The New York City Marathon 2011 – Part 1.
“Oh, you ran a marathon? How heavy was the sled?” Hillary may not have been dragging a sled but she sure completed a marathon …I think after reading her story you’ll forgive her for leaving the sled behind.
I met Hillary almost ten years ago while working in the disability sector and she was the then CEO of the Western Cape Cerebral Palsy Association … this is her story…
I was waiting! Waiting for the moment when it would hit me! When I would have that “Aha!” moment, when it would dawn on me, what I was about to do! Perhaps it would be when I was doing the New York City Marathon itself!? But it never came!! Instead I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, even though it is often a challenge, but it is the means by which I get things done.
So as I stood on the starting line on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, on Statten Island at 8-45 am on the 6th November 2011 with my son Matthew, looking over towards Manhattan together with about 100 other “runners” and their guides waiting for the gun to go, I did have a little lump in my throat, realising that this was the real thing! The reason why 2011 had been a very different year for me!
In December 2010, I had had a meeting with Marilyn Basson, a physiotherapist from Johannesburg, who had come to talk to me about the work that we were doing at the Western Cape Cerebral Palsy Association, of which I then was the CEO. We got along very well, and so when she phoned me in February I was delighted to hear from her. What she had to say though took me by surprise and I just brushed it off! Her friend Dennis (chairperson of Achilles SA, a branch of Achilles International) was looking for people with disabilities who would like to run the New York City Marathon in November! My reply was, “Hell, No!” I have a disability sticker on my car so that I can park nearest to the entrance to where I need to go, and left it at that!!
However it got me thinking.
What would it take to do a marathon? Could I do it? Did I want to do it??
Growing up, my father was a mountaineer, and so even before I could walk on my own at the age of five, my father would take us camping and I would view the world from his back. As I grew older a lot of time was spent walking in the mountains, and recently I had been reflecting on how lucky I had been to have had that experience in my life, because in the last five years I have been crippled and at times reduced to using a wheelchair because of severe back problems. So! Now as I approach my “senior” years I am concerned at what “price” my body has had to pay for the wear and tear it has undergone. Would such an undertaking be a good or bad thing to the overall welfare of my body especially as I was growing older?
I had very little to go on. The goal was completing the New York City Marathon, in November, and it was now February! So before I signed anything I need to explore the possibilities of such an undertaking. My first point of call was my GP. Dr Irma Louw, to see if my body was up to the challenge. I went through all the tests and was cleared. However the one question I kept asking, to which there was no clear answer, was could someone with Cerebral Palsy undertake this type of venture?
It was suggested that I contact Professor Andrew Bosch at the Sport Science Institute of South Africa. I went to see Prof. Bosch. He was so gracious, but I wondered what he really thought, because in hindsight he must have been very perplexed at this lady with Cerebral Palsy, wanting to summit such a high mountain. But the best thing to come out of our meeting was that he reminded me that the best person to speak to was Dr Nelleke Langerak – of course! I had met Nelleke before and when Prof. Bosch mentioned to her I was reminded that indeed she was just the right person to engage with!
Nelleke works at the Gaits and Motion Lab, at the University of Stellenbosch and the Tygerberg Campus in Bellville. They agreed to take me on and support me in my training for the marathon! Enter physiotherapist Dominic Fisher!
The first thing they did was to do the analysis of “Hillary”. This meant 1. Nelleke and Dominic measured everything about my body, how far it bent and 2. For them to film my “walking”! This grandmother had to wear shorts and a top – not a pretty sight I am sure – however it was necessary for us to have a before and after record.
The measurement was to see how flexible I was. With Cerebral Palsy, one’s muscles are either too tight – or too short, or else they can be too loose – too long. In my case they are tight and so need to be stretched. I should say that as a child the physiotherapy I received was always about stretching my muscles. Also by measuring these movements it also gave a base line at the start of the exercise – before the training and the actual marathon, of what I was like so that the end results could also be compared. The first time I went to Dominic for physiotherapy I was not sure what to expect. A number of years ago and at great cost, I had gone for physiotherapy, hoping, that even as an adult it might help, but it had not helped much! However what Dominic did – it is his job – was he gave me a “sport massage”, which I had never had before, and boy did he work on muscles I never knew I had and I walked out of his rooms feeling 10 feet tall! It was more than just the physiotherapy he gave me, it was his friendship, advice and incredible encouragement and support which he gave me at every session.
