Saturday, May 31, 2014

A Rainbow and a Green Light

I have always been a believer in signs. I remember one time I heard someone talking on the radio and realized that I had made a mistake on a Eulogy Poem that I was getting ready to deliver the next day. When we trained for the Boston Marathon, we were sent all kinds of signs; my favorite was a penny at mile 13 that Bernie Siegel told us to look for. He said that it would be a reminder that he and God were watching over us that day. The Universe is always nudging us along with signs to support and uplift us, redirect us or let us know we are on the right path or sending us a message of love and support just when we seem to need it the most. And yesterday, Tom sent me this photo on his way home from work yesterday. He got off the train at Cleveland Circle and there it was:

a rainbow and a green light

A great time to pause and reflect on the Rainbow Connection - the lovers, the dreamers and me....

I am reminded to feel the expansiveness of love, light, possibility and creativity. We all have he green light from the Universe to move confidently in the direction of our dreams.

And all we have to do is look up and look within to find our treasure that we are meant to share with the world!

You can read more about the signs I found on my road to the Boston Marathon along with other Divine interventions in my life in my memoir, Coming Home: A Memoir of Healing, Hope and Possibility now available on Amazon.

Friday, May 30, 2014

#flashbackfriday A Conversation With My 5 Year Old Self

Today's blog is inspired by a Friday morning Facebook exchange with the "Bad Ass Bitches" of the Merrimack Valley Striders Club and yesterday's session at Sollievo Massage and Bodywork.

Dear Mary,

Let me begin by saying you made it! You made it through this mess. You are healing in ways that defy what the medical community said would happen to your body after being diagnosed with post polio syndrome. But the physical manifestation is not as important as the healing of your heart and soul although they of course cannot be separated out from one another.

I now know the terror you felt lying paralyzed with no one to care for you. At times your body still quakes in the wake of those moments when your mother smoked a cigarette and glared at you strung out on prescription pain medication. How blessed to have a mind/body therapist who could allow you to process this experience in a safe space and even help us experience moments without any tremors at all!

You were blessed by the earth angel Miss Holly, a physical therapist who introduced you to the healing cadence of Dr. Seuss and planted the seeds for poetry to blossom in your soul to help you heal and bring love, light and inspiration to others through your gift of poetry.

Experiencing "touch that feels good is a move toward health," as Zero Balancing posted on Twitter. For you to experience touch that feels good with clear boundaries focused solely on helping you to heal was a reminder of those moments of being left alone with no one to care for you. And so you spoke your truth yesterday through my body. I weep for you and what you had to go through but I also celebrate you.

I celebrate your strength and your determination to not let those looks kill you. I celebrate your courage to return to school and hone your intellectual skills since athletics did not seem to be an option for you at the time. How amazing that you went to gym class and withstood the tauntings of "easy out Alper". How miraculous that one day, when the outfield moved in because they knew you couldn't kick a ball worth a damn, you connected with that ball and it ended up being a home run because there was no one in the outfield to play it. I am so happy that you chose life even though you faced death many times over in the years that followed.

Although growing up was not easy by any means, just look at the life you have had. You spent 25 years in service as a social worker, 19 of those at the Department of Veterans Affairs serving those who served.

When it came time to leave because it was a life or death decision, your husband told you it was a no brainer and has supported you through every one of your at times crazy ideas including running the 2009 Boston Marathon. He was with you as you struggled to find your way to healing modalities that would truly help you to heal and you are here now.

And take a look around my dear sweet child! Look at the people who are now in your life. It took a lot of strength and courage to realize there were people who were, to quote Tom, hijacking your energy and your good will and to cut ties with them.

You are surrounded by this community of runners filled with grace, gratitude, unconditional love and support and a runner's code of honor that leaves no runner behind! When once you lugged your leg brace desperately trying to catch up and fit in, you now are embraced and surrounded by those who believe "no distance too short, no pace too slow." (Motto of L Street Running Club) Invitations abound for you to run in those races that make sense for you for now, be a spectator or volunteer.

As one of the Striders posted on Facebook this morning
We love you too! This is why we run - not (usually) for time but because we want to share our love of each other and do something good for ourselves too! Exercise doesn't have to be hard core or WORK when you're sharing it with your girls!

We are writing beautiful new chapters in this marathon of our life, getting through the challenging moments, celebrating the triumphs knowing that through it all, we were never alone!

My memoir, "Coming Home:A Memoir of Healing, Hope and Possibility" is now available on Amazon.

"Wait, I have one more goal," Mary McManus told her personal trainer in February of 2008 shortly after coming out of her toe up leg brace. "I want to run the Boston Marathon for Spaulding Rehab Hospital." Mary traded in her polio shoes for running shoes and embarked on the journey of a lifetime. Mary McManus was at the height of her career as a VA social worker when she was told by her team at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital’s International Rehab Center for Polio in December of 2006 that she needed to quit her job if she had any hope of preventing the progression of post polio syndrome, a progressive neuromuscular disease. In “Coming Home: A Memoir of Healing, Hope and Possibility” Mary takes you on her seven year healing odyssey as a survivor of paralytic polio and trauma from her diagnosis, to taking a leap of faith to leave her award winning career at the VA to heal her life and follow her passion as a poet and writer. You’ll experience her trials, tribulations and triumphs as she trains for and crosses the finish line of the 2009 Boston Marathon and discovers the opportunity for healing in the wake of new trauma: the suicide of her nephew in 2011, and the aftermath of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings. This is Mary's journey of coming home to her human form free from the influences of the ghastly ghostly invaders who had invaded her sacred earthly home. Her memoir includes journals and blog posts from her seven year healing odyssey. This is her journey of transformation and her message of healing, hope and possibility.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

