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One Runner’s Account Of Racing After A Stroke

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*Courtesy of Red Head On The Run

It was a very normal Saturday morning in May. I got up, made breakfast for the kids and did my mom things. I had invited my sister-in-law to a boot camp at our gym. I’d been going for several months, trying to get stronger and faster. I was training for several triathlon’s at the time so I was in decent shape. I usually attended the camp during the week, so the Saturday class was just a bonus.

I had a sore throat and a headache when I woke up, but it didn’t seem like enough to keep me down. Becoming a mom somehow gives us the right to push through any and all limits. Since moms don’t usually get sick days, I think we just get used to pushing ourselves. I honestly don’t remember having a debate in my mind about going or staying home. I didn’t feel bad enough for that. Of course I was going.

Camp was outside that day. Even for early May in Texas, it was hot and sickly humid. I dropped my kids off at the child care because my husband was running errands that day. He was supposed to be leaving the country on business that afternoon.

I went outside to warm up, still not really feeling anything but a headache. A dull one, but a headache all the same. Headaches are a very normal part of my life, so when I get one, I don’t often stop unless it’s a migraine. The workout was tough and I pushed myself pretty hard.

After the workout, I picked up my kids and had planned to take them swimming at the gym pool. I got them changed and headed to the cafe to feed them before we went swimming. I remember I started to drag a bit, but assumed I needed something to eat and drink. I tend to be stubborn. I hate to admit when I’m feeling sick or down. Wonder woman status is really not my life’s goal, yet I’m bent trying to attain it so much of the time.

I ordered the kids lunch and noticed my vision beginning to blur a bit. I could only see clearly out of one side and even then, it was speckled with stars. “Um, this is really not okay,” I remember thinking. We sat down to wait for our food and all I could do was put my head on the table. A friend was there with her son, so she got me some Gatorade. I have severe dehydration issues so I assumed I just needed some fluids and I’d be fine. But I noticed words were hard.

All of a sudden, I couldn’t think clearly. I couldn’t think of my name, my kids names, what day it was. My phone was on the table and I had been texting my husband telling him I didn’t feel well, and I remember managing to type “help.” That was it. My friend saw that I was starting to lean so she and one of the managers took me to the hall and laid me down. I couldn’t talk, my body was numb and I couldn’t see out of one side. I panicked. Internally, I was freaking out. Screaming even, but nothing was coming out of my mouth. No words. No tears. Nothing.

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Before I knew it, paramedics showed up at my side, asking me questions I couldn’t answer and taking vitals. I wanted to tell them how I was feeling but I couldn’t make sense of anything in my head. Just jumbled thoughts that couldn’t come out of my mouth. “Kelly. My name is Kelly,” I thought but it wouldn’t come out. I knew my name, but not the date or day. I was frustrated and terrified. And where the heck were my kids? I had no idea.

The friend who was with me stayed as they were wheeling me to the ambulance. She told me that my boys were safe and my husband was on his way. Several hours and loads of tests later, they sent me home with only orders to see a neurologist and a cardiologist ASAP. They couldn’t nail down exactly what had happened. The next day I landed at Urgent Care with strep throat. It was turning out to be a stellar weekend.

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I spent the next several weeks at doctor appointments, being poked and prodded, making my way through MRI and CAT Scan machines, EEG’s and EKG’s. I heard how I probably shouldn’t run. Obviously at that point I started tuning them out. All tests had come back normal. I was sort of an anomaly.

My cardiologist determined it was a severe ocular migraine combined with the onset of strep throat—the perfect storm to cause a TIA or mini stroke.  It took about a month to feel normal again, and even then I wasn’t 100%. But I had races to conquer and goals to achieve. I needed to get back to training, just to feel my best again. It’s my outlet. My joy and passion. When something derails the ability to do it, I become that much more passionate.

My family was totally freaked out, as they should have been. I would have reacted the same way if it had happened to them. But in my mind, I was fine and moving forward. I was gaining strength mentally and physically, but as far as they were concerned, I could never run again. But we all know as runners—that’s just crazy talk.  So I spent the summer getting over the fear of it happening again, and regaining some ground with training. I worked with my trainer, set some new goals and focused on taking care of myself. I slowed down. I trained smarter.

It’s now been four years since that day. Many migraines, sinus surgery, one more kid, three full marathons, a 200-mile relay, half marathons, countless shorter distance races and several triathlons later, and I’m okay.  I started a blog to have an outlet for all my words and a place to track all my training and racing. I became a certified personal trainer. I’m teaching boot camp, where I get to pour into the lives of women while helping them get fit. A dream really.

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I thought I was going to die that day. Not to sound dramatic, but I really did. It scared me and rattled me to the core, and I’m not a fearful person most of the time.

We are not invincible. It reminded me what a gift it is to live and run and race and do the things I love. It reminded me to be a mom to my kids and to do the daily stuff we forget to be thankful for. It changed me. But, I’m walking proof that it’s possible to do hard things after something hard has happened to you. But often times we don’t like to talk about the hard stuff.

I don’t look at things the same way. We need rest and nourishment and time to take care of our bodies. So, it almost gave me permission to slow down.

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One day, I might lose these physical abilities. I might not be able to walk or talk or run. My hope is that my happiness is not found in physical abilities I may lose one day. However, the fact that in the here and now, I’m able to do them, means the world. I don’t want to waste it. So, I set big crazy goals that I have no business setting and forge ahead determined to make this time in my life worth it.

So be thankful today. Set hard goals today. Determine to do your very best to accomplish them in a healthy way. And don’t be afraid to do hard things.