The first time I went out for a walk was around the block to go and register for the elections. When I got back I was so tired – I had not even walked 1 km – and was seriously worried about that! What was I embarking on? Added to this, I was experiencing a severe pain in my left ankle, and was not sure what it was, nor the cause of it. I went see a podiatrist – enter Sean Pincus. His test was to see if I could hop on my left foot! When I could not – last time I had tried to hop I certainly was not a grandmother! He pronounced that I had a torn ligament in my ankle.
So what a start to my training for the New York City Marathon! The treatment was to have an MRI on my foot. Normally the MRIs are done in tunnels and make a lot of noise – I have had a number done in the past, and with my claustrophobia, it is not a pleasant experience. Added to this, the procedure is very expensive. However the Sports Science Centre has a new MRI machine which can now do isolated parts of the body. So off I went for the scan. The major concern about having this injury was, “How was I going to train?” Even though Sean recommended that I could train either in the water or on a bike, I was still at the “exploratory” stage and did not know what my body could handle. Yes I can swim, but we were heading into winter and I did not belong to a gym. I have an adult’s tricycle – cannot ride a bicycle – but neither of these disciplines is anything like walking. One of the recommendations that Prof Bosch made was not to train in a gym. Lots of people train in a gym, but I have never been a “gym” girl! When I was in London in April I did get to “try” out Matthew’s tread mill and it was a no-go because my rhythm of walking is so different, that there is not a machine yet out there that can match it. So at this early stage I was already down-hearted at the prospects, thinking that it might be 6 weeks before I could start walking training, and it was already April – six months to go. But once I have made my mind up – I do everything I can to achieve it! And so I started going out for short walks to see what the effect would be on my foot. Miracles of miracles, the pain had all but gone – the only explanation is that the MRI had somehow ‘massaged’ the tendon and had healed it – (this has happened in a similar situation with a tendon in my wrist some years before, and that is why I was sure it had happened again!)
First things first! I did not even have a pair of walking shoes! So off I went to buy a pair. I did not know what was what, nor did the people in the shop! So I just tried on a few pairs and bought the pair that felt most comfortable wearing. Christopher, my husband, came out with me in the evenings. On one of the first occasions, I could hardly complete one km, and whatever distance I did cover I developed a crippling stitch. So the first few sorties were not very encouraging and got me quite worried. What had I let myself in for? Perhaps it was being too foolhardy, and dare I say, perhaps a bit stupid even to think that I could achieve this.
Dennis had promised that Achilles was going to sponsor me to go to New York to do the marathon so at that stage money was not my concern! – Little did I know! All I had to do was concentrate on getting fit. It was therefore up to me. It was my own self determination and self-motivation to get out and do the walking. I had no one checking up on me and it was up to me to get my shoes on and to get out and walk. My weeks at work can be very taxing and I did not always want to go out in the evenings, but as the time for the marathon approached I took myself out every other day. Right from the beginning though Sunday mornings were always for a long walk. First it was the Pavilion on the Sea Point sea front and then it was the broad walk from Muizenberg to Kalk Bay and back, with lunch at Kalkies. Then one Sunday it was from Kalk Bay to the start of Simons Town. On that particular walk, when we got as far as Fish Hoek, Christopher walked back to get the car, while Tallulah, my dog and I walked on to Simons Town. It then became evident that it would be better if I went out for walks with Tallulah and Christopher stayed at home, so that should I need him, I could phone him and he could come and get me in the car.
There after Christopher, Tallulah – and I would go down to Sea Point Pavilion on a Sunday morning and walk on the beach front. Each week we would walk a little bit further. In the initial stages of the training I tried “running” first between two lamp post and then walk between the next two, but I soon decided that actually I would be better off if I just concentrated on setting a good walking pace.
My father’s concern for me falling was not unfounded and there were a few times that I did fall. Whenever I fall I usually stick my hands out and thereby break the fall. However the cost is that the palms of my hands usually pay the price by being cut and bruised. Enter the cycling gloves, which I then wore for the rest of my training as well as for the entire marathon walk. My knees also received a fair amount of bashing, but I think that I have bones of steel because I have yet to break a bone, even though at times I do fall rather heavily!!!
Tallulah is a very special dog. Half Irish terrier and half golden retriever, we have trained her to be obedient and so it was wonderful to have her as a walking companion. I never had to put her on a lead – except when other dogs came past and their owners were concerned! On one occasion I took a tumble and she just sat down next to me and I was able to steady myself on her to get up – this happened on a number of occasions!
Part 2 to follow shortly ……..