#tbt The Corrib Pub Run

June 1, 2008 The Corrib Pub Run

1691 51:52 16:44 84 50-59 853 M 281 Tom McManus Sr Chestnut Hill,MA
1692 51:52 16:44 41 50-59 824 F 282 Mary McManus Chestnut Hill,MA

As we ran through the streets of West Roxbury, my wonderful life and running partner Tom shouted - first road race ever. She's a polio survivor! People cheered and I ran through the hoses that people sprayed the runners with, with a sense of play and freedom although each step was a challenge for me especially with the last long hill. I hadn't run for 40 continuous minutes yet in my training program. I had only been running outside since late April. But it didn't matter. I was on the road to the Boston Marathon and this was my first time being cheered rather than jeered as I ran.

June 7, 2009 -- coming off a year of intense training and before I hit the wall in the fall of 2009 after running Boston
1941 45:38 14:43 47 50-59 929 F 777 Mary McManus Chestnut Hill,MA
1943 45:47 14:46 106 50-59 997 M 778 Tom McManus Chestnut Hill,MA

We didn't run the 2010 Corrib Pub Run because Tom was driving our daughter to Middle Tennessee State University.

June 5, 2011 what a surprise to see Mac, the President of L Street Running Club at the two mile marker as I share in this race report "Hey Hey Look Who's Running"

1818 46:12 14:54 50 50-59 907 F 566 Mary McManus Chestnut Hill,MA
1819 46:14 14:55 93 50-59 902 M 567 Tom McManus Chestnut Hill,MA

Sunday June 1, 2014

It's been three years since I ran the Corrib Pub 5K. I wasn't sure if I'd ever run it again based on the way I had been feeling since my nephew's suicide in March of 2011.

But here I am poised and ready for when the gun goes off for the running of the 21st Annual Corrib Pub 5K writing a new chapter for my race and in my life. This will be my first race in my new age group.

I have no idea what my time will be. I do know that given my journey and struggles of the past 3 years, it will be a personal best. I set my intention to run with ease, with grace and with joy. My friends the Feeney Sisters are running the race as well.

I've been training well, mind, body and Spirit.

It's fun to take a look back and throw it back to 2008, but I am so delighted to be here now ready to run on Sunday.

Be. Here. Now.

Be here now and celebrate
no longer the victim
a survivor and thriver
filled with beauty
a life once torn and shattered
now a beautiful tapestry
woven together
no more rough edges
open heart
a voice that sings with strains of poetry
life no longer a strain or struggle
a new refrain
as energy flows
the river of life marks a new path
yet all is fleeting
not meant to be captured
but experienced
shared in awe
wonder and mystery
comfort in this gift of presence
trusting all is well.

My memoir, "Coming Home: A Memoir of Healing, Hope and Possibility" is now available on Amazon.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Grace in the Running Community

After contracting paralytic polio at the age of 5, I was in a full leg brace. Definitely one of the lucky ones to not be in an iron lung and to be able to walk again, I struggled to physically keep up with my brother and my friends. Kids being kids, they'd take off and leave me in the dust while I lugged my leg brace along as best I could. This was the fuel for my Type A, overachieving, relying solely on my intellect personality until I hit the wall in my life in the summer of 2006.

Back into a leg brace, using a wheelchair at times for mobility and facing a grim future, the first poem I wrote, Running the Race, in the dark night of my soul in February 2007 used the metaphor of running. I had never run a day in my life and never owned a pair of running shoes. Something in my soul drew me to running. What a treasure I found in the running community.

My first 5 mile race, the Marathon Sports 5 Miler in July, 2008, was when I discovered what the running community is all about. While I struggled with all of my internal demons and negative self talk, the Marathon Sports Family was preparing to welcome me as I crossed the finish line - last!

We celebrated on Facebook with Thor (an appropriate name for him) after he ran his 100th marathon at this year's Boston Marathon. He went on to be the sighted guide for Randy Pierce as Randy, a totally blind runner and founder of 2020 Vision Quest, qualified for Boston.

My friend Melissa Gleaton inspires me. She is new to running and has this fierce determination about setting and achieving goals for herself.

She posted these words of wisdom on Facebook: "During my 5k on Saturday I felt like I was struggling and thought "there is no way I can do 10k in July." Then, during my 5-miler on Sunday I felt great, that I could even go one more mile. What a difference a day makes." She did the Memorial Day Weekend Challenge racing a 5K and then a 5 Mile Race the following day. With grace, she posted the photo of her last place in the 5K and the next day, posted the photo of her medal from completing the challenge:

John Young is the embodiment of grace as evidenced when he had to withdraw from the Boston Marathon this year due to illness. He went on to finish the race.

As a volunteer at Boston's Run to Remember, I was inspired to see Justin O'Connell who lives with rods in his back after surgery for scoliosis, come down Arlington Street in the "back of the pack." He had run this year's Boston Marathon and last Thursday won first place in the Challenged Athletes group at the Team Hoyt 5K. He was going to drop out of the Run to Remember at mile 8 but the fans and one very special runner who runs with Back on My Feet Boston, Jess Lanzoni, supported and encouraged him so he was able to cross the finish line.

