I loved escaping to the sound of tennis shoes hitting the pavement as a teen. Each upset in my life was met with fierce steps and sweat rolling down my face. I found strength, courage, and determination somewhere between step one and step 10,000. Running wasn't just a hobby, it was my way of life. In high school, I ran on the cross country team. Each afternoon in the blistering Texas heat, I would let go of all my school issues and run. When I finally came home after school, I slipped on those beat up Nike shoes and ran even more before settling in to study and complete my homework.
My sophomore year started well. I was dropped off at the school early one Saturday morning and loaded onto a bus with twenty other teens. We were headed to the police training field a couple hours away to run another race. The gunshot rang and everyone began pushing forward. I was 400 yards into the race when I found a small hole in the field. My knee popped and pain surged to my toes. My coach wasn't far from me on the sidelines and asked if I was okay. I nodded and continued on.
As I passed the one mile mark, I knew I should stop, but every part of me wanted to keep running and finish what I started. My coach could see my struggle and told me I wasn't a quitter if I stopped, but I pressed on. I finished that race in 34th place out of 175 runners. My time was two minutes longer than any run I had in practice. I was devastated. As we loaded back onto the bus, my knee was swelling. As much as I wanted to go home and run my disappointment into the ground, there would be no running.
That was the first severe injury I had experienced as a runner. The sprains and strains before were nothing compared to the pain that set in on that hot Texas morning and never left.
It's been 17 years since I ran that race and have been diagnosed with a genetically inherited connective tissue disorder called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome.
Every day is an unknown for me. I might wake up with manageable pain or I could wake up with my largest joints completely dislocated. I might be able to walk with supportive bracing or I might struggle to walk 100 feet in my own home. Over the last year, I've met more bad days than good. My physician has kindly reminded me that supportive braces will be replaced by canes and crutches over the next few years. If I'm lucky, I'll be able to stay out of a wheelchair for a while longer.
I'm not willing to accept that fate at 32 years of age. I'm not willing to tell my children that they cannot go to the park because I hurt too much or I can't walk. I'm not willing to allow faulty collagen prevent me from living life. I am determined to retrain my muscles to support my joints and allow me to walk and play for many more years because both of my children have also been diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome.
I'm on a mission to redefine what doctors see as the way life will be. Will you join me on this journey?