HOW DID YOU FIND YOUR STRONG?
This is the question we asked the Charm City Run community in July of 2015 as part of a contest sponsored by Saucony. We received 227 inspiring stories about commitment, gratitude, endurance and love. Below are the winning submissions.
To those who entered:
We do what we do because of you. Thanks for reminding us and allowing Charm City Run to play a small part in your strong. You've inspired us more than you will ever know.
-Josh Levinson and the rest of the Charm City Run Team
GRAND PRIZE WINNERS
How I Found My Strong and Why I Need to Find it Again
I’ve never been skinny.
I’ve always been fit.
But, I’ve never felt as strong as I did this past fall, October 2014.
And, I’ve never felt as weak as I have in the past two months.
I first found my strong in October 2014. In 2012-2013, I gained 20 lbs. while working full time, finishing my Master’s degree, and trying for over a year to get pregnant with our first baby. I finally got pregnant, gained another 20 lbs. in pregnancy, had a baby, lost 50 lbs. and ran a half marathon. I’ve never been a runner, but I’ve always known that I wanted to be. I’ve been an athlete all my life, a college lacrosse player at that, but I never ran, unless someone was chasing me, or I was chasing someone to steal a ball.
After I had my son in September 2013, I found running. I started slow, Couch to 5K programs, walk/jog/walk/run plans, but I picked up the pace and distance over time. After shin splints, stress fractures, and daily pain, I visited Charm City, got professionally fitted for running shoes, and saw signs for the Baltimore Running Festival. I had previously participated in the Team Relay and thought I would die on my 6 mile portion, but at the store, surrounded by fit, happy people, I made the commitment to sign up for the half marathon. I wanted to lose my baby weight, but more importantly, I needed to be healthy, fit, and happy too. I needed to be the mother my son deserved; I needed to get back to my athletic self. So, I set out on my training journey in June 2014 and successfully ran the Baltimore Running Festival’s Half Marathon in October of 2014. Crossing that finish line was second only to having my son -- my two most powerful, rewarding, and emotional experiences of my life.
Fast forward to now, July 2015. I am only 9 months out of the strongest, fittest, healthiest, and happiest me, and I’m am not at all that person right now.
In late February, my husband and I found out that we were pregnant. We were ecstatic! It took us so long to get pregnant with our first, and this round only took two months. We couldn’t have been happier. I gained a few pounds, but I continued my running (never more than 5 miles because I hadn’t been doing long runs in the winter much). Then, in March, we found out that we were having twins! After getting over the shock of two babies at once, we were again celebrating the miracles. I continued to visit the treadmill in the mornings before work and hit the plowed pavements in local developments on the weekends to run. I was feeling like I had control over my body, my health, and I was truly feeling strong and in love with life.
In April, we went for our end-of-the-first trimester ultrasound. That day, everything changed. We found out that we were having a very rare type of twins, Mono-amniotic Mono-chorionic (Momo) twins. These babies are so rare that they only occur in 1 in 10,000 twin pregnancies and 1 in 60,000 pregnancies overall. Momo twins share everything – placenta, blood flow, nutrients, etc. -- there is no dividing membrane between the two babies. The doctors told us that some survive but that many do not. They said that the number one concern is cord entanglement, since there was no dividing membrane. We were sent home that night to decide if we wanted to continue the pregnancy.
We knew we couldn’t give up our babies, especially since there was a chance they would make it and be two completely healthy, beautiful additions to our family. So, the next morning, we went back to the specialist and said we were going to roll the dice, say a prayer, and remind ourselves daily of the blessing that babies truly are.
I woke up every morning, I walked through my day every day, and I went to bed every night, not knowing if my babies were alive, not knowing if their cords, their lifelines, had tangled and cut their precious lives short, not knowing what I could do to help save them. I tried my best to still be myself – a mother to a beautiful, perfect, incredibly loved toddler, a full-time high school English and journalism teacher, and an affiliate faculty educator at a local university. It was beyond hard. And, because of my high-risk pregnancy, I couldn’t turn to running for an outlet.
Running was no longer a part of my life.
Two weeks later, we had a good appointment, another sonogram where we found out both babies were boys; we saw them bouncing around and even hugging one another. The cords were already entangled, but the specialists didn’t seem concerned. They sent us home with a bit of hope and a lot of love for those little bouncy boys.
Two weeks after that, at over four months pregnant, we had another ultrasound. As soon as the ultrasound tech put the Doppler on my belly, I knew. In fact, I think I knew a few days prior because my anxiety, fears, and emotions were all over the map. Instead of the bouncing baby boys, on that sad day in mid-May, I saw my two precious baby boys, my toddler’s little brothers, lifeless next to one another. Their cords had become too entangled, and we lost them both.