I am inspired and in awe of my friend Gail Martin who has set out to run a marathon in every state and runs ultras. This past weeekend she posted she had a -27 minute PR on her ultra. Yet a few weeks ago, she had one of her slowest marathon times and is able to take it all in stride. She encouraged me to come out for the Fr. Bullock Charity Race on June 8th. She posted on Facebook, please just come and enjoy yourself. There will be walkers and runners of all paces.

I am running for me now and feeling the joy and the gift of being able to run. I realize that the feeling of being "too slow" have actually kept me from being a part of recent races that I easily could have been a part of like the BAA 5K and the Run to Remember. I plan to run them next year. But if there are races with a fast field, I am delighted to volunteer or be a spectator for Tom.

With my return to the running community this past year after a two year hiatus, and having the view as a volunteer, a spectator, a mid and back packer, I can feel myself shaking loose those demons that were deeply embedded in my body, mind and soul as a result of paralytic polio and trauma. I am finding grace and equanimity in myself through being blessed to witness the grace and beauty of those around me. I feel the grace that is the thread that weaves together our very fabric as a community of runners. It does a mind, body and soul good!

"What distinguishes those of us at the starting line from those of us on the couch is that we learn through running to take what the days gives us, what our body will allow us, and what our will can tolerate."
~John "The Penguin" Bingham

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Running Is My Medicine - Stillness Is My Healing

I woke up yesterday morning and every bone in my body seemed to ache. My knees were cranky and creaky. There were several factors contributing to this pain and so I got still. I meditated. I sifted and sorted through feelings and images that needed my attention. I set an intention for feeling lightness and ease in my body and I breathed. I saw myself as healthy, whole and pain free. As I came out of my meditation, I moved slowly, stretching and began my day.

It is counter intuitive to want to go out on a run when you feel pain. I had 3 miles on my calendar so 3 miles it would be. I had my usual breakfast of oatmeal, banana, quinoa toast and OJ. It was raw but I refused to wear my running tights so donned my capris and put on layers. We (Tom, my partner in running and life and my coach) opted to go to Jamaica Pond.

I read Bill Rodgers Marathon Man after seeing him at the Hyannis Race Expo last year:

I shared my journey on the road to the Boston Marathon with him. In my book he wrote, "We are lifetime runners. Let's run forever."

Running came naturally to Bill. He had to work at the discipline of running in order to become the champion he is. Running does not come easily to me but my strong suit is discipline.

When I run around Jamaica Pond, I can feel his presence and hold the image of him chasing butterflies when he was a boy. Jamaica Pond was his go to place for training.

There were two women who were walking at a pretty good pace in front of us. I looked at Tom and asked him if he thought we could take them. We did and then he reminded me I needed to get back into a rhythm of my pace.

After our first lap, he had me stop and take a water break and catch my breath.

We resumed and soon the two women who we had passed were now way in front of us because we had taken a water break.

Could we take them again?

I increased my pace. I sprinted a little and wanted to take off but my right knee said that was a bad idea.

"Okay, I'll do it this way," I told Tom and did a fast break with race walking.

We passed them.

They passed us when we took another water break and got a huge lead on us.

I was going to let them go but I could see we were within reach again.

I poured on the speed and one last time, we passed them.

I had my fastest run since 5/9 when my pace for a 3.22 mile run was a 17'51"/mi pace. It was the first time since I began my running career 6 years ago, that I felt the thrill of racing. It was an imaginary opponent, and two very worthy opponents whom we thanked after we finished our run but I imagine that's how the champions feel when they are able to overtake their opponent and win the race. Yesterday it all came together for me and I finished with a 15'33"/mi pace; two minutes/mile off of my pace since I've returned to the roads in earnest. We never know what may happen from one run to another as I learned from reading Bill's book but it is an exhilarating feeling when it does all come together.

I felt that I was channeling Bill Rodgers on that run as I am training now in earnest for the Tufts 10K.

In 2011, after my nephew's suicide, I got away from running and the running community or should I say I let running get away from me.

I saw this from my friend Reno Stirrat on Facebook this morning and it captures how I feel about being a runner:

And I love this quote from John "The Penguin" Bingham about being a runner:
"I learned that the only requirement to be part of this wonderful group was to run. I didn't have to be fast. I didn't have to be great. I just had to run. And that's when running became not just something that I do but something that is a part of who I am." - John Bingham

Yesterday I went out really fast (for me). Tom was concerned that I went out too fast. I told him I wouldn't do this if it didn't feel right in my body. Somebody from 'another lifetime' posted something on Facebook that got me really fired up. Before we went out on the run, I blocked the person and cleaned out a few more Facebook contacts. I realized as I ran that I was leaving that part of me even farther behind me, embracing the person I am today.

As I used a combination of sprinting and race walking, I could feel the pain in my joints and in my bones dissolve.

Running is more than a workout for me. It's medicine for me; mind, body and Spirit. And then when I return to the stillness, I discover that I have taken yet another step on my healing journey.

Monday, May 26, 2014

A Run to Remember and a Day We Remember - Making a Difference in Each Other's Lives

My breath caught when I walked into the Boston's Run to Remember Race Expo and saw this:

The 2014 Boston Marathon has come and gone as has the anniversary of 4/15/13 but we are still healing as individuals and as a community. It's important to honor that we can still be taken by surprise by emotions or dreams that come up as we continue to heal.

