Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Marathon Moment to Last a Lifetime

I don't know why she chose us. Perhaps it was because we were wearing our Spaulding Rehab Find Your Strength T shirts. I don't know how many she had carefully and lovingly prepared to hand out to the spectators on Marathon Monday. If memory serves me, she held a small pile of them in her hand.

As we stood just before mile 23 on Beacon Street cheering runners on their way to the finish, she paused and said, "Here - this is for you."

It's handwritten and laminated and says, "Thanks for being a fan today! Maureen #23513." On the back she wrote, "You're the best! Boston 2014."

This morning I was moved to check her results on the BAA website:

23513 Jones, Maureen 48 F Rochester MN USA
Official time 4:16:09

I have a BAA volunteer jacket and pin, a wristband from the 2013 Boston Marathon banners which we bought to support the One Fund, a 2014 Boston Marathon program, the Boston Marathon posters, pics and videos from Marathon weekend and from when we were support crew for training runs. There are so many memories and emotions that we have gathered since 4/15/13 of Boston 2014.

Yet this seemingly small laminated handwritten note from someone who traveled to Boston from Rochester, Minnesota to run the 2014 Boston Marathon is one of my most treasured souvenirs.

Maureen Jones took the time to hand write thank you notes, laminate them and pass them out to fans along the course.

She was thanking us for being there and for being Boston Strong. Our presence and energy was a symbol of resilience and courage for her which she acknowledged in this 4"x 1" handwritten note.

Maureen C Jones, PT is what came up when I googled Maureen Jones in Rochester, Minnesota. I will call the clinic where she works. I would love to hear the story behind this 4" x 1" laminated souvenir that I now hold as a treasure among my souvenirs for the Boston Marathon 2014. These are the marathon moments that last a lifetime.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Do It Now! Thoughts From The Comeback Kid

Yesterday on Facebook, Marathon Sports posted:

What are your fitness goals? Whether it's attempting your first run or training to BQ, there's no time like the present! #LETSDOTHIS #GOALBIG #INSPIRE

I commented:
NOW! Don't wait. #noexcuses And Marathon Sports will help you find everything you need to reach your goals. I went from polio shoes and a leg brace and using a wheelchair to the finish line of the 2009 Boston Marathon with their help. Marathon Sports Brookline fitted me for my first pair of runner shoes -ever- in my life - at age 53. And they have been there with me through all of my ups and downs of living with a neuromuscular condition. Spring is a wonderful time for new beginnings, setting new goals and moving confidently in the direction of your dreams.

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

“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 are you in now?” Spencer Aston asked me when I walked into Marathon Sports in February of 2008.

“Well, truth be told, I’m in ‘polio shoes.’ I borrowed these running shoes from my daughter. Let me give you the twitter version of my story.”

I told Spencer about my history of paralytic polio, my ‘remarkable recovery’ as was Spaulding’s tag line when I was a patient and how I was planning to run the Boston Marathon. He took so much time and care doing a gait assessment and working with me to find the perfect running shoes. We figured out that I needed an insert at my heel to ensure comfort.

I felt butterflies in my stomach as I waited for Janine having put on my cardiac monitor sporting a pair of sweat pants and a sweatshirt. I laugh now to think about how ill equipped I was in so many ways to begin marathon training. And not just any marathon – THE Boston Marathon.

When Janine showed up, we went outside on Eliot Street. She said that we were going to start out running for 30 seconds and walking for 2 minutes. Janine was so loving, gentle, patient and kind as she encouraged me to just let my body move in a gentle jog. We looked at my heart rate. It went up over 170! She told me that was okay. The high heart rate was a result of my deconditioning. But she was confident that I could do this!

What an amazing journey to the finish line of the 2009 Boston Marathon.

In October of 2009, I was cooked. I returned to outpatient physical therapy at Newton Wellesley Hospital Spine Center requiring a series of cervical spine injections and intensive outpatient therapy to build especially upper body and core strength. My therapist told me no running at least until the Spring of 2010.

I busted out when she cleared me for running and went on a running spree of trash talking and PR's.

In March of 2011, my nephew suicided and I experienced a relapse of symptoms. By the end of September of 2011, I hung up my running shoes for what I thought was for good. I didn't feel as though I had it in me to come back again.

But then 4/15/2013 happened....

I had to walk at a race walk pace to escape down Huntington Avenue to our car to what we hoped would be safety. (It was.)

We did the #onerun organized to help runners and the City heal after 4/15/13. I realized that I needed to get back into running. I had lost contact with a lot of my running friends but thanks to Facebook and email was able to reconnect with them. We rejoined L Street Running Club. It was as though I never left. I'd been "an honorary" member of the Merrimack Valley Striders Club and they welcomed me with open arms.

It didn't matter that my pace was slower and my distance was shorter. The motto of L Street is "No pace too slow. No distance too short." And they mean it!

I ran the Brookline Symphony Orchestra 5K and then the Feaster Five hosted by the Merrimack Valley Striders. I took a break from road races during the winter but I continued to train outdoors whenever possible.

My first road race was the Cambridge 5 Mile Run/3 Mile City Walk. I'm now registered for the Corrib Pub 5K which was the first race I ever ran back in June of 2008. The last time I ran it was on 6/5/2011. We are planning out our summer/fall road races.

I am training for the Tufts 10K which I last ran in 2010.