I was rushed in for a D&E and dealt with several weeks of physical pain thereafter. The emotional pain, I’m sure, will never fully subside. We were able to get footprints of the babies, have them cremated, and plant a tree in our backyard in memory of them – something for us to watch grow and bloom each day.
I was cleared a few weeks after the surgery for working out, but my emotions still haven’t fully let me dive in. My first run back, in early June, I found myself crying my eyes out while jogging on the NCR. Running was therapeutic at that point for me. It was the only time I was alone since the surgery and able to let it all out, truly let it all out. I didn’t have to worry about upsetting my husband, confusing my toddler, or worrying my family and friends.
Since that run, I have only ran a few more times. I’m a working mom, and since losing my twins, I have felt guilty being away from my toddler more than I already am while at work. And maybe, I’m just afraid of the time alone and the therapy too.
Since my moment of true strong in October 2014, I gained weight, accrued additional stretch marks, and have a post-baby body that needs the dedication, determination, and fight that I had last round. But, I’m having trouble finding my strong again. I know I will, but I thought sharing my story here might help that.
Wining this trip and training will give me a goal, a community of motivation, and a push back out there for my healing, both physically and emotionally. I currently find my strength in my dear sweet son, my husband, my family, and my friends right now, but I look forward to finding my strong in my own health and fitness again soon. Thank you Charm City Run for even motivating me to write my story.
I am the mother of four amazing children, wife to a very supportive husband and a Breast Cancer Survivor.
Before I get ahead of myself, let me rewind the clock back five years. Two blue lines on a pregnancy test strip indicated that my family of five was about to become six. No one knew at the time, but this child, Maggie Mae, was going to save my life. It was an exciting time. My husband and I decided not to find out the sex of the baby until birth; and what a birth it was!! Maggie Mae, a bruiser as my mother calls her, was a bit too comfortable and proceeded to cause my 4th C-section to become quite an ordeal. The doctors almost had to put me under general anesthesia to complete the procedure. It was quite a scare. I counted my blessings and welcomed a beautiful, opinionated daughter into the world. I thought I was through with doctors for a long while and could return back to normal with evening walks with my husband and kids and trips to the local pool. Life would be as perfect as those Norman Rockwell paintings on the walls of doctor offices. Wrong.
Six months later, I feel THE lump in my left breast while breastfeeding Maggie. I call my husband. As an eternal optimist, he dismissed my fears and recited the countless clogged ducts and other possibilities for the lump. I half-heartedly accept his explanation. Two days later, another phone call. This time, there were no recitations or rationalizations. This time, it was CANCER. At this point, life became an absolute blur. How do you explain to four happy-go-lucky children about Cancer? How do you prepare to fight a disease in which the fight, not the disease, ravages the body? How do you continually wake up each morning and go on fighting the good fight? My answer was simple, my family.
We decided from the start to share as much information we could with the kids. I will never forget our first chat over dinner. I asked the kids if they had noticed that I had been going to the doctors a lot. The very next thing out of my then 8 year olds mouth was ‘Do you have cancer?’ I knew from that moment forward that honesty was going to be best for my children. I wouldn’t be able to get much past them.
After my bilateral mastectomy, I returned home to four smiles that helped keep from going to the deep dark places your mind loves to go when you are faced with a cancer diagnosis. What was tough for me was that I seemed to encounter every complication along the road. Two weeks after my initial surgery, I was hospitalized for a raging infection at the University of MD. After a week on IV antibiotics, my doctors decided that a second surgery would be necessary. Oh how my spirits were dashed. I already felt like my life had been hijacked. I likened it to a mother hen having her feathers plucked out one by one for every activity I could no longer do for or with my children.
It was right before this surgery is when I met Brock Yetso from the Ulman Cancer Fund. My high school friend, Jennie Burke, called him and told him to get right over to University of Maryland. I remember him walking in my hospital room with a huge smile on his face and a wonderful bag full of great resource books for young adults. I remember him telling me about the Cancer to 5K program Ulman Cancer Fund had and how I would soon be back on my feet to do it. I think I chuckled and thought he was a bit crazy. Here I was facing another surgery the next morning, not to mention I have never been a runner and here he wanted me to think about the Cancer to 5K program. When Brock left I hoped that he was right that my life would in fact move on.
