Monday, May 1, 2017

Going the Distance: Celebrating 10 Years of Healing: The Gift of Running Part I

May 25th marks 10 years since I took a leap of faith to leave my award winning career as a VA social worker to heal my life from the effects of paralytic polio and trauma.

I came to the sport of running in a rather unique way. In February of 2007, as I sat in a leg brace, using a cane and at times a wheelchair for mobility facing a rather grim future after the diagnosis of Post-Polio Syndrome, a progressive neuromuscular disease by Western Medicine standards, I wrote a poem called "Running the Race."

Here is an excerpt:
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.

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.

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.

A photo from Christmas 2007:

I had never run a day in my life. I was told to prepare to spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair and at best, stabilize the symptoms of difficulty swallowing, walking with a limp, having difficulty breathing, aspirating my food, suffering with chronic pain and fatigue and the list went on and on ... Yet there I was imagining myself winning a 10K race.

Okay so I never did win a 10K race but I did go on to run the 2009 Boston Marathon and Team McManus raised $10,535 for Spaulding Rehab where I took those very first, very tentative and might I add excruciatingly painful steps on a healing quest to return to the land of the living.

How does one go from never having run a day in one's life to training for and crossing the finish line of the 2009 Boston Marathon?

From my memoir, "Coming Home: A Memoir of Healing, Hope and Possibility":

At my six-month evaluation in February, I had dramatically improved in every area of the assessment. I had come out of my leg brace and I knew that I was on a healing path. Janine {the personal trainer I hired after being discharged from Spaulding Rehab's Outpatient Clinic} asked me what my next health and fitness 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 wrote feverishly 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.”

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 and put down her things. She said that the first thing I would need is a pair of running shoes. She told me that Marathon Sports on Beacon Street would be able to help me. She laid out a cursory training plan and said that we would begin indoors to build up my cardio endurance. As soon as the weather got a little warmer, we’d go outdoors and I would learn how to run.

What had I just done?

Spencer Aston of Brookline Marathon Sports was so patient with me as we worked to find my first pair of running shoes!

Despite admonishment from the medical community, running has been the best medicine for me mind, body and soul! It took a lot of courage to go from never having run a day in my life to getting out on the roads starting out with running for a minute and walking for 3 minutes.

I have so many cherished memories since I started running in April of 2008.

My first road race was the Corrib Pub 5K in June of 2008.

It was love at first race feeling the exhilaration of the freedom of being able to run AND being cheered instead of the jeers and taunts and teasing I experienced as a child lugging a full leg brace and trying desperately to keep up with my friends.

And then it wasn't love during my 2nd race in July - the Marathon Sports 5 Miler.

It was a competitive field to say the least. It was an evening race and so very hot and humid. As soon as the field took off I felt the old feelings of being left behind rear their head. Fortunately, Tom wouldn't let me quit and said that we would make it through together. As I write in my memoir, I couldn't distinguish between the tears and the sweat.

As we approached the finish, I experienced what it means to be part of the running community. Because the staff at Marathon Sports knew my story and what I was setting out to do, they made sure to give me a hero's welcome as we came into the finish on the field. They honked the horn of the sweep truck and cheered me on as if I finished first.

Because I did not give up in that race being able to dig deep despite feeling miserable in mind, body and soul, my journey of transformation through running had officially begun!

To be continued....

To going the distance with strength and courage!

My books are available on Amazon.

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:

And my latest and greatest book - Going the Distance: The Power of Endurance (With a Foreword by Jacqueline Hansen):

Mary McManus, MSW knew challenges since she was five years old beginning with contracting polio followed by enduring nine years of violence at the hands of family members. Those early challenges prepared her for taking on the challenge of the diagnosis of post polio syndrome, a progressive neuromuscular disease in December 2006 when she was at the height of her award winning career as a social worker at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Asking for Divine Guidance as she had throughout her trials and tribulations, she discovered the gift of poetry in her soul. Her first poem, “Running the Race,” foreshadowed her 2009 Boston Marathon run. “Going the Distance: The Power of Endurance,” chronicles Mary’s journey as a survivor of paralytic polio and trauma, as a runner and a woman who refused to quit. Eight years after her diagnosis, she was finally led to two healers, a chiropractor and a muscular therapist, who helped her reclaim her life and go the distance, a woman transformed who embodies the power of endurance.

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