Twice a week Aquatics Therapy Classes at Spaulding Rehab help me to build my strength. I am wearing 3 pound ankle weights and can increase challenging myself by the depth of water I choose to work in. I will be excited when I strap on those 5 pound weights but know that I have to wait until the 3 pound weights are no longer a challenge for me.

I make sure I take my rest days and go for regular massage sessions at Sollievo Bodywork and Massage which incorporates the mind/body therapy of Zero Balancing into the session.

I am extremely mindful of working up to my edge but backing down when my body tells me to.

Today's message of healing, hope and possibility? Do It Now. #noexcuses And if you fall short of your goals, don't ever stop. And if you have to take a break from running, stay connected to the running community. And if you need healing, keep searching until you find a winning combination of what works best for you. And if you can no longer "run", walk and be a part of races where they welcome all ages and all abilities. Do It Now! and don't stop.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Every Finish Line is a Starting Line

How wonderful to have so much to celebrate about the Boston Marathon 2014. Articles abound celebrating the race for so many reasons. Meb was the first American to win Boston since 1983. An unprecedented 99% of the runners who toed the line at Hopkinton crossed the finish line. There was a record number of women who ran the 2014 Boston Marathon. Jessica Kensky who lost a leg at last year's tragedy, won the Women's Handcycle Division and finished the Boston Marathon side by side with her husband Patrick Downes who had also lost a leg in the bombings. Here is an excerpt from the BAA's thank you:

The race may be over, but the memories of what we all experienced over this past year will rest in our hearts forever. From the entire family at the Boston Athletic Association, we want to thank every individual and organization who stepped forward to help us navigate this year’s 26.2 mile journey across eight of our most spectacular cities and towns.

My heart is full of wonderful memories of events leading up to the Marathon. Being #supportcrew for long runs was a joy even in the frigid, icy, snowy temperatures. We met so many wonderful people along the way. I was blessed to be part of packet stuffing day. The L Street Running Club pre marathon meeting was filled with tears, cheers and inspiration. The City came alive with the events of Marathon Weekend. I watched the BAA 5K, the Tribute Run and went to the Expo. On Sunday, I met Jeff Bauman, Carlos Arredondo and was part of a tribute at Fenway Park.

Once everyone's nerves and fears settled, we were able to relax and enjoy the Boston Marathon as it was meant to be enjoyed. Tom took this video as the entourage for the men's leader made its way down Beacon Street just prior to mile 23:

"I knew Meb was gonna win. I told him so," said a runner passing by who saw Tom holding up the sign that said "MEB WON!" to inspire the runners just before mile 23 last Monday. We thought, "Oh sure you did." After this runner completed his Marathon he found us on Beacon Street. He had his medal and showed us his bib that was signed by Meb. He told us he saw Meb at the Expo. Meb told him that he was not the fittest he'd ever been but he was the healthiest. Meb said his wife told him that's just the way she likes it to be. This runner told Meb that he was gonna win and had him sign his bib. On Tom's train ride home from work on Tuesday, he spotted someone wearing an orange jacket and medal. They talked about the marathon and Tom mentioned that he was so overcome with joy that Meb won, he wanted to share it with the runners to inspire them on their run and made the sign. It sure worked as I share in my blog from last week. And this marathoner on the train told Tom that he remembered seeing that sign.

On Tuesday, Tom and I went to a post marathon celebration with "The Feeney Sisters" who ran Boston for Spaulding Rehab Hospital. We had a fabulous time at Doyle's

They were volunteers at last year's marathon and their father was a patient at Spaulding after he fell while visiting his daughters in Boston. They posted on Facebook that they were having a fund raiser in March. When I saw that they were not near their fund raising goal and read their story, I told Tom that we had to go. I was so happy we did. It was one of the best fund raisers we had been to:

They told me that after Spaulding told them about my journey to inspire runners on the Race for Rehab team, that my story inspired them during their training runs through this grueling New England winter. At the post marathon party, Julie showed me her forearm. She told me that she wrote my name, along with a few other names, to inspire her Boston Marathon run. She said that she was hot, tired and nauseous but she knew that she had to make it to the finish line. I was humbled and in awe of how my story had inspired them.

Tom, Ruth Anne and I were blessed to spend the day with Elizabeth Comeau's mom waiting for Elizabeth to come down Beacon Street sporting her red #miles4smiles singlet:

Tom spotted her and screamed out her name. She turned around and came over to where we were standing. "I was afraid I was gonna miss you guys," she said. We shared a group hug, gave her some water and sent her on her way to the finish. Elizabeth had been at the finish line last year covering the Marathon for the Globe. She chronicled this past year in her blog . We shared the emotional build up to Marathon Monday at a fund raiser in March, and via chats on Facebook. We fist pumped and celebrated when we got the text that she crossed the finish line and we saw her post on Facebook:

As the BAA said, the memories of what we experienced during this past year will forever remain in our hearts. We were blessed to create many new memories of the Boston Marathon 2014. These new memories are a healing balm for all that went before since April 15, 2013. We crossed the finish line of a year of healing and putting our lives and our city back together. Today we cross a new starting line.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Reflections on Acceptance and Appreciation

"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference."

I've always been a mover and a changer. As a social worker at the VA, I was passionate about helping my veterans and moving the system to help meet their needs.

I've always been great at the courage to change part of the serenity prayer but when it came to acceptance and the wisdom to know the difference - well not so much!

