An Empowering Encounter

I have been pretty terrible about updating my blog lately. Since I’ve been back at Emory, I’ve only posted once. Thoughts of new posts constantly come to mind, yet with classes, research, volunteering, extracurricular activities, and of course, running, I just haven’t found the time to write. This weekend, however, was very special- in the midst of stressful schoolwork and homesickness, I had a chance encounter that completely restored my faith in humanity.

It began Friday afternoon when, after picking up my race bib and t-shirt for Saturday’s Winship Win the Fight 5k, I was walking to a lab meeting. Suddenly, an older man approached me and asked about my ankle. I was quite surprised, but he seemed friendly, so I briefly explained the beer bottle incident, which coincidentally happened exactly one year ago (the Friday afternoon before the Winship 5k, which I had been planning on running!) Surprisingly, the man seemed relieved. We continued talking, and it turned out that Jim is a melanoma survivor. His calf was affected by cancer, and the sight of my ankle had worried him. I asked him if he was running the race, which he was, and we began discussing our favorite races and times. As we parted ways, we wished each other luck, and he told me that he hoped to see me on the podium tomorrow. That would have been enough. Sad as it is to say, it’s not everyday that a random stranger strikes up a conversation with you. I thought about Jim for the rest of the day and what a special encounter it had been.

Come race morning, I was warming up with tears in my eyes. I could hear the Winship Cancer Institute speakers, which made me think about my cousin Jimmy, a pediatric oncologist, who passed away a few years ago. I hadn’t realized what an emotional event this race would be, and as I finished my warm up, I heard, “let’s hope there’s no beer bottles on the course this early in the morning.” I turned around, and there was Jim! We entered the start corral together and discussed our families and backgrounds while waiting for the gun to fire. This was the first race I’ve run without knowing anyone- in fact, I’d never run a race without my mom or dad on the course or in the crowds. While the race was held on Emory’s campus and had around 3,000 runners, walkers, and joggers, I did not see any fellow students! It wasn’t really the type of event one typically attends alone- there were teams with hundreds of people in matching t-shirts, groups of cancer survivors, and families running in honor of loved ones. But I did not feel alone at all- I had made a lovely acquaintance, and I was running for a compelling cause.

It was a challenging course (the name of the area, Druid Hills, gives it away) but my endorphins were in full gear. I was the third female to cross the finish line, but rather than analyzing my splits and cooling down, I just wanted to see Jim finish- and he did, in under 26 minutes, and was handed a white flower, indicating he was a cancer survivor. And Jim was right- we did see each other on the podium! We both placed in our age group, and he was elated that both he and “his adopted daughter for the day” had medaled.

I had been on cloud nine the whole day after my encounter with Jim when I received an email from him. Without knowing anything about me but my first name and that I was an Emory student, Jim had found my blog. He deeply touched my life, and it seems I made an impact on him as well. I don’t know what else to say about this weekend. Jim has the spirit of runner- a fighter, an unstoppable machine, a pure human being. We were brought together by chance, and I hope to see him at next year’s race. Jim made me appreciate running, living, and human goodness more than ever before. Miracle moments like these are few and far between, but they truly are empowering.

Jim

When Life Throws You Beer Bottles…

It was 4:30 on Friday October 4th. I was feeling very homesick and struggling with chemistry, so I was eager to log some miles before getting ready for dinner. I am not your typical college kid- I don’t enjoy staying out until two in the morning, don’t do random hookups, and, largely because of my medical conditions, don’t even drink at all. Therefore, I was not expecting to get hit by a beer bottle on my run.

As I ran out past my dorm, which lies atop fraternity row, I could see a few guys throwing something around in their frat house’s lawn. We made eye contact, and they stopped what they were doing as I passed. All of a sudden, however, I felt something heavy puncture my ankle. I wasn’t sure what was happening, so the first thing I did (as any runner naturally would) was pause my watch- 0.06 miles elapsed. Lying next to my foot were the remains of a beer bottle, and only then did I realize what had happened- one of the guys had kicked a beer bottle, and it hit my ankle and shattered on it.

