My name is Barbie Barnett. I am a 45-year-old mother, middle school teacher and runner. I was raised in the suburbs outside of Chicago, where I currently reside. I hope that my story will help others.
Running has always been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. As a kid in winter I was leading a fast break on the basketball court; in spring I was running laps around the track; and in the fall I was hearing the syncopated rhythm of my beating heart and pounding strides in cross country. Throughout high school and college, running was that dependable friend, always there to challenge me physically, balance me emotionally, and lift me spiritually. Even after intercollegiate sports, came coaching, summer softball leagues, pick-up games, and the joy of jogging. I was a card carrying member of that strange cult of people who actually loved running. So it was a natural extension of my love of running that led me to races – 5K’s and marathons – during my 30’s.
Fast forward… now 40+-years-old and facing a simple discectomy back surgery. What promised to be a three day recovery in the hospital turned into the nightmarish prognosis that I may never walk again. Complications during surgery led to nine devastating days sitting in the hospital confused, angry and scared. Even with the loving support of my family, I couldn’t feel hope. Confined to my hospital bed, devoted friends would rub my feet and manipulate my toes, trying to help me regain motion. I learned how to walk with the aid of a huge white Ankle Foot Orthosis (AFO), brace and a walker and eventually my physical therapy ended in, “That’s all we can do.” Running was a foregone conclusion and living would now be a challenge.
Defeated, I accepted the limited mobility diagnosis and forged ahead trying to learn how to compensate in my new reality. Simple daily tasks became great risks, and I fell often. Grass was a minefield of potential injury. I couldn’t mow my lawn or go to the 4th of July celebration for fear of falling and breaking an ankle. I had no feeling in my ankle and no support. Sidewalks were now treacherous and were a thing to be carefully studied.
I lived like this for four years. I had never heard of foot drop. I didn’t even know it existed. During those four years I thought I was moving forward, but looking back now, I was stagnant. I avoided activities and events and gained weight. All of this took its toll on my psyche. Little did I know that God had other plans for me.
One morning a friend’s mother was watching TV and saw a news clip about a runner named Beth Deloria who also had foot drop. The story went on to detail a special brace that she used, which enabled her to run. Knowing my plight, my friend’s mother, immediately called her son imploring him to pass the information onto me. Shawn, my friend and fellow teacher, took a step further and pulled up the information electronically. He handed it to me before class started that day, with the directive that I must make this call. He and his wife knew that I had given up. They had seen me slowly lose my zest for life and the inner peace I once had. At lunch I called Allard USA , in New Jersey, and within 10 minutes an Allard District Manager returned my call. After telling him my story and preparing myself for a detached response of, “I’m sorry. We can’t help you,” instead he asked me what color brace I wanted. I got quiet on the end of the phone choking back the sobs of gratefulness, not wanting the Allard District Manager to hear, but he knew, and he spoke the words I dared not believe, “Things will change.”
Within days, The Allard District Manager was at my school to fit me for my brace. Shawn stood back smiling and nodding, and his wife and I cried as I ran up and down the hallway the first time in four years. I ran into my classroom and my students cheered as I skipped around. The day I came home with my brace I jogged a bit. I could hear my daughter yell as her bus pulled up, “Look guys, my mom is running, my mom is running.” It was nothing short of a miracle.
I received my brace five years ago now, and since then my life has changed. I have completed two half marathons and several 5ks. My students affectionately call my brace my robo-leg as I proudly wear it to school. In fact, my new hope is that my students not only learn the love of literature, but to achieve their goals no matter what obstacles stand in their way. I want my students to see if there is something that they want to do, they can do it. I may run slower and differently, but I am Getting Back Up. The greater the difficulty …the greater the reward!
Today, I walk to my neighbors houses through the yards, run to the car during rain storms, and walk the fields to watch my daughter play lacrosse. With each step, I have regained my confidence, strength and inner peace. I participate in races because I can. I am so appreciative of each step that I take. When faced with this setback..I want my daughters to see me “Get Back Up”. Craig Clendening, my high school cross-country coach, recently commented “You can drop a foot…but you can’t drop the heart.”
After I walked through the finish line of the Chicago Half Marathon, I was asked by a reporter if my goal is to ever run this race. Surprisingly, I answered, “No, I don’t think so. I will leave the running to Beth Deloria, Lisa Victorious and many others I have come to learn about. I will continue to exercise by walking and continue training for local 5k’s. I want others to learn that they too can get back up and regain their fullness of life. My race is won!!” Like my friend Beth stated, “We didn’t run this race to celebrate running. We did this race to celebrate living.” Thank you Allard for giving me this opportunity to Get Back Up….I am forever grateful!
Barbie Barnett: Mom, Middle School Teacher, runner, and who knows what else I will achieve!