After I was diagnosed with post polio syndrome, I did not "take the diagnosis sitting down" as I like to say and got moving to make changes in my life. My journey of transformation has taken me to some amazing places like the finish line of the 2009 Boston Marathon. After the tragic events of 4/15/13, I returned to the running community after a two year hiatus. Knowing I did not have another marathon in me, I became part of support crew for fund raising and supporting runners during long training runs. What a blessing to be a part of the 2014 Boston Marathon training season, the phenomenal events leading up to Marathon Monday and celebrating the joy of the 118th Boston Marathon on the third Monday in April as President Obama predicted in a speech he gave on 4/18/13. Runners ran harder and we cheered louder than ever.

I was outspoken about the philosophy in Western medicine of "if you use it, you will lose it" and believed that post polio syndrome or any diagnosis for that matter was something that needed to be overcome.

But recently, in my quiet moments of meditation, I came to this realization which I recently added as an Epilogue to my memoir, "Coming Home: A Memoir of Healing, Hope and Possibility":

I realize that trauma does not get out of the body nor is post polio syndrome something that needs to be defined, refuted or overcome. I learned that you cannot outrun or outsmart the past and there is no going for broke in trauma recovery. There is moving through the moments to heal. My experiences are a part of the fabric of my life and of my form but they need not define me nor rule my life. I no longer have to suffer or struggle but can find peace and equanimity honoring all that went before. I live with a neuromuscular condition and a history of trauma that took its toll on me mind, body and Spirit. Yet with fierce determination and resolve, I chose life.

And I continue to choose life, living life with passion and purpose.

I make choices that support my health and healing. I choose races that challenge me yet do not push me way beyond my limits or are going to stress me out. I know races with a fast field are not where I need to be. I accept, embrace and enjoy my role as spectator.

I love being support crew. Marathon Sports Brookline Run Group needs volunteers for the Heartbreak Hill Half Marathon. I opted to volunteer at the Expo instead of a water stop. I declined the opportunity to volunteer at the Run to Remember and instead will enjoy cheering on my husband and daughter and many friends who will be running Memorial Day weekend.

I used to call Aquatics Therapy classes at Spaulding Rehab, "cross training" for running. I have a letter of medical necessity from the doctor who oversees my care for post polio syndrome for Aquatics Therapy and massage therapy. How wonderful that I can now embrace the need for Aquatics Therapy, accepting that I live with a neuromuscular condition that requires vigilance and care; strength training and exercises with a therapist trained in helping me to maximize functioning while honoring my condition.

I am no longer reckless with the choices I make.

Which brings me to appreciation. Even though Dr. Rosenberg, my post polio doc, has not seen me since after I ran the 2009 Boston Marathon, he has let me know that he is always there to support me. He is a doctor of his word. I appreciate what I have lived through and the toll that paralytic polio, 9 years of unrelenting trauma and 25 surgeries have taken on me mind, body and Spirit. My heart overflows with gratitude for the resources available to me for healing. Throughout my journey, I have had excellent health care and access to the best that Western medicine has to offer. I have found my way to Sollievo Massage and Bodywork where biweekly massage sessions for deep relaxation and healing incorporate the mind/body therapy of Zero Balancing.

While there were times of financial uncertainty after I quit my job at the height of my award winning career as a VA social worker, I was finally able to swallow my pride and applied for social security disability which Dr. Rosenberg suggested to me at my first visit to the post polio clinic. He was an advocate for me to ensure that I received my benefits quickly; 5 months from the time I applied to when I was approved. My husband has a wonderful job with benefits. He was the first to say it was a no brainer when my team at Spaulding told me I needed to quit my job if I had any hope of stabilizing the symptoms of post polio syndrome.

Life is so sweet now. I am no longer fighting against my body trying to create change. There is nothing more to prove. I embrace the miracle of healing and my journey of transformation having no idea what the future may hold for me. I do know that I am grateful to be here now with all that I have lived through, the challenges I live with and all that is wonderful and beautiful about my life now. My intention is to be a source of inspiration for others with my message of healing, hope and possibility that now echoes the refrain of the Serenity Prayer.

A Golden Thread of Gratitude from A Celebration of Life

From toe tips to crown of head
a golden thread of gratitude
open your heart and remember

after a bitter cold Winter
Springtime blossoms

shedding bulk of winter’s heavy coat
summer grass tickling bare feet
delighting the sole

heart swells
appreciation overflows
flowers waving in gentle breezes
weave a circle of love
a hoop of healing.

"There is nothing more beautiful than seeing a person being themselves. Imagine going through your day being unapologetically you." -Steve Maraboli

Saturday, April 26, 2014

The People Who Are Boston Stronger

He was the face for Boston Strong at the Bruins game last May. Yet as he says in his book, "Stronger," "I'm not a hero. I'm just a guy with no legs."

I felt honored and blessed to have met Jeff Baumann who is indeed a hero at a book signing at the Team Store on Yawkey Way before we were scheduled to take the field at Fenway for the pre game ceremony tribute to the Boston Marathon.

There was such amazing synchronicity throughout Marathon weekend. Despite thousands of people in the City, we seemed to be bumping into people we knew at every turn. We arrived early for the book signing not sure of how long the lines might be. We were greeted by the person who was working with the publisher for the publicity for "Stronger". Since there were no lines yet, Tom and I decided to take a walk around Fenway until it was time for the signing. As we were walking, Tom told me that we know that person who was working with the publisher. We thought about it and were finally able to come up with who it was.