There was also a memorial wall giving honor and tribute to those Massachusetts law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. Taking time to remember and honor memories helps us to heal and move forward in our lives.

I was delighted to be part of support crew for the Run to Remember as part of L Street Running Club. I wish there could have been time lapse photography for the set up and break down of the water stop. It was a dance choreographed by those who had done the water stop in years past.

The truck is unloaded. The tables are set up. Gatorade is prepared:

Cups are set out on the table:

and someone comes behind to fill them with water.

With cardboard in between the layers, we start the process all over again until they are stacked and ready for the runners to come through:

There is a sense of joy and playfulness until there is the crush of runners coming through. We work together as some pass the cups and others (like myself) work to move cups for easy access for the volunteers to hand out the water and to make sure we have an ample supply of filled cups.

In between the 5 milers and the half marathoners, we had a break after there was a flurry of feverish activity to rake up cups and trash and get the empty gallons of water sorted into boxes, put back on the truck for recycling. Mac, our former Club President decided it was a great time for a group photo op. The lead runner of the half marathon preceded by the police escort was coming through at that moment. He had a significant lead so we quickly gathered and right after the photo was taken, the second place runner came through:

As the crowd of runners was waning, I saw Justin O'Connell coming down Arlington Street. Tom, Ruth Anne and I screamed to cheer him along. It was obvious he was hurting. He was with Jess Lanzoni who runs with Back On My Feet Boston and who I had the pleasure of meeting Friday evening at my Book Release Party. She was encouraging and supporting him saying, "Okay let's run again," and they'd run a short distance together. That evening on Facebook Justin mentioned that he was ready to quit at mile 8 but Jess helped to get him to the finish. The running community has always had a runner's code of supporting each other. Since 4/15/13, there is a palpable and powerful feeling of #weruntogether #werunasone. Justin lives with metal rods in his back from surgery to correct scoliosis. He finished this year's Boston Marathon and his motto is that he runs for those who can't. While Jess provided him with the encouragement and support to get him to the finish, I could see Justin digging deep to get himself to the finish.

It was a moment I will remember for a long time to come; a testament of leaving no one behind and the code of honor that is also an integral part of the code of honor among our nation's soldiers.

Today is a day we remember those who serve and those who served.

It is easy to forget about those who face life long challenges after the memory of war or most recently 4/15/13 fades into the background of history. I was blessed to serve those who served as a social worker at the VA for 19 years. I know the challenges they face every day yet I also know there are wonderful people out there to lend a hand, a heart, time, talent and money to help those who need healing of mind, body and Spirit.

Just like Jess' gesture yesterday to help Justin to the finish line or a team of crazy L Streeter's orchestrating a water stop to support those running in the Run to Remember, it doesn't take much to make a difference in the lives of others.

There are many opportunities to show your support and honor those who serve and served every day. Take time to remember ... and find a way to make a difference.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Everything I Imagined - And More

"Imagination is everything. It's the preview of life's coming attractions." - Albert Einstein

I set an intention for my Book Release Party; ease, grace and gratitude and that everyone who attended the event would leave feeling inspired not only by me but by each other's stories.

Friday night's book release party for Coming Home: A Memoir of Healing, Hope and Possibility was everything I imagined and more.

Ellen Gabriel, the manager of the Brookline Marathon Sports store had refreshments at the ready. She told me not to worry about doing a thing except setting up what I needed to set up.

Boston Marathon memorabilia. Spaulding Rehabilitation Network singlet I wore on 4/20/2009. My bib signed by Frank Shorter and Bill Rodgers. The newspaper from the 2009 Hyannis Marathon/Half Marathon the first Half Marathon I ran with a brief interview with a reporter. My finisher's medal, finisher's photo, the Spaulding Race for Rehab souvenir book and a letter from Johnny Kelley the elder's nephew when they sent a signed photo of Johnny to us.

I was reunited with my coach Domenick D'Amico and Amy Yok-Ming Wong who I met several years ago during one of Domenick's return to Boston trips. She runs for the Parkinsons Foundation in honor of her mom who died from Parkinson's Disease.

Guests arrived. We socialized and schmoozed. There were introductions and hugs all around. The energy in the room was electric. I met Randy Pierce who recently qualified for Boston who I wrote about in my blog. I introduced him to my Coach and they were talking about the Boston Marathon course.

The love that I felt in cyberspace for friends such as Maureen Lamie, who works as a hair stylist, was even more powerful in person.

Karen DiMare and I met through a Gratitude Challenge on Facebook. She shared with me the frightening health challenge of her husband Chris and we developed an on line friendship. I encouraged her and Chris to advocate for themselves and supported their positive attitude as they went through the uncertainty of his diagnosis. I know that my journey helped to give them strength and hope.

They surprised me with the gift of their presence. Chris had a tumor on his spinal cord. He had to learn how to walk all over again. Karen is the owner of DiMare Holistic Skin Care and I could feel how she blesses her clients with her loving and caring touch.

