I'm reading Kathrine Switzer's book, "Marathon Woman." She calls running her secret weapon and a part of her quest to bring equality to the sport of running was so that women could experience the secret weapon.
I was a late comer to the sport of running, taking my first steps as a runner at the age of 54. Something inside of me said that I needed to run; that I had to run and that I had to run the 2009 Boston Marathon.
Training for and running the 2009 Boston Marathon was a journey that helped me to move out of my perception of myself as disabled and unable to succeed in athletic endeavors. I honed my intellectual prowess in order to survive and to experience success in my life. It was a blessing and saved me but I paid a terrible price in not paying attention to my physical form.
It's been a journey full of highs and lows; triumphs and tribulations. Yes running is a wonderful metaphor for life and vice versa. In 2011, I stopped listening to that call and that need to run. But truth always prevails and last April I returned to the roads and to the open arms of the running community.
When I literally dropped to the ground after contracting paralytic polio at the age of 5, having confidence in my body was shaken to my core. Feeling my body's physical decline at the age of 53 was frightening. My ongoing challenge during this 7 and a half year healing odyssey has been to acknowledge and heal the feelings of helplessness and fear while building confidence in my strength and my a-bility in my body. There are times when I have to pause and allow my body to organize. When I am tired, it can be a challenge to go from sitting to standing. It takes time for my body to recover after a run and I have had to set limits on how/when/where I choose to expend my energy. I am truly blessed that my husband and daughter understand that in order for me to stem the tide of this neuromuscular condition that I need help with chores and can no longer do it all if I am going to be able to do the things that I enjoy doing.
When I first returned to the roads in April of 2013, I didn't feel the spark; that secret weapon; the feeling of empowerment and strength that comes when I'm out on the roads. Slowly the spark returned and yesterday while training on the Tufts 10K course, I was on fire.
I love the new course for the Tufts 10K:
We used to wind our way through the narrow streets of Beacon Hill and over the Longfellow Bridge. Since the bridge is under construction, we go out Beacon Street and over the Mass. Ave Bridge.
I thought that my Nike+ may have gone wonky since my time for the 6.11 miles was 7 minutes less than the week before with a time of 1:33:28; a pace of 15'18"/mile. My husband and daughter reassured me that the pace was accurate given how they felt keeping up with me. They are used to a much more relaxed pace when they support me during my training run. The weather conditions were perfect. The temperatures were cool and there was no humidity. We had a huge tailwind and the new course is relatively flat. The sky was a brilliant blue and the sun sparkling off of the Charles River was magnificent. I continued to run from the inside out paying keen attention to stopping at our "water stops." I didn't know what my pace was at one point, but I knew I was really pushing myself. I could tell that I needed to stop and then walk in order to allow my body to regroup.
But I didn't care about the time.
I cared about the way that I felt being out on the course. I experienced a flashback to how I felt running Tufts in October of 2008. I felt the sense of reckless abandon in my body; freedom and joy riding the waves of moving, pushing the edge of my envelope and a connection to the essence of who I am.
From my memoir and an article I wrote for Cape Healing Arts Magazine:
Running with God
Two years ago, in October of 2006, when I felt I could no longer live with fatigue, weakness and pain, God suggested that I Google post polio syndrome. I called Spaulding Rehab’s International Rehab Center for Polio and an angel, Anna Rubin, answered the phone. After a series of appointments at Spaulding, an MRI, an appointment with my primary care provider and seven tubes of blood later (to rule out any other possible causes for my symptoms), I was diagnosed with post polio syndrome – a progressive neurological disease. Mind, body and spirit were burned out from the external demands of a full time job in social work and caring for my family, and mind, body and spirit were crying out for growth and transformation.
On a cold dark day in February 2007, wearing a leg brace, using a cane and at times a wheelchair for mobility, I contemplated my future. I felt the urge to create: I sat down at my laptop and wrote the poem, Running the Race.
Running the Race - Feb, 2007
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.
Carl Jung says that our unconscious prepares the future. I had no idea that on October 13, 2008, I would, in fact, run a 10K race with my daughter Ruth Anne.
Through intensive rehab at Spaulding Rehab, major lifestyle changes (quitting my full time job to follow my bliss of being a poet), nutritional changes, reconnecting with God, working with an angel personal trainer, Janine Hightower of Boston Home Bodies and Janice Wesley, a gifted physical therapist and energy healer, my mind, body and spirit healed in profound ways.
In February of 2008, I traded in my polio shoes for running shoes. And, at the Tufts 10K, my daughter and I finished the race with a time of 13:53 minute/mile pace. The actual time of course is irrelevant – it was a miracle that I was able to even lace up a pair of running shoes and contemplate running 6.2 miles. My daughter and I had set our goal pace at a 15 minute mile hoping to finish in an hour and a half.
We spent a lot of time together in prayerful preparation for race day. We ran 4.5 miles on Saturday at a 15 minute pace. We rested and nourished ourselves on Sunday. I did the alignment exercises prescribed by Janice and did pilates to strengthen my core. We took our time getting ready on race day, fueling with a healthy breakfast and while I was chomping at the bit to get to the race, Ruth Anne helped steady my nerves by talking about the need to conserve energy.
We became quiet and I meditated on the train ride to the race inviting God to shower me with energy, strength and love. I could run the distance – we were up to running 10 miles for long distance runs, but could I run it at a fast pace? I reflected on one of my spiritual experiences on one of our long distance runs. I had an image of my polio self and who I am today side by side in a huge bubble. As I ran, the distance lengthened between my polio self and who I am today until the bubble finally burst and I was free.
I felt God’s presence as a long forgotten childhood memory surfaced. Cries from my childhood of ‘easy out’, ‘we don’t want her on our team,’ ‘what’s wrong with her anyway?’ melted away. I remembered the day in gym when we were playing kickball and the entire outfield moved in as they always did when I was up. All of a sudden, I connected with the ball and ended up kicking a home run because there was no one in the outfield! I decided that today was a day for another surprise. I told God I wanted my daughter to be proud of me.
We were in perfect physical and spiritual harmony. Our feet moved in perfect rhythm; we ran hills as we had during hill training sessions and coached each other during down hills. God’s presence was palpable and my Spirit transcended my physical body allowing me to sustain a pace I had never run before. I felt the energy and cheers from the crowd along with the prayers from friends I knew were praying for me that day.
As my daughter and I crossed the finish line, the clock read: 1:29 – but that was gun time…our actual time was 1:26 – four minutes under what we visualized as our goal for that day and a good one minute less per mile than we were hoping for! The magic and miracle of October 13, 2008 shall forever be an imprint on my Spirit! I am so grateful to my beautiful daughter, the organizers of the Tufts 10K, the staff at Spaulding Rehab’s International Rehab Center for Polio and Spaulding Rehab Downtown Boston, Janine Hightower, Janice Wesley, and of course, God – our Loving Creator who guides my footsteps every moment of every day. – cha
By Mary McManus, Winter 2008
I am keenly aware of the challenges I live with every day. I know that I need the Aquatics Therapy program at Spaulding Rehab twice/week although occasionally I will trade off a Wednesday afternoon class for a Wednesday run. I cannot strength train on land without injury but I can safely strength train in the water. I cannot run in the evening. I have to choose my races wisely.
After yesterday's training run I realized it's not about the time or the races or what I can or cannot do. It's that feeling I experience when I am out running. I feel confidence and strength no matter the distance or the pace. After paralytic polio followed by 9 years of unrelenting violence, I can experience peace with all that is knowing that I am stronger and greater than anything that happened to me and have the ability to manage whatever may come my way...and a big part of experiencing that peace is because running is my secret weapon.
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.