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.

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