I've only been back on the roads since 4/15/13 after a two year running hiatus due to a relapse of post polio symptoms. It takes awhile to build back strength, endurance and speed and to learn what I need to do as an older runner living with a spinal cord injury and the after effects of severe trauma.
My first race volunteer experience was at the BAA Half with L Street in 2010. We stood in the Franklin Park Zoo directing runners to the trail that would take them ever closer to the finish line. It was an unseasonably hot day in October. We let runners know they were almost to the finish. I encouraged them to take in the majesty of the animals and to allow the sights and the sounds of the Zoo to carry them to finish strong.
After 4/15/13, I instinctively knew that I needed to be fully involved in the running community again. Being a spectator is awesome but I've never been one to sit on the sidelines.
I became #supportcrew for Boston Marathon training long runs and volunteer opportunities seemed to just come to me. I had a wonderful time doing the packet stuffing for the Boston Marathon with the sweet reward of being able to take the field at Fenway the Sunday before the Marathon for a Boston Marathon tribute. I did a water stop at the Run to Remember and bib pick up at Runners World Heartbreak Hill Half Marathon and Festival.
When I received the email from the BAA asking if I would volunteer for the BAA 10K, I knew it was an invitation for more than just another volunteer experience. When I received the email asking if I would change my volunteer assignment to the Kids Races, I had a feeling it was important for me to say yes.
Kids and parents flocked to the registration table. We had parents complete waivers, explained what would be happening and shared our enthusiasm for what they were about to experience. Some were back for a 2nd year; most were first timers. There was a mix of pre race anxiety and eager anticipation to participate in this event. In the distance, we heard the National Anthem and saw the waves of runners cross the starting line. I'm usually there to cheer on my husband and daughter but this year, there was a joy of a different kind.
When a mom came up with a little girl in a sling and shared that she had been so excited about running but broke her collarbone, we checked with the race director to make sure it would be safe for her to walk. The race director's mom, Colleen, said to her that next year she'd be back better than ever and would even know the course so she'd be able to run it really fast.
The moment that the little girl with her walker, out of breath yet filled with joy and determination came down to the finish line, my breath caught and Colleen and I were both overwhelmed with emotion. I shared with Colleen that I am a survivor of paralytic polio. "Oh so you know," she said. She suggested that perhaps there should be a special event for children with mobility impairment. I gently suggested that it is so important to have an event like this that is geared to kids of all levels and all abilities. I shared with her how wonderful it was for me to experience the 2009 Boston Marathon as a mobility impaired runner and how grateful I am to Dave McGillivray for creating an atmosphere of inclusion. I recommended The Last Pick.
Tom and Ruth Anne found me after they crossed their finish line. They saw the kids with their bibs and medals and shared in the joy of those who had finished their races.
It was time to head over to the finish line for the older kids' event.
The only time I have been in the finish line chute was as a runner. We showed our volunteer credentials and a finish line volunteer moved the barricades to let us through the chute.
How amazing to stand just a little beyond the finisher's mat and cheer on those who were finishing up their 10K with grit and determination. One woman with a pair of Canadian Crutches crossed with her Guide. Colleen mentioned to me that she always wanted to a guide for a visually impaired runner but didn't know how to get connected to the Guide community. I referred her to Team With a Vision and the Mass. Association for the Blind. She was delighted that she could give back in this way. I told her the story of Randy Pierce and The Mighty Quinn.
As the kids sprinted down Boylston Street to experience the thrill of crossing the finish line of a BAA event, I felt joy and gladness overflow in my heart. To be able to hand them their medals and congratulate them is a moment that shall forever remain imprinted in my heart.
I hope they will feel the same way about that moment!
There is a thrill to feel the energy at the starting line of a race and a sense of exhilaration and accomplishment crossing that finish line as a runner. But there's another way to feel a runner's high and that is through the joy from the other side of the line.
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.
I donate 50% of royalty payments through on line sales to The One Fund to help Boston Marathon survivors and their families. Copies are also available at Brookline Marathon Sports. $5 of each book sold at Marathon Sports is donated to The One Fund.