I met Vicki Vogt by phone when I worked at the VA. She was a loving liaison at the Perkins Talking Book Library. When I met her in person several years ago to record my poetry books for Perkins, she shared with me that she is a polio survivor. We have stayed in touch via email and Facebook. She looked amazing when I saw her. At my suggestion, she went to Spaulding Rehab's International Rehab Center for Polio and said she feels better. I had mentioned that I now go to Spaulding Rehab's Aquatics Therapy program during my presentation. During the book signing, she asked me for more details and plans to follow up with our mutual doctor at Spaulding to see about getting a prescription to go there.

I was humbled and amazed when a group of people from L Street Running Club arrived, including the President Theresa and her husband Steve. There were people who aren't on Facebook and who I did not have email addresses for, but who I had seen as part of #supportcrew on long runs or from meetings. They heard about it through word of mouth and showed up to support me. They hadn't RSVP'ed that they were coming.

And my friends Maura and Meghan with whom we shared water stop duty last winter for L Street arrived with Dennis for whom they were doing the water stop because he was training for Boston.

It was time to begin.... I opened with this selection from the Introduction of my memoir

"I left home at the age of 5 – my earthly home that is. I contracted childhood paralytic polio. Polio was the AIDS of its day. If you contracted polio, you were shunned. There was a fear of contagion. Fear breeds ignorance that is far more devastating that any disease. Three years later my father fell into alcoholism and I was raped and beaten, threatened with death and tortured by my father for 9 years until he ended his life. My maternal grandmother physically, sexually and emotionally abused me with cruel rituals that tortured my body and my mind. My mother was addicted to prescription pain medication. My older brother was numb and trying to survive the chaotic household as best he could. He chose to align himself with the aggressors. I learned early on how to dissociate and to harness the power of my intellect to survive but I paid a steep price for leaving home and disowning my body. I bided my time until it was time to heal."

The room was silent yet the compassion and support for my journey was palpable. (Photo credit: Maura Walsh)

I shared an overview of my journey and read selections that talked about my Boston Marathon journey that all began at the Brookline Marathon Sports store where I was fitted for my first pair of running shoes at the age of 53.

Emotions welled up within me as I recalled the role that Domenick played throughout our training and how the Marathon Sports employees became family to Team McManus.

It was time to sign the books and greet my friends one by one.

Maura Walsh with whom I shared the water stop is a professional photographer. She also captured these special moments for me:

My dear friend John Young came out to support me. He said what a difference we had made when he was finishing his race as I write about in my blog post Today He Was The Hammer. He ran his fastest time for 16 miles in part because he knew we were waiting for him at the base of Heartbreak Hill.

Here's a photo of Amy, John and me. John and Amy connected because they are both running the NYC Marathon. John is going to use NYC for his Boston Qualifier race. Amy had read about John in my blog and are now friends.

After running the Cambridge 5 Miler/3 Mile City Walk, I connected with Jess Lanzoni who runs with Back On My Feet Boston. It was wonderful to meet her in person as we had run part of the way with women from Back On My Feet seeing how they encourage one another to just run to the next pole or stop sign or whatever. Jess is as warm, loving and genuine in person as she is in cyberspace. She told me in a facebook comment after the party that she would also like to buy additional copies of my memoir and asked if I would be donating a portion of the on line sales to The One Fund. I decided that I would donate 50% of the royalty payments which is $2/book to The One Fund to support the ongoing care that those affected by 4/15/13 are going to need.

Al Pappalardo has been a longtime friend. We met through the Merrimack Valley Striders Club. Last November we were reunited at the Feaster Five Expo. I had lost contact with Al and my friends in the running community after my nephew's suicide in 2011 when I stopped running and isolated myself from the running community. Here we are at the Expo:

He greeted me with, "Boy Mary, I had no idea the extent of your history." Al does charity work to prevent Child Abuse. I had sent him all the gift cards I had around the house for his raffle. I told him, "That's why I sent you all those gift cards for your event." I could feel the compassion flow from his heart.

People gave me checks and $20 bills saying keep the change for The One Fund.

We raised $122 for The One Fund from proceeds of book sales and the generosity of my friends.

At the end of the evening, Ellen took this photo of Tom and me:

He told me it was a no brainer when my team at Spaulding told me I had to quit my job if I had any hope of preventing the progression of post polio syndrome.

Seven years ago today I closed the door on one chapter of my life. Thirty of my friends came out to support me as I shared my healing odyssey and to celebrate the release of my memoir. My friends who could not be there in person sent me messages and told me they would be with me in Spirit. Were they ever!

The common thread among my friends and my life today is that we all believe in giving back. We take our challenges and create the best life we possibly can with them. While my friends applauded me at the end of my book reading, I applaud them for all that they are doing to make this world a better, more beautiful place in one way or another.

I am blessed and my heart overflows with gratitude especially to Ellen and to Marathon Sports.

In my mind's eye I visualized myself running, feeling free, whole and healthy as my pen became my Divining rod for healing as I wrote poetry after being diagnosed with post polio syndrome. It's been an incredible journey filled with ups, downs and everything in between but I am here now ready to write the next chapters of my journey.

My book release party and my life today is everything I imagined - and more.

You can order Coming Home: A Memoir of Healing, Hope and Possibility, along with my books of inspirational poetry on Amazon.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Coming Home

This post is lovingly dedicated to our veterans in honor of Memorial Day weekend.

I said that the day I could no longer give 100% to my veterans and their families, was the day that I would leave the VA regardless of whether or not I was eligible for retirement. That day came for me on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, 5/25/2007 just 3 years shy of when I was eligible to retire with full benefits.

