successful.
The day my physical restrictions had been lifted by my surgeon, I realized I needed to get back in shape. My wife, Kristen, and I had just purchased a treadmill, months earlier. I stepped onto the machine with the goal of completing a mile. It was tough, but I was determined to get through it. I was not a young man, but I was also not an old one. So I felt the need to be able to do a mile without it seeming like it was so tough. So day after day, I ran the treadmill until I felt like I could do a mile easily. And as I felt my body begin to get back in shape and saw the improvement in my pace, I started running farther. Soon I was doing 3 or 4 miles every day on the treadmill.
Now by this time, my friend and coworker Michelle had been training to run a half marathon. Her enthusiasm for her training was contagious and got me thinking that perhaps I could someday run a half marathon. With my daily mileage and pace increasing on the treadmill, I decided it was time to take this act outside and soon found myself running everywhere in every condition for months. In April 2008, I ran my first half marathon, the Country Music Half Marathon in Nashville.
Weeks later during a local run, I met Sarah, who invited me to join the group with which she had been running. That group was training on Saturday mornings for the Detroit Marathon in October and I soon found myself joining them every week. The training and the camaraderie were addicting, and before long I was registered for the marathon! And when I crossed that finish line in 4 hours and 23 minutes, I felt a tremendous sense of joy and accomplishment. Less than 2 years earlier, I'd been faced with possible blindness and here I am now – a marathon finisher!
In 2009, many member of the same group of runners were training for the Chicago marathon that fall. By this time, we had named the group "Your Pace or Mine Running Club". I committed to do that marathon, and was bound and determined to be faster than the previous one. But just weeks before the race, I developed a knee injury which limited my running ability and restricted my training. I was still determined to finish the race, though, and was able to complete it, although in about an hour longer than I had in Detroit.
But what I learned is that the marathon does not have to be a race. It is an experience. I fully enjoyed experiencing the entire 26.2 miles of Chicago – whether I was able to run or not. It is with this spirit that I ran our next group marathon which was at Disney World in January of 2010. Then came Las Vegas in October of the same year. By the time I was training for my fifth marathon – back to Nashville in April 2011 – the trend of running each race in a different state had become apparent. For the Nashville race, Sarah had made a shirt for me to wear which proclaimed that I was "running in all 50 states". Uh-oh.
Many of these races have been shared with good friends, including many who have completed or are also pursuing a marathon in each state: Leah, Argenta, Hoa, Veronica, Matt, John, and especially Sue – with whom I've run 28 marathons. Over these years, my marathon trips have allowed me to go dogsledding in Alaska, assist Olympic Marathon hopefuls in Houston, and have the privilege and honor of meeting Bataan Death March survivors in New Mexico. I've been able to meet up with old friends. On three instances, I've run marathons on consecutive days. Kristen and I celebrated our 25th anniversary in Maui. She has been so supportive of me in my endeavor and I would like to take this opportunity to let her know how much I appreciate all the she has done for me!
In 2016, I plan to complete my 50 state journey. Three races earlier in the year will be followed by the Monumental Marathon in November – which will make Indiana my 50th marathon state. Appropriate, since I was born in Marion in 1964 and spent 17 years living in Kokomo. Friends who have previously run the Monumental have given it very high marks, so I am really excited to be able to finish this journey at this race. I'm looking forward to being there in November!