So many well-intentioned “outsiders” gave me advice along the way such as Brock’s. Relax. Rest. Let others do everything for you. While I appreciated the intentions behind their sentiments, their advice could not have been more off-target. I wanted to continue living. I didn’t want my fun-loving husband to turn into a stoic monk. I wanted to live and enjoy life. It was a decision that saved my sanity and brought my family closer together. For you see, I found my Strong from my husband and four kids!
Our family unit would continue to do the things we always did. Dance parties to Justin Bieber and Kenny Chesney after dinner. Walks to the pond to catch crayfish and salamanders. Trips to target for one item, but leaving with a cartful. The things we always did and would continue to do regardless of Cancer.
It may sound odd to some, but you simply needed to be there. I equate it to a simple analogy. Prior to having kids, a meal at a restaurant with family could be ruined by a screaming child two booths over. As every mother knows…..If the screaming child wasn’t one of mine, the screams barely registered on the radar. So, prior to having to deal with Cancer, you feel life must stop and become an endless parade of doctors, tests, treatments and prayers. Once you are face-to-face with it, you realize life is about smiles, laughter, love and prayer, all the other stuff should barely register in affecting your quality of life.
My oldest son Jack, a mere ten years old, often saw the fear in my eyes after each surgery. He wanted to help but he was scared. Brady and Kate, my other two children, gave extra hugs and drew pictures and picked flowers on a daily basis last summer. Brady even offered to name a toad he caught in the backyard after me. They were my strength.
My dream was to always have a strong family and to have children I could adore. What I never realized was that each child, Jack, Brady, Kate, and Maggie Mae adore and love me. It was in their love Cancer could not attack. It was their smiles and warmth that provided the medicine I needed. It was them that saved my life.
Fast forward to today. I have endured 6 rounds of chemotherapy, 6 weeks of radiation, a full year of Herceptin and 10 surgeries. My hair has grown back. My strength, dedication and resolve are back with a vengeance. I love, cherish and adore my family. I have learned how to be a better mother, wife and person by choosing to live life and not hide from it. Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults and Team Fight has pushed me to limits I never thought possible two years ago. Their simple program, Cancer to 5K, opened my world to running. I had never been a fan of running until I participated in that program. I have taken back my health from cancer and am thrive, all because of the strength my family and Ulman Cancer Fund family has given me. I have been able to complete the Iron Girl Columbia race for the past 2 years, competed in the Half Full Triathlon as a relay team with my husband and Jack and biked from Baltimore to Key West with Key to Keys. It's amazing how Ulman Cancer Fund and Team Fight has inspired me.
Now, I am not a fan of clichés but they represent true life and often sum up the feelings that we often have trouble putting into words.
I want to share the Lanahan family motto: “The family that laughs, loves and runs/bikes together; beats CANCER together.”
We all have a reason to lace up our shoes, stretch our legs, get out of bed and begin. The first push off pavement, the first stride toward all those miles. We all have a way to get through the cramps in our sides, the sweat in our eyes and the pain in our knees. We all have a reason to finish the run strong. My reason is Keith.
On May 4th of last year, I started running. I started running because my heart was broken. Two years prior to my first day of running, I lost my brother Keith in a car accident. My best friend. My confidante. For two years, I walked, slowly, in a haze of defeat. My brother was twenty-four years old. He was my protector and without him, I was barely able to push through the days.I always wanted to impress him growing up, always wanted to share my world with him. I grew up as my brother's sidekick, but now I have to be my own hero. How can you be strong when the person you want to be strong for is gone? My answer was to run. My first pair of real running shoes was from Charm City in Bel Air, Maryland. I had no idea what I was doing on that first run. I had no idea what would become of a trot down a trail. I was sitting with our mom in the park, stretching my legs out in the sun. I had only run a few times, every now and then before this moment. Sometimes moment happen that change your life. I was in a park, on a Monday, when I decided I wanted to run every day for the year until the next May 4th came around. My mom looked at me, smiled, and said “You are your brother’s runner.” I went for a run that day. The first step.