For 19 years, I dedicated myself to serve those who served. I was passionate about ensuring they received the benefits to which they were entitled and helped them to navigate the often turbulent waters of the VA Healthcare System. I was an advocate, a counselor, a trusted confidante and had no qualms about giving them tough love when appropriate. They deserved everything I could offer in my role as a social worker at the Boston VA Outpatient Clinic.

The compassion I lavishly offered to them, was the compassion I could not yet offer myself. The healing I brought into their lives was the healing path that I would need to walk after leaving the VA.

I worked at the VA as an intern in 1983-1984 and returned to work there in December of 1988. As a society and as a healthcare system, we were all trying to figure out how to help our Vietnam Veterans come home. The particular methods of warfare used and the sociopolitical climate they returned home to was a perfect storm to complicate the care and management of the emotional and physical injuries of the war.

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

I left home at the age of 5 – my earthly home that is. I contracted childhood paralytic polio. Polio was the AIDS of its day. If you contracted polio, you were shunned. There was a fear of contagion. Fear breeds ignorance that is far more devastating that any disease. Three years later my father fell into alcoholism and I was raped and beaten, threatened with death and tortured by my father for 9 years until he ended his life. My maternal grandmother physically, sexually and emotionally abused me with cruel rituals that tortured my body and my mind. My mother was addicted to prescription pain medication. My older brother was numb and trying to survive the chaotic household as best he could. He chose to align himself with the aggressors. I learned early on how to dissociate and to harness the power of my intellect to survive but I paid a steep price for leaving home and disowning my body. I bided my time until it was time to heal.

My veterans shared with me their struggles to come home; to be able to feel at home in their bodies, in their lives and to come home to live fully in the present moment. They felt a constant tug to the past and to their own inner storms of powerful emotions. I was able to be fully present with them unafraid of the stories they needed to share and the pain they needed to heal. I too had been through a kind of war.

During these past 7 years, I have had my own healing journey of finding my way home from the injuries of a childhood fraught with violence and healing the emotional and physical injury of paralytic polio. I know how incredibly fortunate I am to have found the time and the resources to find my way home. I have been blessed by the unconditional love and support of my husband and the running community. It hasn't been easy and it's not always been pretty, but I am here now living a full, vibrant life with passion and purpose to share my message of healing, hope and possibility.

While I am no longer physically present to care for our veterans, they are in my heart and my prayers. I pray that they are able to find the strength and the will to heal. I pray for their caregivers and for those who are caring for veterans in the VA System. I pray that we as a society are able to support our veterans from every era. They need ongoing care and love no matter when or where they served. We need not wait for Memorial Day or Veterans Day to honor those who served. Let's help them know that every day they are coming home to hearts that embrace them and are grateful for their service. I am deeply grateful and humbled by the trust they placed in me to bare and share their emotional and physical wounds of war. I am blessed to maintain contact with a few of them who have found their way home and are thriving in their lives.

We taught each other well about the importance of coming home!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Seven Years Later #tbt #thankfulthursday

May 25, 2007, I cleared out of the Boston VA Healthcare System, closing a chapter on 19 years of my life as a social worker at the VA to take the time I needed to heal my life. At the time, I didn't understand what that meant. I only knew that I was given the life altering diagnosis of post polio syndrome, a progressive neuromuscular disease. I knew that if I had any hope of a future, I had to leave behind the stress of my job.

#tbt mementos from my tenure at the VA:

A Certificate of Appreciation Award honoring my 19 years of service at the VA and a certificate from Voluntary Service for my years of collaboration with them to benefit the quality of life for our veterans:

From my memoir, "Coming Home: A Memoir of Healing, Hope and Possibility" now available on Amazon

"I didn’t know what needed healing or how that healing would happen. I only knew that I needed time and space away from the stress of getting up at 5:30 every morning, commuting into Boston, taking care of veterans and their families as well as the people on my team, and my own family members. I hold myself responsible for my inability to set limits. I feel tremendous compassion for myself that I was like a hamster in a wheel and had no idea how to get off of it within the VA system. I know many of my colleagues resented me for how much work I did do. I was held up as the standard for social workers when it came to ‘my numbers’ and documentation. There is the middle way of being able to find balance and self care while providing outstanding care to veterans and their families but I was damned if I knew how to get there at that time."

I have been marking each anniversary but I believe that this is the last year to mark the anniversary of when I left the VA. I feel a sense of completion. I feel it is time to move forward. Coincidentally, May 25th was my father's birthday. I am ready to leave him and our relationship in peace, grateful that I survived and now live a life that is full, vibrant and overflowing with blessings.

I feel blessed, honored, humbled and grateful that tomorrow night is the Book Release Party for my memoir.

I am ready to close the chapter on these past 7 years and embrace my life here and now. The combination of biweekly massage sessions at Sollievo Bodywork and Massage which incorporates Zero Balancing into the sessions, Aquatics Therapy at Spaulding Rehab and running 2-3X/week to train for the Tufts 10K in October is a winning combination in moving forward in my life as a survivor of paralytic polio and trauma.

I appreciate the gift that each day brings. I'm working on a new book, "Journey Well: Poems and Stories to Inspire". I have races planned for myself and my family. I volunteer and am part of support crew for those races that have a fast field and that I know I wouldn't enjoy - for now. I have run the 2009 Boston Marathon, published books of poetry and my memoir. I know that I blessed many lives when I worked as a social worker at the VA and continue to bless and inspire others as others bless and inspire me by their presence in my life.