Before any of the frat guys came down to apologize, a man- who turned out to be the head of the interfraternity council and just happened to be the sole spectator of this event- came running across the street to tell me that the paramedics were on the way. Paramedics- this is ridiculous, I’m fine, I thought. My ankle was completely numb, so I was shocked when I looked down to find blood pouring out of my ankle and into my shoe and sock- great for my anemia. The perpetrator- let’s call him Chad (sorry if your name is Chad, but when I searched typical frat guy names, Chad was #1 on the list)- was extremely concerned about my bloody socks. While we waited for the paramedics, he assured me that he would replace them (which he did not) and also invited me to his fraternity’s famous all-white party the following night (which I did not attend). Later, my friend thought it would be great if I went to the party on crutches, carrying my deep red socks.

After inquiring about my MedicAlert bracelet, the paramedics informed me that the cut was very deep. I would need to get the wound stitched up immediately, so my best bet was to ride in the ambulance with them. Unfortunately, I did not see this working out well. I could be in the emergency room for hours, and I needed my medicine and safe food. All I had with me in my running fanny pack was an EpiPen, glucose, phone, and keys- no meter, insulin, or dinner. I was in an extremely distressed state when, seemingly out of nowhere, my sophomore advisor, Zeena, appeared, headed for the parking garage. That’s when I lost it- I felt so relieved that she was there, yet so overwhelmed by this whole situation. The goal of this run was to alleviate my stress, not create far worse problems!

She calmed me down and called my other sophomore advisor, Meredith, and we worked out a plan. Meredith and I went up to my room (for once, I took the elevator rather than the stairs to the 5th floor) to get all of my medicine while Zeena went to the dining hall to get my specially prepared meal. We then walked to Emory Hospital. While this was on campus and not very far, in retrospect, it was a terrible idea- surely it exacerbated to damage to my ankle! Once in the waiting room, I called my mom to inform her that I was in the emergency room. She could think of many plausible reasons that I would be there- anaphylaxis, asthma, hypoglycemia, hyperglycemia, etc.- but never would have predicted this. Luckily, the wound was still fairly numb, and my two amazing advisors and friends kept me distracted by taking ER selfies.

IMG_2605IMG_2608

The doctor informed me that my tendon was damaged- great for running– but that I should be able to walk without crutches as soon as the stitches were removed, which should be in five days. Well, given my medical history, I was not too surprised when, after five days, an Emory physician informed me that the stitches were not ready to come out. After twelve days, they still didn’t look ready, but he figured he would try. Well, the wound reopened and started bleeding the next day, so I was given Steri-Strips but instructed to stop using the crutches. After a few days of this, I developed severe shin pain in the other leg (at least I now had a use for my compression socks) as well as pain in the ankle. So back on the crutches it was for six weeks. All the time I would normally be spending running was replaced by physical therapy. Not running was unbearable, and while I enjoyed getting to know the physical therapists, I was quite alarmed when a doctor informed me that I had a “rapidly growing staph infection” that I had most likely caught from physical therapy- so much for that five-day recovery.

The most difficult part of this time was, without question, not being able to run. I missed not only the beating heart, sweaty skin, and throbbing legs, but the use of my mental endurance, will power, and drive. Therefore, as Thanksgiving approached, I was determined to keep my spot in the Turkey Trot. While I switched my registration from the 10k to the 5k, I successfully completed the course on crutches. It was the slowest 3.1 miles of my life, but it satisfied my craving for challenge.

crutching along...
crutching along…
don't worry, we didn't actually run in these!
don’t worry, we didn’t actually run in these matching pants!

 

 While I did not envision spending my first semester of college on crutches, using Paratransit, relying on others to carry my tray in the dining hall, a lot of people (including Bart Yasso and Scott Jurek!) were intrigued by my story. It was an extremely difficult experience, but I found some caring friends. It gave me a greater appreciation for running and for my legs, and a remarkable sense of respect for disabled athletes. Largely because of this experience, I want to join Achilles International and become a guide for disabled runners.

Life threw me a beer bottle, and I learned to accept the unexpected.

Scott Jurek
Scott Jurek
Bart Yasso
Bart Yasso