And I haven’t stopped since. I’ve been running every day since then. I have run a total of 1,127 miles. I run in honor of my brother. I use a hashtag, “#mybrothersrunner,” to allow people to get involved in the cause. I believe having a healthy, strong body is a gift. I believe in using my body to remain active and relish in each sun I get to see rise and set. I believe in running. I believe that strength can be found through knowing there is a reason to keep going. Running has helped me find my strong by allowing me to have a reason to keep fighting for another day. If I run ten miles, five miles, one mile, or fifteen miles in a day, I know I am making my body stronger than it was yesterday. Running has taught me that strength doesn’t come from how fast you go, how far you go, but it’s WHY you go that makes each mile special. I run to be closer to the person I lost. I run for Keith, but I also run for myself. I run for every person who broke my heart, who told me I wasn’t athletic, I run to feel beautiful and strong. Running is something no one can take from me. No one can catch me. I am a warrior in my shoes. I need running like I need breaths in my body. On those long runs in the morning, I search for my brother in the trees and on the ground. I whisper "thank you, thank you" to whoever is listening. Some days it is so hard to not fall into the muddy pit of grief, but my legs have gotten strong enough to hold me upright. I have no limits. At the end of every run, I imagine my brother standing at the finish line I create in my mind. His arms are outstretched, his smile is so wide and he is there to catch me. Running has taught me how able my legs are, how durable my heart is and how easy it is to find your strongest self when the only thing between you and the world is a pair of shoes. It has also taught me how easy it is to lose a toenail, what size shoe you ACTUALLY wear, and how important water is. I would rather tour the rest of my days on foot, counting the miles and the minutes, trying to identify unknown bruises and bird calls, if it meant continuing this incredible sport.
When I lost my brother, I lost myself. For every run I go on, I find a piece of myself to pick up and take with me. I find my breath. I find my way. I find my strong.
I want so badly to share with the world how running has helped me. I want to prove that pushing through pain only takes one step. The first step. The first run. I am my brother’s runner. I am ready to be a runner for the world. I may be broken, but I am strong. I run every day trying to remember the ones I’ve lost, the ones I’ve loved, and I remember how far I’ve come.When I want to run away, instead I run through. I never intended to be a runner or an athlete. I never imagined running more than a mile in my life. But that’s the beauty of life...it surprises us with strength we never knew we had. Running is my strong. My brother is my strong. My mother is my strong. Baltimore is my strong. I am so lucky to have a fierce, tenacious body that never gives up on me. Running is true freedom. You and the trail. You and the road. You and the song in your headphones. You and the quiet morning. We all make a choice that defines us. My choice started with a step for the most important person in my life...my brother. I am a sister, still. I am my brother’s runner.
I want to run a marathon in honor of my little project, "My Brother's Runner." I want to win this contest and take my mom on this trip to see me run. I want to make Keith proud. I've never wanted something so badly. I've never run a marathon before and I am so ready to accomplish those twenty-six miles. I love Saucony and Charm City and I know I didn't keep this short but I am so passionate that I can hardly contain myself.
MY strong…I wasn’t sure I had one, quite honestly. I played sports as a kid…but outside of being able to hit a baseball fairly decently, I didn’t offer much. I was kind of big…I was slow…I was out-of-shape. I loved soccer, but the aforementioned big and slow didn’t help much.
After moving to Baltimore, I started playing social sports….but still I was big and slow. Not much had changed….but something had to. I was overweight and I just felt…*blech*. So in early 2009, I went looking for and found…MY STRONG. To my disbelief (and many others around me, frankly), I had one!
Not too long after learning that a close friend had lost her grandfather to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis…ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease…I learned that a childhood friend of mine was in the midst of his own battle with this awful disease. It was then that we decided that we would train for the 2009 Fiesta 5k that benefits the Robert Packard Center for ALS Research. Having never been much of a runner (despite poor efforts to try in the past), it was a daunting task for me…but with my childhood friend Mike as my inspiration, I trained and I ran my first 5K in May 5th, 2009.
As I ran, my knees hurt…my asthma acted up…I was tired…I was thirsty… It felt good to be running, but man, it kind of sucked. I thought to myself…maybe I’ll walk a little bit and I’ll feel better…
…but then I thought of Mike and the tens-of-thousands of people in this country that battle ALS. They can’t stop and “walk a little bit” just to feel better. I can’t even begin to imagine what they endure every second of their lives….and I am here running for them.
So I sucked it up…pushed on, however hard it was for a non-runner as myself, and I finished. In the memory and honor of Kimberly’s grandfather, Mike, and so many other…I found MY strong….because I had to…because they cannot.
I was proud of myself. I committed to doing more 5Ks…but “I’m not a runner” I would say and that I would never run anything more than a 5K….and I did several and I loved it.
Then I started working out fairly seriously and go myself into the best shape of my life. That was followed up by my first 10K. Then I anchored the Team Relay during the Baltimore Marathon with some newer runners like myself. Then there was the Baltimore 10-Miler. This past fall I ran my first Baltimore Half-Marathon.
While I still cringe at the thought…I am now a runner. I NEVER thought I would enjoy running. I found MY strong.
One 2nd place prize winner will receive a Night at Camden Yards for 2 complete with game tickets, parking pass and food vouchers.
One 3rd place prize winner will receive a private tasting and tour at Boordy Vineyards.