I have books to read, and a garden to grow.

Most people my age are planning their retirement. I am living mine. It took me 7 years to settle and find a place of contentment, peace, healing and integrity and integration in my life. My heart overflows with gratitude that I am here now. I have an incredible partner in my life in my husband Tom who, thank goodness, is willing and able to work past retirement age to support us. I have so many beautiful friends in my life with whom to share the journey.

Seven years later -- life is good.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Gift of Running

"I learned that the only requirement to be part of this wonderful group was to run. I didn't have to be fast. I didn't have to be great. I just had to run. And that's when running became not just something that I do but something that is a part of who I am." - John Bingham

A little over 7 years ago, as I sat in a leg brace using a cane and at times a wheelchair for mobility, I wrote the poem called "Running the Race." I intrigued myself after I wrote the line, "while in my mind I focused on winning a 10K race."

Running? Mary McManus? aka "Easy Out Alper" - um a rather unlikely combination to say the least.

But not impossible despite all appearances to the contrary.

After intensive, extensive outpatient rehab through Spaulding Rehab, writing poems visualizing myself as healthy, whole and free in my body, quitting my stressful job as a VA social worker, and then hiring a personal trainer, I felt this urge inside of me. From my memoir, "Coming Home:A Memoir of Healing, Hope and Possibility" available on Amazon

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 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.

And run I did crossing the finish line of the 2009 Boston Marathon

It's been a healing odyssey filled with ups and downs. I wasn't sure if I was going to make it back to running and a state of health after my nephew's suicide in 2011.

After last year's Boston Marathon, I knew I needed to return to running and the running community.

I started from the beginning building up mileage, running a few 5K's and building strength in the Aquatics Therapy program at Spaulding Rehab.

And I decided I would run the Tufts 10K this year. I was up to 5 miles in my distance again.

The other day I realized - it's more than the miles. It's more than the time.

I felt something shift inside of me. I felt what a gift it is to run. The gift of running is the ability to live fully in the present moment.

And I began to challenge myself; to train in earnest and be fully present. I used strategies that every good coach uses. Focus on your breathing. Feel your footsteps. Let's see if you can pick up the pace. Make it to that house up ahead; to that Stop sign.

I took in the beauty of the scene and feeling a unity, a harmony, a wholeness in the midst of it all. I ended up doing a negative split of .50 seconds between mile 2 and 3 with an average page of 15:33 for that last mile. The time on my Nike+ isn't what ultimately mattered.

Somehow, on that run, and somehow during these past 7 years, I came to the realization that running is now a part of who I am. It is a gift and one that I am grateful for every time I lace up my running shoes and go out for a run. It is a gift that keeps on giving me health and the best friends in the running community. It's a gift that keeps me present feeling fully alive in the moment regardless of the challenge.

And if the time comes when in my physical form I am no longer able to run, running will always be a part of who I am and all that I have learned and become through running shall remain forever.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Transformation Tuesday: Christa in New York Sings After Storms

In 2012, Christa in New York, Curating a Creative Life Through Ancient Wisdom and Modern Tech chose to forge her own path leaving behind the "security" of working for an employer. She founded her own company Chasing Down the Muse, "where I create content and products that build a better world and inspire people."

On her About Me page she writes:

The short of it:
Maker, writer, yoga and meditation teacher. Founder of the company Chasing Down the Muse and creator of brands Compass Yoga and One Fine Yogi. Journalist. Voice over artist. Playwright. Equally inspired by ancient wisdom and modern tech. Opener of doors.

The long of it:
My 15-year career has stretched across Capitol Hill, Broadway theatre, education, nonprofit fundraising, health and wellness, and Fortune 500 companies in retail, media, and financial services. In every experience, I have used my sense of and respect for elegant design to develop meaningful products, services, programs, and events that make this world a better place.

In 2012 I founded Chasing Down the Muse, where I create content and products that build a better world and inspire people. My first play, Sing After Storms, will be produced in June 2014 in New York City as part of the Thespis Theater Festival.

A recovering multi-tasker, I am a proud alum of UPenn (BA) and the Darden School at UVA (MBA). When not in front of my Mac, I’m on my yoga mat, walking my rescue dog, Phin, traveling with a purpose, or practicing the high-art of people watching in New York City, a wonderful and turbulent city that I proudly call home.

Last summer, Christa took the summer to explore the possibility of living in LA. While she discovered that the West Coast was not for her and that her heart belongs in the Big Apple, she wrote, "Sing After Storms". Christa gave the play to two trusted friends who Christa knew from her career managing Broadway shows and National Tours. They suggested one more rewrite after the original and encouraged her to submit it to Festivals for production. It is almost unheard of to have a turnaround time of one week to have a play accepted for production but that's exactly what happened!

Christa told me, The premise of the title is based on the famous Rose Kennedy quote "Birds sing after a storm; why shouldn't people feel as free to delight in whatever sunlight remains to them?" Terrible things befall the family featured in the play (mostly things they bring on themselves), and despite those circumstances there is a spark of redemption at the end, a glimpse into the hope that perhaps they can start over and find some peace and happiness.

