"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.