This past weekend 12 runners set out to make history as the first ever all-disabled team to run the Reebok Wasatch Back Relay Race. A 200 (ish) mile race from Logan to Park City, Utah, spanning two hot days, and one cold night. The team consisted of 11 blind and visually impaired runners, a cancer survivor, and a runner with one lung—all Achilles International athletes. The team accomplished their goal as they ran through trails and mountains, and crossed the finish line about 7:30 p.m. on Saturday June 18th, making history. This dynamic team trained for over a year for the feat of a lifetime—some experienced runners, and even more amateur ones, set out to accomplish something that had never been done before. While this was an enormous team effort, this is my personal story and experience, as a member of this historic team, a story that goes far beyond being a blind runner and extends to a hugely personal triumph…
|Photo: The whole Team Achilles at the finish line with medal.|
I was approached about a year and half ago about joining a team that would run some 200(ish) miles across the Northern Utah Mountains, and would consist of all disabled runners. I was absolutely, 100% NOT on board with this request. In fact, I said NO at first with little to no hesitation. I grew up as a dancer, and enjoyed doing lots of physical activities, but running was NOT one of them. My husband is a runner through and through and when the prospect of him being my guide on this run came to be, he had all but signed the paper saying he would do it—I still flat out refused.
When I was first approached about the race, I was in a pretty dark place in my life. My husband and I had been struggling with infertility for several years, we had just spent every penny of savings (and non-savings) we had, and put ourselves into lots of debt trying to have a baby with IVF. We had invested almost $34,000 into using a surrogate (read our infertility story here) to carry our baby, which failed, and we had no embryos and not options left…our hearts were shattered. It was the hardest, darkest, most frustrating time of my life and I was a lost soul.
During IVF, I had gained over 30 pounds doing hormone injections, eating away my heartache, and feeling too miserable (mentally and physically) to exercise. I had gained a lot of weight, and lost a lot of faith in my own body during IVF. I looked at my body and hated all of it, the way it looked, how it had betrayed me, how it had let me and my husband down, how it had literally FAILED me. I cried for days/weeks/months after finding out our last two embryos didn’t take—I was in a deep depression and could NOT dig myself out.
My husband, family and close friends helped me tremendously by trying to support me in finding new ways to love myself again. I hired a personal trainer at the gym to help me get in shape, and to give me something to commit to, I started taking dance classes again, and I sought counseling. It wasn’t long after getting a trainer that I realized I had to do something to take back control of my life, and I had to find a way for my body to prove to me that it wasn’t always going to fail me.
After much convincing, and honestly having no clue what I was getting myself into, I decided I would join the Achilles team and run Ragnar 2016. I went on our weekly training runs very reluctantly, for months and months and months. I cried after almost every run because I was so discouraged and frustrated with my progress, and how slow my “new body” was. I complained ALL THE TIME about how much I hated running. I dreaded every bloody run, and felt discouraged every time. BUT…I was noticing a huge change in my body and my heart; I lost 15 pounds in training and gained a lot of muscle.
As the race actually approached I became more and more aware of what I had gotten myself into…and I regretted my decision DAILY! I can’t count how many times I said, “What the hell did I do???” Months before the race I got a horrible kidney infection which put me in the hospital for days and nearly took my life. I thought my Ragnar dream was a bust, but soon realized I had to keep fighting…so I kept running.
I never grew to love running, that runner’s high thing people talk about, I still have no idea what that is. I, however, noticed that my confidence was increasing, and my body was changing, and I had a new focus to fight for.
The weekend of Ragnar is something I’ll never forget. It was long, tedious, exhausting, mentally draining, exciting, arduous, and thrilling…it was everything. Everywhere we went along the way, other teams stopped to encourage us, to push us, to motivate us…and it was incredibly empowering. Our team fought through some tough runs, and dealt with hot temperatures, and frigid nights. We slept in crowded vans, ate sparsely, and fought through fatigue and exhaustion. Most of all, we ran to fight against long-standing stereotypes that blind people don’t or can’t.
|Part of the Achilles Team during leg 2 of the race.|
But on a much more personal level, Ragnar saved my life.
My first two legs of the race were tough for me. I was fighting just to get through them, I made horrible times and felt slower than ever before…but I finished. On my third leg of the race we encountered this hill, it was steep, and it was hot outside. I took my first step up that hill, and when I felt the drastic incline, I hit the ground and sobbed. I was done I wanted to quit so badly, I had already had a bunch of hills and there was NO WAY I could do another one, especially that steep of one.
|Photo: View of one of the hills we ran.|
As I cried, and people passed me over and over again, my husband just kept encouraging me that I could do it. I begged him to call in someone else to take my place at that point, that I was DONE, that I just could NOT MAKE IT. After a little pity party for myself, I forced myself to get up and go. I cried the whole way up that hill. That hill almost conquered me but when I got to the top…well, it was one of those moments that everything hit me.
|Photo: View from the top of the hill.|
Two of my teammates met me close to the finish line and pushed me the whole way to the finish. I finished my final leg and tears trickled down my face the entire way back to the van. I was so moved by the experience that I couldn’t even put into words how I felt. I just accomplished something I never even imagined I would. I couldn’t check it off my bucket list because well, this was not anything I’d ever even put on my bucket list.
|Photo: Lucas and I during one of our runs.|
This race will always hold a special place in my heart. It was something I desperately needed to move past a lot of personal heartache, a lot of dis-trust in my own body, and a lot of fear about my ability to conquer my future. For me it was a personal fight to believe in myself once again, and to trust my own body to get me through hard things.
|Photo: My family and friends who met me at the finish line.|