It is a gripping exploration of mental health treatment and management by playwright, producer, and director Christa Avampato. From the press release:

SING AFTER STORMS is a modern story of mental illness, family dynamics, and the risks a man will take to keep his life together. Written and directed by Christa Avampato, SING AFTER STORMS is a gripping drama surrounding Dr. Jack Young and his team, recently nominated for the Nobel Prize for the unconventional methods they use to treat patients and remove the stigma around mental illness. As the announcement of the award is made, legal allegations threaten to undermine Jack’s success in every facet of his life. Desperate to hold together his career, marriage, and family, Jack attempts to halt the unraveling of the reputation he has worked so hard to build by taking on one last patient. SING AFTER STORMS follows Dr. Jack Young as his wife, daughter, and colleagues alternately struggle to illuminate and to preserve Jack’s secrets.

Christa has faced many challenges in her own life. Several years ago, she almost lost her life and did lose all of her possessions in an apartment fire. As she wrote in her blog last week,

Whenever I’m having an awful day—and I have had quite a healthy share of them in my life—the only thing that gets me through is this thought: I survived them all. Sometimes just barely (literally). I’ve lost a lot. They left a lot of pain and deep scars in their wake. Some you can see and some you can’t. Some took be down, way down, though none of them kept me down for long.

Out of this place of knowing, of resilience and her own journey of transformation, Christa wrote "Sing After Storms."

A behind the scenes look as cast and crew gather together breathing life into Christa's words at the table read:

Christa welcoming the cast and crew:

Amelia Huckel-Bauer steps into the character of Susan

Mia Fraboni looks on as Pearl

Just look at the fun she's having!

Kate Flynn delves deep into the role of Catherine

Oheri Otobo delves deeper into the case of Jack Young

Brittany McDonald channels the character of Carol

Christa's riveting creation comes to life on the stage of the Cabrini Repertory Theater, 701 Fort Washington Avenue, Manhattan. Wednesday, June 18, 2014 at 8:45pm, Saturday, June 21, 2014 at 9:00pm and Sunday, June 22, 2014 at 9:30pm as part of the 2014 Thespis Theater Festival. You can purchase tickets in advance at the discounted fans and friends price of $10/ticket at EventBrite.

For more about the cast, crew and to stay up to date on the latest happenings, visit Sing After Storms website. Like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.

Be sure to follow Christa's blog. It's better than a cup of coffee to get your day started on the right foot and will keep you up to date on the many wonder filled adventures of Christa in New York.

Christa and her faithful companion Phin

Monday, May 19, 2014


Seven years ago today, I sat in my sparsely decorated office at the VA Outpatient Clinic at 251 Causeway Street poised to leave behind my 25 year social work career having spent almost 20 of them with the VA serving those who served. I brought home my books, photos, inspirational sayings, my lamp, my awards and left the bare minimum I would need until I officially "cleared out" on Friday 5/25/07.

From my memoir, "Coming Home: A Memoir of Healing, Hope and Possibility" now available on Amazon --

This is the conversation Dr. Darren Rosenberg had with me during my initial assessment, October 2006, at Spaulding Rehab's International Rehab Center for Polio:

“I’m going to make a lot of suggestions for you. It’s up to you whether or not you follow my recommendations. I know this is a lot for you to digest but let’s begin. I am working on the assumption that we are dealing with post polio syndrome since the symptoms you are exhibiting are classic for post polio syndrome.”

“You need to quit your job. You’re eligible for social security disability. The stress of your work is exacerbating the symptoms. I am going to refer you to brace clinic, our speech and language therapist who will do a swallow assessment and based on her findings we’ll see if you require an endoscopy. I highly recommend a sleep study because it is very common for post polio patients to experience sleep apnea. The chronic fatigue can be a result of sleep apnea. You need to see our physical therapist who will not only get you started on some gentle exercises but talk with you about nutrition. Our occupational therapist is going to work with you on energy conservation and while you remain at work, what adaptive equipment you need to diminish the stress on your body. You’ve already had an EMG…..”

I began planning my exit strategy in February of 2007 after the diagnosis of post polio syndrome was made in December.

While I was beginning to feel a little better with outpatient rehab and writing poetry as my pen became my divining rod for healing, I faced a tremendous amount of uncertainty with my health and my finances.

As I sat in my office, was I frightened? I was terrified but I had to choose faith over fear.

It's been 7 years of ups and downs and everything in between.

I saw this on Facebook this morning:

I hit a lot of sour notes on this journey and I greet them all with loving kindness and compassion.

I have met many, many people on this journey many of whom would be my greatest teachers for the toughest lessons I needed to learn in order to heal. I found the strength to say goodbye to those I needed to say goodbye to.

I found the courage to be who I really am, as I am and embrace those who love and support me and challenge me to my best and highest self.

I sit here smiling. I feel better today at 60 years old than I have in my entire life!

I am a 2009 Boston Marathon finisher, the author of 5 books of inspirational poetry and my memoir. I am writing a 6th book of inspirational poetry, "Journey Well" which will bring together the best poems from my trilogy of poetry books and my recent poetic creations.

I am back on the roads once again seeing what this body can do training for the Tufts 10K in October.

Friday I am blessed that Marathon Sports Brookline is hosting my Book Release Party for my memoir. It's going to be More Than a Book Release Party ...

And all of this happened and is happening because I had the courage and faith to take that first step on 5/25/2007 ....

What first step are you going to take today to step confidently in the direction of your dreams?