We returned and a small line had formed. Jeff took time with each person in line, chatting, signing and patiently taking photos with all who wanted their photos taken with him.

While we were waiting, the person working for the publisher looked at us and us him and we said, Jeremy Solomons, right? He told us this is his new gig now. He explained that the publisher invited Wellesley Books, where he is the store manager, to be the bookseller on record. He came around from behind the table and hugged us. He shared with the woman assisting him that our kids used to babysit for his kids. He pointed out his son Jared who we could barely recognize given the passage of time. We caught up with each other and then it was time to meet Jeff.

Jeff is gentle and humble. We told him how honored we were to meet him and then I felt moved to share my story with him. When I told him that I contracted paralytic polio as a child and 7 years ago went back into a leg brace using a wheelchair at times for mobility, being given the diagnosis of post polio syndrome, a progressive neuromuscular disease but went on to run the 2009 Boston Marathon as a mobility impaired runner, his eyes lit up. He kept looking at me from head to toe saying, "You look so good. You're doing so well." I could see the feeling of hope going through him. We talked about Spaulding and how I continue to go there twice a week for Aquatics Therapy classes. He told me he goes for outpatient therapy once or twice a week as well. We didn't talk about where we were last April 15. There was no need but we did mention that we volunteered for this year's marathon as packet stuffers and would be taking the field at Fenway. He was excited saying that he would be there as well.

Part of being Boston Stronger is allowing ourselves to be vulnerable with each other. We acknowledged how challenging it is to live with a condition that will require care and treatment our entire lives. While I am blessed to have my legs, and certainly cannot compare the challenge of amputation with my challenges, we do share the challenges of living with residuals from trauma, healing from surgeries, and living with a condition that requires daily care and vigilance. Yet we also share resilience, persistence, gratitude and feeling lucky despite all that happened.

With his eyes sparkling with youthful innocence and excitement, he shared with us that the Red Sox invited him to be a part of batting practice. He told us it was the first time he was able to throw a pitch standing up. "Every other time I threw the pitch from the wheelchair." Gomes hit a home run off of him but he didn't care. He was thrilled to be out of his wheelchair and able to stand on his own.

I'm almost finished reading Jeff's book. I am so impressed with his honesty. He allows himself to be raw and vulnerable. Yet he consistently talks about how lucky he is and how grateful he is to everyone who provided him with an outpouring of kindness and generosity during his recovery.

As he shares in "Stronger", after the Wounded Warriors visited him at Spaulding last year, he set a goal for himself: to be able to walk when it was time for the 2014 Marathon. Taking the field at Fenway, he met that goal and exemplified what it means to be Boston Stronger!

Friday, April 25, 2014

The People Who Are Boston Stronger

{This past week has been a whirlwind of activity and emotions. I have been blessed to meet people who are the embodiment of Boston Stronger. My blog features several of the people who have graced my life during this past week since the anniversary of 4/15/13.}

The first time I met Dave McGillivray was at the mobility impaired start of the 2009 Boston Marathon. He told us that he would be giving us an oral command - Runners take your mark, get set, go and he put his hand down much as they do to signal the start of a lap at a car race.

I was starstruck to be standing next to the race director for the Boston Marathon and having him give us the start of our 2009 Boston Marathon run. It didn't matter that there was an entire race to orchestrate and command. He was totally focused and present in that moment. We were all that mattered to him.

And that's who Dave McGillivray is.

I have seen him in passing in his role as race director and admire his ability to put on his game face and get the job done. The BAA 10K two months after the events of 4/15/13 was a daunting event to put on I'm sure yet he made sure that Boston moved forward as a running community.

Dave spoke at the L Street Marathon meeting. Here are photos that capture his essence:

He shared with us his health challenge of the last year when he was diagnosed with severe blockages in his heart. "I got myself into this mess," he told us were his thoughts after his cardiac catheterization, "and I'm gonna get myself out." He explained the difference between being fit and being healthy.

He shared with us the view of last year's events through his eyes but he wouldn't dwell there. He looked ahead to the weekend and Marathon Monday. "This is our race," he told our Club.

He stood on the side after his talk. I went over to him and quietly stood next to him for a few moments until there was a lull between speakers. I had a copy of his book "Last Pick" and asked him if he would sign it. I told him I ran the 2009 Boston Marathon as a mobility impaired runner. "You did?" he said. "Good for you." He signed my book, "Set goals, not limits."

The weekend before Marathon Monday he seemed to be omnipresent in downtown Boston. He got the over 10,000 runners off at the BAA 5K and then rushed to prepare the finish line for the winner of the 5K who came in before all the runners had crossed the starting line. He was on Boylston Street getting the Tribute Run set up and organizing the Invitational Mile moving barricades

and orchestrating the event with a sense of single minded purpose to ensure that survivors and their families could participate in the Tribute Run:

Yesterday on Facebook, Dave posted this on his page:
This photo is at the TD Beach to Beacon race with my 9-year old daughter Elle and 7-year old son Luke with running icons Ryan Hall, Meb, and Joanie. My kids were sitting in the bleachers last year and saw it “all”. They were “profoundly impacted” like so many others. This year they decided not to go to the race, sad….however, Lukie was telling me he still watched it on TV and was cheering Meb on to win and is now psyched to return to the race again next year. See Meb, you even inspired my son Luke to “come back” to the Boston Marathon. Your win my friend was “epic” but what you just did for my son is what I will cherish the most. And, for those still asking, yes, I did finish my 42nd Boston in about 4:12 at 11:09pm at night…boy was it dark out the entire run! Even though I was a little tired, it was a pretty easy run for me and my buddies Sean Ryan, Doug Kaplan, Josh Nemzer and new friend Brent. I did it for the MR8 Foundation (Martin Richard – the little boy who was killed last year) and helped our team raise over $45,000. So, from the 10:00am gun, my time was 11 hours and 8 minutes…ha! Hey, last year my time was 11 days, 2 hours and 30-minutes…so, at least you can say I am improving!

