As a one-time Olympic marathon runner, I never thought Id be unable to walk on my 40th birthday. After 34 years of competing in road races throughout the world, my life changed drastically last year when both of my feet totally collapsed. My doctor told me that Id have to undergo total reconstruction of both feet a surgery that had never before been performed. Not only had the surgery not been performed, the doctors also didnt know how what condition I would be in afterward. Would I be able to walk again? More importantly to me, would I be able to run?
My life has been spent running quietly down solitary streets watching the sun come up, hearing my breath in the silence of an early morning run, making my way up a hill and looking down at the peace in the world. Ive also made my way through streets lined with people, finishing the last few miles of the Olympic trials, and becoming one of three women on the first-ever U.S. Womens Olympic Marathon team in 1984. Ive owned hundreds of pairs of running shoes, several jog bras, a sports watch, gym bags and at least one thing you saw on an infomercial. At the gym, I have used stairclimbers, treadmills, dumbbells, rowing machines and bikes. The one important thing missing in all of this was Pilates. Over the past six months, Pilates has helped me regain hope that one day soon, I will be able to run again.
My first surgery was in October 2001. The surgery summary was seven pages long. I went through six casts and was on crutches until Christmas Day. I crawled around my house, wearing out the knees in my pants, and relied on family and friends to do my daily chores like grocery shopping and laundry. I missed my real life.
The second surgery was one week later. My other foot was much worse there were many complications and much more pain.
As a radio broadcaster for a health and fitness show on National Public Radio twice a week, I had a very difficult time trying not to grimace on the air (and not because I had just created another word that didnt exist in the English Language). I never wanted my audience to know the pain I was experiencing. Everything I did was just a little more challenging. I dreamed of the day when I could work out, walk, dance, jump, play and even do my own laundry again.
My third surgery was this past spring in March 2002. This was my last surgery I hope. Having trained and competed for nearly my entire life, Im naturally an overachiever. I have recovered faster than all the doctors and physical therapists predicted. I have two brand new $15,000 feet, and I also have a stronger, more balanced, flexible and mobile body than ever before. This, I owe to Pilates. Pilates is known for its focus on the core powerhouse area of the body - the abdominal muscles, lower back, hips and buttocks, that work together to form the core strength of the body. Pilates focuses largely on muscle control, deep strengthening, lengthening and flexibility. It has become my gift for rehabilitation, motivation, inspiration and perspiration.
My physical therapist at Spectrum Rehabilitation in Cincinnati introduced this wonderful exercise into my life weeks after my first surgery. Initially it wasnt so wonderful. I had trouble with my feet, felt out of shape and was working out with atrophied muscles. But, I was able to slowly regain the strength and mobility in my foot, and in the rest of my body, in ways I have never experienced before. I was not helpless. In fact, I had the greatest power of all the ability to design a workout routine that worked on my mind, body and spirit, and allowed me to dream of lifes possibilities. I felt like I had won again.
I will never finish my Pilates rehabilitation. Its a life-long practice. My one-hour daily routine I practice on my very own Reformer in the pre-dawn silence is my gift from me to me.
The various Pilates exercises are endless and so are the benefits. From an elite runner to an injured, scared athlete, a pregnant mother to a grandmother, Pilates does not discriminate. People often find with Pilates that what lies within their core is more than they ever realized physically, emotionally and spiritually. After my surgeries and since taking up Pilates, I have looked at myself in a whole new light. There isnt a day that goes by that Im not amazed by what my body has been through and how it has healed itself. Its exhilarating. It makes me feel so alive.
In a quarter century of lacing up shoes and hitting the pre-dawn road, I know running has provided me with excellent health, great friends, incredible strength and a zest for life unknown to my non-running friends.But with an impressive injury resume and well-worn (yet still sexy) legs, I know that the ability to run again is still in question. I think and believe that Pilates is the answer for me.