The acceptance of all abilities is what differentiates running from every other sport. I'm so happy to be part of the community. Bart Yasso
As a survivor of childhood paralytic polio, I was a stranger to athletics. There was no sport accessible to me back in the 60's and 70's. The wounds of being taunted and teased as a child cut deep. After being diagnosed with Post-Polio Syndrome, a progressive neuromuscular disease by Western Medicine standards, I knew I had to make serious lifestyle changes.
I used to make off-handed comments joking about how "I'm not running the Boston Marathon this year" after numerous leg surgeries while I'd be hobbling around on crutches.
We'd watch the Boston Marathon many times on Heartbreak Hill or Cleveland Circle but never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine I would be out there running the Boston Marathon one day.
Running and "easy out Alper" as I was called in school during gym class seemed to be as opposite as oil and water.
After I wrote my poem, "Running the Race," in February of 2007 as I sat in a leg brace, using a wheelchair at times for mobility and facing a grim and uncertain future, I began to wonder what it would feel like to run.
Running the Race
Early summer 1959 my kindergarten year
everyone around me filled with nervous fear
despite the Salk vaccine hope polio would disappear
the polio virus crept right up and knocked me in the rear.
Dancing all around the gym feeling free just like a bird
I dropped to the ground just like a stone and no one said a word.
The pain it was so searing-the diagnosis even worse
"It's polio" the doctor said...he was abrupt and terse.
Called one of the 'lucky ones' I had a 'mild case'
but with the other athletes I could never keep their pace.
Miss Holly physical therapist, curly hair and a warm, broad smile
it tempered the pain of being apart - to walk I'd take awhile.
I always wore those 'special' shoes the kids they poked and teased
With no support and much abuse with childhood I wasn't pleased.
But put nose to the grindstone and learned all that I could
I couldn't kick a ball but my grades were always good.
Years went by and no more thought to polio did I give
I accepted the limp and everything else and decided my life I would live.
But symptoms of weakness and muscle pain did grow
I kept a stoic face hoping no one else would know.
Life no longer was my own I struggled through each day
Suffered in silence, isolated from friends- trying to keep depression at bay.
And with the grace of glorious God my world it opened wide
I discovered there was a Post Polio team and they were on my side.
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.
I imagined myself running free on a beach in Bermuda with the wind in my hair.
I wrote this poem about coming out of my leg brace and splashing in puddles:
Come Out and Play
Arms flung open wide dancing in the rain
pure abiding joy to feel alive again
healing tears fall and blend in God’s puddle
no time to sit in a corner and huddle
all the old rules driven by fears
washed away now by God’s loving tears
the imprint dad left no longer remains
rain washes away all of the stains
baptized with love, Truth lights my way
the sun shines through on this rainy day
splashing and laughing my heart opens wide
embracing and flowing I’m one with the tide
God takes my hand release the old way
bathe in my glory come out and play!
I had to retrieve muscle memory from before I contracted paralytic polio at the age of 5 1/2.
I turned to Forrest Gump before I ever even thought about myself participating in the sport of running nudged by the promptings from my poems:
When, in February of 2008, I declared that I was going to run the 2009 Boston Marathon, I was terrified and exhilarated all at the same time.
I was astounded by the reception I received in the running community.
From jeers to cheers and from "easy out Alper" to completing every training run and crossing every finish line of every race I ran since 2008.
The time made no difference! A PR for me was a PR for me and celebrated as though I'd set a world record.
The only competition I experience in the sport of running is with myself; to give every training run and every race my personal best.
The sport of running unlike any other sport puts the legends and the ordinary runners on a level playing field so to speak. The running greats are totally accessible to sharing in their love of running with runners like me!
I've been so blessed to meet so many running greats---Bart Yasso himself, Bill Rodgers, Jacqueline Hansen, Geoffrey Smith, Jack Fultz, Steve Jones, Frank Shorter, Dick Hoyt, Meb.....and each and every one of them embraces my journey and embraces and celebrates me as a runner:
Running has been my medicine, my therapy, a great way to meet friends, have fun and was the portal to my journey of transformation from a survivor of paralytic polio and trauma to the woman I've become today!
To going the distance with strength and courage!
Be sure to visit my website by following this link.
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):