Wow…what a day all around. Very proud of each and every runner who had the guts to come back to Boston…the heck with me, I’m a slug, all you folks are my heroes…honestly! This is as much America’s Marathon as it is the Boston Marathon and there were 36,000 human interest stories out there on Monday (plus about another billion who supported the race this year!). And, lucky me, I’m about the ONLY person who saw every single moment of this event being all around the start, along the entire course on the lead motor scooter and at the finish. I’m still shaking my head in amazement wondering if this was all just a dream. OK, enough…the 2015 Boston Marathon is only 363 days away…got to get back to work! See you all again next year!

Here's to Dave McGillivray who set the stage for all of us to journey together as a running community this past year. This weekend and on Marathon Monday he led the charge to help the City of Boston to experience what it means to be Boston Stronger!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The People Who Are Boston Stronger

{This past week has been a whirlwind of activity and emotions. I have been blessed to meet people who are the embodiment of Boston Stronger. My blog yesterday, today and over the next several days features several of the people who have graced my life during this past week since the anniversary of 4/15/13.}

I spotted the man in the white cowboy hat almost at the same time he saw Tom and me on Boylston Street and Yawkey Way on Sunday 4/20. We were wearing our BAA volunteer jackets.

"I'm Carlos," he said. "Thank you."

I said, "I know who you are." I threw my arms around him. "Why are you thanking me?" I asked him. "Thank you!!!" I said.

He told me that he noticed our volunteer jackets and wanted to thank us for however we were helping with this year's marathon.

He said, "We are all in this together. We are all in this together."

I asked if I could get a photo with him. "Of course," he said without hesitation.

After 4/15/13, I remembered reading a story about the man in the cowboy hat who had set himself on fire after his son died in Iraq and was responsible for saving the life of Jeffrey Baumann. Having worked at the VA, I had a vague recollection of hearing his story but in the aftermath of 4/15/13, I wasn't able to really take in the news of what was happening. I was experiencing my own traumatic reaction to the events and having been so close to where the second bomb exploded. Yet I constantly gave thanks that we were not outside because we never got the text that our friend hit the 40K mark. We had planned to go downstairs on Boylston Street after we received the text from the suite at the Mandarin where we were celebrating Marathon Monday with Spaulding Rehab.

We told him that we had done the packet stuffing for this year's Boston Marathon and were going to be a part of the pre game ceremony at Fenway. We told him that we had just come from Jeff's book signing of Stronger at the Team Store on Yawkey Way. We shared with him how moved we were to meet him and talked for a few more minutes before saying goodbye. Carlos introduced us to his wife Mel and we said we'd see each other at the game.

As it turned out, Carlos and the survivors came onto the field from another entrance but we did see each other at the game and felt each other's energy; everybody's energy that in fact we are all in this together.

When I got home, I googled Carlos Arredondo. My breath caught to learn that his son suicided after his other son Alex had been killed by a sniper in Iraq. I know all too well the heartache of suicide having experienced the suicide of my dad when I was 17 and then my 27 year old nephew in 2011, the same year his son suicided. He continues to struggle with post trauma symptoms from being right there when the first bomb went off. Rather than run for his own safety, he rushed in to help and saved Jeff Baumann's life.

In Stronger, Jeff talks about when Carlos visited him in the hospital. "He smiled and came toward me, and I couldn't help myself, I reached out and hugged him. Carlos is a hugger. He's always smiling, always wanting to step close and talk. ... He gave me a hat and a handwritten sign: Together Strong."

Jeff goes on to say that Carlos was reluctant to talk about himself but once he did, Jeff was moved to tears by his story.

"He had been at the finish line of the Boston Marathon handing out American flags. He was there to support the "Tough Ruck" team, twenty National Guardsmen who had started marching the marathon route with rucksacks at 5:30am. They were raising money for the families of soldiers killed in action, or those who had committed suicide or died in PTSD-related accidents. One of the guardsmen was marching in honor of Alex."

Jeff goes on to describe their encounter where they both cried, ending with Carlos saying to Jeff, "Don't cry, he said, wiping away his tears. Something good happened."

Here is a man who has been to hell and back and then was there to witness the terror of 4/15/13. Yet he focuses on the good that can come out of tragedy.

“It’s been a year of grieving, and of moving on with life, healing through the support of others,” Arredondo told the Globe. “It’s been a year of overwhelming kindness. Oh my goodness, the overwhelming kindness.”

