I began running in middle school when I was 4′ 6″ and 97 pounds. I realized then that I wasn’t going to go very far trying to throw the shot put. Fortunately, my coach needed someone to complete a relay team and it sounded like fun. From there I ran cross-country and track in high school. It had become a huge part of who I was and who I would become.
After high school, I was offered an academic scholarship to the University of South Carolina Honors College. The bonus was I was also recruited to their cross-country and track teams. My sophomore year, I was left looking for my next running challenge, which is why I decided to try the 3000-meter steeplechase. It turned out I was pretty good at this event and soon set the school record. As a junior, I was nominated as captain of both teams. Being an honors student, of course, school came first. That meant that afternoon science labs sometimes interfered with practice. On those days, I would concentrate on both my morning and afternoon practices before breakfast.
It was a Wednesday morning, after my pool workout, when I was performing 800 meter repeats, over hurdles, to prepare for the 3000-meter steeplechase. On the last scheduled repeat, with 200 meters to go, I tripped over a hurdle. I fell hard, but with only 200 meters to go I figured I would jog it in. I got up, took a few steps and fell again. This time it felt as if my lower leg had been torn off when in reality, at the knee, it had bent in all of the wrong directions. Next, I immediately heard several awful pops and I saw my leg snap back into place. As I lay screaming on the track unable to move in the pain, my coach ran over and called the trainer.
A visit to an orthopedic surgeon and an MRI showed I tore my meniscus, my anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and Lateral collateral ligament (LCL), my IT band and biceps femoris (hamstring tendon), fractured my tibia and significantly damaged my cartilage. I was fitted with a temporary cast to immobilize the injured area and awaited a surgical repair the following Monday. The one thing that I couldn’t understand is why I could not lift up my foot. I unknowingly figured that it was just the swelling. During surgery, my orthoepedic determined that I had also damaged the nerve to my foot, thankfully it was still intact, which left me with foot drop.
After being in brace which immobilized my leg for six weeks and crying myself to sleep many of those nights thinking I would never run again or even dance at my wedding, I began physical therapy. My therapy focused on getting motion back in my knee and relearning how to walk. After six months of therapy and two additional procedures later, my orthopedic surgeon cleared me to return to normal activities, but I still had no motion in my foot. At that time he also sent me to an orthotist to find a brace that would allow me to walk without the risk of catching my foot and stubbing my toes on each step.
The orthotist immediately upon learning I had been a runner, said he knew a woman who had foot drop who even ran marathons. It was then that he asked that I try the same brace that she wore. After following his order, I immediately felt like I was walking normally. That was the first time in over eight months that I had anything that approached a normal gate. He not only gave me a brace that day, he gave me hope. Three months later, with my new orthosis, I ran my first half marathon with Beth Deloria, the woman he had told me about.
I still had a long way to go in regaining strength, and for about three years I continued to perform exercises to strengthen my weakened leg muscles. At that time I could only run every other day. At first, I was scared to run fast – scared that I would get hurt again. Over time, I began to regain strength and confidence in my body.
In November 2012, a little over three years after my injury, I completed my first marathon in Savannah, GA. I really just wanted to complete the distance and did not think about racing. To me, this was my way of saying, “I did not let this injury stop me.” Just getting to the start of this race was a victory. Finishing it was icing on the cake, even though my completing the 26.2 miles in 4:02 meant that I missed my goal of being under the four hour mark.
After knowing that I could complete a marathon, I focused on running a marathon fast. I wasn’t sure what I was capable of, but I knew that I could improve. The following year, I ran the Chicago marathon and finished with a time of 3:37. I now realized that I was very close to, and capable of qualifying for the renowned Boston Marathon. I then ran two additional marathons, both narrowly missing the 3:35 that I needed to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I am thankful to be able to run and being able to run fast is such a gift. I could not do it without my Allard brace. Someday I will achieve my BQ (Boston Marathon Qualifying time), but until then I plan to continuing enjoying every run.