How amazing that we just happened to 'bump into' Carlos Arredondo. He is a Gold Star Father Hero raising money and awareness for veterans and their families. We each felt an instant attraction and connection to one another. We both allow ourselves to live with a raw heart overflowing with love, gratitude and goodwill. I was passionate about my work as a VA social worker seeing first hand the ravages of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. I knew that I had to leave and could not care for this new wave of veterans. I knew that I was burned out, without any idea of how to take care of myself at the time and I had to hand the torch to the younger generation of social workers to carry on the work. I knew it was time to leave to heal my life. Carlos and I each know the pain of losing loved ones to suicide yet when we met on the street near Fenway Park neither one of us knew this about each other. We were separated by a distance you can measure in feet on Boylston Street when the bombs exploded. It was only by the grace of God that we were protected from experiencing the full impact of the explosions and have only emotional wounds to heal. All we did know was that we were all in this together bound by having journeyed through this last year together and finding ourselves Boston Stronger.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The People Who Are Boston Stronger

{This past week has been a whirlwind of activity and emotions. I have been blessed to meet people who are the embodiment of Boston Stronger. My blog today and over the next several days features several of the people who have graced my life during this past week since the anniversary of 4/15/13.}

I first met Tom Licciardello when I was an inspirational speaker at the Merrimack Valley Striders Club after running the Boston Marathon 2009. I met Ric Beaudoin, a member of the Striders and L Street at the Hyannis Half in 2009. He heard my story and said I had to speak at his Club. To quote Jerry Maguire, Tom Licciardello "had me at hello." His smile and warmth embraced me. Our paths would cross around the running circuit as I would cheer on my Tom at different races. When I stopped running, and my Tom limited his races, I lost contact with my runner friends. After the events of 4/15/13 and my own return to the roads, I quickly reconnected with Tom and my friends in the Striders. I decided it was time to run a race I had heard about but never run on Thanksgiving Day. We hugged at the Feaster Five Expo as though no time had passed since the last time we saw each other. It was an emotional reunion in the wake of Marathon Monday.

I have never seen anyone with so much energy in my life. As we were moving through marathon training season and preparing for the 118th Boston Marathon, I saw a post about packet stuffing. I had heard about packet stuffing from members of my club L Street and the Striders. Tom told me he would love to have me on his team of volunteers and gave me the link to apply. I was thrilled when I got my assignment. Here is Tom at the beginning of our shift:

He had already completed 3 four hour shifts with one more to go after our shift.

Tom wrote a powerful and poignant article before Marathon Monday, Boston Marathon Buildup Intensifies as Race Draw Nears.

Tom was responsible for bag check at the BAA 5K on Saturday morning and had to arrive at 3:30am on Marathon Monday to be ready to receive the bags from over 30,000 runners on race day on the Boston Common. As he anticipated his role on race day, he did so with humor and grace. He has this way of making everything seem seamless and effortless.

We received an email from the director of volunteers at the BAA saying that they needed 50 volunteers to represent the BAA volunteers for a pre game ceremony at Fenway on Sunday 4/20. If interested, email Tom and the first 50 to respond would be selected. I just happened to see the email 3 minutes after it arrived and responded. Tom sent out the congratulatory email saying we made the cut.

April 20th is Tom's birthday. On 4/20/13, he took the field at Fenway representing the BAA volunteers in a somber tribute 5 days after the bombing. What an honor to experience this year's tribute which also signaled a moving forward with Tom on his birthday.

I wrote this poem for him:
Dear Tom,
A tough mudder, a husband, a wonderful friend
if anyone is in need on you they depend.
Packet stuffing no chore you fill the day with fun
I’m so blessed to know you – in my book you’re number one.
You embrace me as a Strider, you touch my heart more than you’ll know
thank you for your friendship to this world your smile brings a glow.
On this your very special day, we share the turf at Fenway Park
honoring what we’ve been through – your light snuffs out the dark.
You run the marathon of life with honesty, humor and grace
integrity and love and joy, you’ve easily won this race.
We’ve shared many special moments in Falmouth, Andover and more
may the year that unfolds ahead have so many blessings for you in store.
And when this day is over, wishes made and sun is set
here’s hoping that the miles ahead are your most wonderful miles yet.

Happy Birthday Tom!

He told me that he cried when he read it and gave me the most heartfelt thank you for writing this in his honor. Tom lives life with a heart full of gratitude and love, with a smile on his face and passion and dedication to his family, his work in financial planning, the Striders which he founded and serving the community of runners.

With Tom leading the charge, we took the field at Fenway Park and moved from looking back and remembering 4/15/13 to moving forward to the 118th Boston Marathon.

Tom said that he looks forward to a time when the word bombing no longer accompanies the words Boston Marathon. That day has arrived and because of the journey we traveled this past year we are Boston Stronger. I am so blessed to have traveled a part of this journey with Tom Licciardello.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Sore Throat - A Full Heart - A City That IS Boston Stronger

The 2014 Boston Marathon is in the books. The one year anniversary of the Boston Marathon Bombings is behind us. Today orange Marathon jackets, smiles and medals abound along with that tell tale post marathon walk. The City is calm and there is a sense of exhaustion, relief, joy and a quiet celebration that we made it through and will continue to make it through moving through healing.

The 5 year anniversary of our 2009 Boston Marathon run was on Sunday and what a celebration we had taking the field at Fenway. We were part of a corps of 50 volunteers representing the 10,000 BAA volunteers who are the epitome of #supportcrew for the Boston Marathon. There was a pre game ceremony to honor the Boston Marathon. There was commemoration and celebration; a look back and a look ahead to the running of the 118th Boston Marathon; moving forward as a community bound together by love on 4/15/13.

The group of runners representing the 36,000 runners, sporting Boston Strong t shirts ran out onto the field ahead of our group of volunteers. The front of the pack of volunteers took off running onto the field. I sprinted in a way I never had before being carried by the energy of the crowd and those surrounding me. Every other survivor or survivor's family had been honored at Fenway Park during the past year except the family of Lingzi Lu, the BU grad student who was killed on 4/15/13 - until Sunday night when they gathered around the mic to say with grace and encouragement to move forward to play our national past time and run the race that belongs to Boston, "Play ball!". I still get goosebumps remembering that moment. Here is a link to the video on MLB.

As we watched the coverage of Marathon Monday on WBZ, as we had last year before heading into the Mandarin, I could feel the shift that began at Fenway Sunday night. Our City was ready to race again!

Team McManus (my husband, my daughter and myself) packed up the car with chairs and provisions for the day and headed to the spot we chose for this year's marathon at the corner of Beacon Street and Dean Road just shy of the 23 mile marker in Washington Square Brookline.

The energy in the crowd was unique to this year's marathon. There was a sense of community and excitement. We screamed when Ernst Van Dyk raced by us far ahead of the 2nd place wheelchair. We were all hoping that this would be the year he captured his ever elusive 10th Boston Marathon win. We watched the news stream on Tom's iPhone and screamed when we found out he won.

The crowd went wild as Grand Marshall Bill Rodgers came down Beacon Street.

And then the story of amazing Meb.....

We saw the entourage that precedes the men's leader and everyone was excited to see who it would be. We anticipated it would be a Kenyan or an Ethopian perhaps possibly Ryan Hall.... We hadn't heard anything in the media about Meb being a possible contender to be the next American to win Boston. As he ran by, Tom spotted the name on his bib and we all screamed!

We followed the race to the finish on Tom's iPhone and we all cried that he had won.

Tom was so moved by his victory that he wanted to share the joy with the runners coming down Beacon Street. He took one of our posters that said GO with a space to write a runner's name on it and wrote MEB WON!

Runners were incredulous asking, "Did he really?" and then fist pumped, smiled, screamed and got their second wind to go the final 3+ miles to the finish line. People around us were asking what Tom had written on the sign to get people all revved up like that and we told them. Several people came over and hugged Tom. When his arms tired, Ruth Anne held it up. She got hugs and fist pumps and smiles.

We were amazed at how many of our runner friends we were able to spot. We screamed at them to get their attention. If there was a runner struggling, we screamed to cheer them along. There was so much inspiration as mobility and visually impaired runners ran by; hand cyclists including Patrick Downes and Jessica Kensky who each lost a leg last year and then of course the crowd favorite Team Hoyt. Team Collier Strong, Team MIT Strong, Team MR8 Peace and running for Krystle, Lingzi, Martin, and Sean running shirts brought screams from us and the crowd.

We stayed until 5:00pm when we were fairly confident that everyone we had come to see would be making their way toward the finish line.

This morning, my alarm was set for 6:15am to head to Spaulding Rehab for Aquatics Therapy class. A new day begins. A new chapter begins and I move forward with a sore throat, a full heart in a city that IS Boston Stronger.

They say that the person who starts a marathon is not the same person who finishes a marathon. Here's a poem I wrote shortly after making the commitment to run the 2009 Boston Marathon in honor of National Poetry Month and all who were a part of yesterday's historical Boston Marathon:

Marathon Metamorphosis - May 7, 2008 from A Celebration of Life
Pounding pavement, feeling strength the journey now begun
training for the race of my life a 26.2 mile run.
Feeling God in every step in every beat of my heart
I undertake this challenge as a new chapter of my life I start.
I ran around in circles carrying baggage by the ton,
destination was survival hardened shell let in no one.
Fear and worry doubts prevailed, adrenaline in my veins
a headless horseman running wild no one to take the reins.
Stopping in my tracks I froze no longer could I move -
clawing, fighting had to cease there was nothing more to prove.
God's grace touched like a magic wand, a softness and a glow
emerging from a troubled past my blood began to flow.
Loving teachers lit the way their love a healing balm -
focusing on who I am now brings a sense of calm.
Stretching every muscle feeling God in every cell
wholeness now a blessing out of prison - no more hell.
The race is still a year away each day my dream I see
mind, body, spirit tuning turning toward the Voice of Thee.
Flexing what had once been stiff to brace against the pain
old habits die and I'm reborn to write a new refrain.
And when the starting gun goes off poised with strength grace
the thunder of the running feet will help me set my pace.
But the starting line's the finish my race already won
achieving the impossible preparing for this run.
The healing power of self love and faith to spark the flame
transformed me from a victim once filled with so much shame.
Unearth my buried treasures my inheritance I find
connected to my Loving God in my heart and mind.
And when I cross the finish line the greatest cheer of all
has been this magnificent journey of answering God's call.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Five Years Ago Today!

Today's blog is dedicated to all the survivors of 4/15/13 and to all who are running tomorrow. Where we are in one moment in time cannot possibly predict what the future holds for us --

Runners take your mark. Get set. Go! With those words Dave McGillivray sent the mobility impaired runners of the 113th Boston Marathon on April 20, 2009 to begin the 26.2 mile journey from Hopkinton to Boston. We banked $10,535 for Spaulding Rehab Hospital where, in December 2006, I had been diagnosed with post polio syndrome, a progressive neuromuscular condition. I faced a grim future knowing all too well stories of other polio survivors who were experiencing a decline in functioning.

In February of 2007, I got still and asked for Divine Guidance. The answer came in the form of a poem: (from my memoir, "Coming Home: A Memoir of Healing, Hope and Possibility")

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 was curious about why, as I sat in a leg brace, using a cane and at times a wheelchair for mobility (and having been told that I faced a future in a wheelchair) I was writing about running a race. I began to harness the power of visualization. My pen became my divining rod for healing.

After 6 months of outpatient rehab at Spaulding, I quit my job at the height of my career as a VA social worker. I dedicated my life to healing having no idea what the outcome of that healing would be. I knew that I had to stop loathing myself which was a result of contracting paralytic polio at age 5 and 9 years of unrelenting physical, sexual and emotional abuse at the hands of family members. I knew that I had to stop punishing myself for my father's suicide when I was 17 years old. Even if I were to spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair, I had to figure a way to create a meaningful, quality of life before I died.

I hired a personal trainer. I began to get stronger. After 6 months of working with my personal trainer, she asked me about my next goals...(from my memoir)

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?

Off to Marathon Sports where I would be fitted for my first ever pair of running shoes. The first time I ran, my heart rate went over 170. 30 seconds of a run/4.5 minutes of walking became 30 minutes of continuous running. Two miles of running became 5 miles, my first 10K, my first half, 17 miles, 21 miles and then on 4/20/2009, I crossed the finish line of the 2009 Boston Marathon!

And whether you as a runner face tough moments along the course tomorrow or as we face tough moments and in life, where we are in one moment in time cannot possibly predict what the future holds for us. But together we can always go the distance!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

One Year Later - Boston Stronger - A City of Brilliance and Resilience

It is hard to find the words to express what I felt about being in Boston today. I thought about just posting photos from the BAA 5K, the One Mile Tribute Walk/Run and the Expo but I do need to try to put into words what today meant to me, and all of us whose lives were forever changed on 4/15/13, Bostonians and those who have come from all over the world for Boston Marathon weekend.

As we were walking toward the start, we bumped into John Young ...out of thousands of people, we found each other. We met at the Hoyts 5K several years ago and stay in touch in social media:

We shared a few moments of pure love and joy.

This time one year ago, we were a city in shock. Three died in the bombings and a fourth died a year ago yesterday in the line of duty as an MIT Police Officer. There were 280 people with physical injuries; over 30 people requiring amputation. We lived through the bombings and lock down and wondered how do we come back from these events. President Obama spoke words that made me cry but I wasn't sure if I actually believed him...

On 5/25th, we did the #onerun. From my memoir, "Coming Home: A Memoir of Healing, Hope and Possibility":

After dinner, Tom and I were scrolling through Facebook.

“Oh look they are doing a #onerun tomorrow,” Tom said.

“I am terrified to be a part of that,” I answered.

“Then we have to register,” Tom said.

It waa a cold, rainy day but the love and solidarity of the community and the shared experience of pain brought us a sense of warmth knowing that we were taking steps toward healing.

When it came time for the BAA 10K that my daughter and husband were running in, I was not going to go. I was terrified to be at the start/finish line but when I woke up at 6:30am, I knew that I was not going to allow fear to rule my life.

I noticed how much calmer I felt at today's BAA 5K. There was a collective energy of healing. There were no strangers as everyone struck up conversations with everybody else at the finish line, while waiting for the ladies room and standing side by side watching the Tribute Mile.

There was a sense of physical and emotional wounds healing and a celebration that this weekend has finally arrived.

As we arrived for the Tribute Run/Walk, everything that seemed surreal suddenly felt so real. Participants sporting shirts that said FBI, Boston Police Fugitive Unit, Homeland Security and ATF brought to light for me how everyone quickly came together to track down and capture those who wreaked havoc and terror on our city. Seeing survivors I had seen in the news before me, helped me to realize the resiliency of the human Spirit to move through life altering events. I marveled at the technology and dedication of our medical community as John Odom, Adriane Haslet-Davis, Heather Abbott, Roseann Sdoia walked or ran down Boylston Street to the finish line.

There was security everywhere. Police Commissioner Evans and the Boston Police Department were out in full force. There were bomb sniffing dogs and Tom noticed heavy security out on the course.

We went to the Expo and had lunch at the Forum where many survivors and supporters of survivors gathered.

Kindness, compassion, softness and strength; tears, laughter and a sense of moving forward filled the air. We met up with several people we knew and everyone acknowledged the raw emotions colliding with excitement and relief for Monday's race. The superstition of not wearing the marathon jacket or shirt was discarded as runners wore their shirts, their jackets and their runner passports around their necks.

All the work of those running on Monday is done. Our work as support crew is done. Tomorrow we take the field at Fenway Park representing the BAA volunteers in a Marathon pre game ceremony.

For today, the sun was shining and the sky was a beautiful blue blessing our beautiful city of brilliance and resilience.

Here are those photos from the day:

And a few more:
Our T selfie on the way into Boston:

Tom's view of the race:

We OWN this finish line!

Here is a link to WBZ's coverage of today's Tribute Mile.