In 2011, I had to have back surgery— I had a fusion and I had to have 2 plates and 4 screws. The cartilage between the vertebrate was 80% gone and so I had a lot of bone rubbing on bone. The pain was crazy. I did physical therapy for years, steroid injections, nerve blocks, you name it, I had it. None of it worked, so surgery it was. Recovery and physical therapy were horrendous—something that I never want to have to do again (even though the doctors now are talking about future surgery for the vertebrate above where I now have the plates). I was told by the doctors that being overweight for so long was crushing my spine and this was causing the pain.
When we PCS’d from North Carolina to Georgia, I started a new job and an internship for my Master’s program— visiting clients in their home (I’m a marriage and family therapist). One day, as I was driving to see a client, I fell asleep not once, but twice. Furthermore, while at home on my lunch break, I fell asleep sitting up and stopped breathing. My dog noticed that my breathing had stopped and jumped into my lap to wake me up. I realized I wasn’t breathing because as soon as I woke up, I took about 4 deep breaths. I decided to see a doctor to find out why this was happening. I had all the things done— EKG, MRI, C-Scan, sleep studies, and eventually seeing a neurologist…not just one, but two neurologists! The first neurologist prescribed several medications that did not work; the second neurologist found a large mass on my brain— 2 inches down my spine and moving down my spine from the base of my skull where it connects to your spine. The mass covered the entire back side of my head and went from ear to ear. I learned that this mass was a Chiari Malformation. I cried in the doctor’s office and researched it like crazy. The doctor believes that I may have had a Chiari malformation since I was about 12 years old. Thinking back to my childhood, I remember as a 10-year old having headaches and nosebleeds, and my mom taking me to all of the doctors (she was military so we saw the base doctors)— not finding anything wrong and sending myself and my mom home with a treatment plan of Tylenol for headaches and home remedies for nose bleeds. But this was different. Every time I strained or did anything strenuous, the headaches came— even laughing caused the headaches. The nose bleeds came and they were bad and the headaches were so blinding that I would have to stop what I was doing until the headache passed. I was told by my doctor that the Chiari Malformation was second largest he has ever seen and needed emergency surgery. The surgery would not completely remove the mass, but it would make it smaller. I still have a small mass on my brain. The surgeons had to be careful, as not to damage my brain.
Adding to the story, my then husband was deployed when the doctor discovered the Chiari malformation and the need for emergency surgery. He quickly scheduled on an emergency Red Cross flight home, which took 4 days. I ended up in the ICU shortly after the surgery for 6 days, waking up after day 3. When I woke up, my then husband told me that I need to start doing the things I want to do for ME because life is not promised. We are not promised tomorrow. That day I knew I had to make a change—I had to do things for me. That was 2013.
It took a year and a half to recover from the brain surgery and get cleared by my doctor to exercise. In that year and a half, I engaged in physical therapy and all the things I needed to do to recover. I also made a list of things I wanted to do for myself— lose weight and start running. I have always thought running was cool and that people running looked like they were having an enjoyable time— I wanted a piece of that. So what did I do? My friends and I decided that we would sign up for the Princess Challenge at Disney in 2015. Because why not? I am a HUGE Disney fanatic. The training began and boy was I wrong about running— it was not cool! I started changing my mind about why I wanted to run. I was like, “girl what are you thinking?” While training, I joined several running pages on social media. Joining the online running community is where I fell in love with running. The running community is the best I’ve ever seen. The support is beyond amazing. I also learned that more girls that look like me are runners— something I had never seen before. I was always embarrassed about my pace— never wanting to talk about my pace or post a picture with my pace on it. I’m a true back of the packer (that’s where the party’s at). I mean I am the girl who gets a police escort across the finish line (that actually only happened once…haha).
I trained for the 19.2 miles (10K and a half) — finishing the 10k and completing mile 11 in the half before I got swept. I was hooked after the Disney race, and I signed up again for the Princess Half in 2017. Again, I finished the 10k and swept at mile 9 after twisting my knee. None of this discouraged me. I was so excited about the fact that I even had the courage to start.
Training and running the Disney races helped me get serious about my fitness and nutrition. I joined Beachbody (and that was an event in itself…haha…not a bad one though). I was not too sure about working out from home. My coach invited me for about 5-6 months before I decided to try it. Why not? I had tried everything else. But for some reason, this stuck. I mean it really stuck. It was working and to be honest, I didn’t get “serious” about the workouts and nutrition until about a year after I joined and became a coach. I was like, “working out at home? Please”. I started one program after another after another. The support and the community was great. No shaming and always cheering for each other. I began working on my nutrition by using portion fix. The containers made sense to me— I didn’t have to starve or restrict myself. I only had to listen to my body— making the proper adjustments and still eating what I like and choosing healthier options. Nutrition plan started making sense and the weight came off. To this day, I have lost 109 pounds! Can you believe that? Some days I can’t. I still struggle with the “girl” I see in the mirror. Now don’t get it wrong, I still indulge from time to time. I love pizza. I mean, I LOVE pizza. I will never pass it up. And I mean real cheese, tons of pepperoni, Pizza Hut pizza with stuffed crust. I don’t get hard on myself when I indulge or veer off of my nutrition plan. It’s pointless and just makes me feel bad and I don’t need that in my life. I just do better the next day. I don’t quit. I forgive myself and keep going. It took me a minute to get there, but I’m there and it’s working for me. I will say that I’ve learned that in the past when I restrict myself from the things I like, I lose the battle with nutrition every time.
During this time when I was getting on track with my nutrition, 2019 to be exact, my then husband told me he wanted a divorce. Talk about devastated. I was floored. We had been married for 20 years and together for 26 at that point. I lost so much during that time. My house, my job, my mind (it felt like it at times). My heart was broken, and I had no idea who I even was anymore. But I will tell you this: I ran. I ran and ran and ran. And I prayed. I have always been a believer in Christ. He is my light. He is my everything. And has gotten me through so many things. Running helped clear my mind. Running helped me stay positive. Running kept me sane. Running brought me peace. Running let me cry it all out with no shame. But things started turning around. I found a new job— all the way in Washington State! I was like Washington? What’s out there? I am a Georgia peach through and through, but I knew God was leading me to where I needed to be. Leading me to peace. Things started to fall in place— I got my own place to stay and brand-new SUV. So, my 20 year-old daughter and I packed up our belongings, 3 dogs, 2 cars and a Uhaul drove 4000 miles across the country (Georgia to Washington). The journey took us 5 days, about 1000 doggy potty breaks, pet friendly hotel stays, snow, rain, almost getting lost in Nebraska, and seeing the most beautiful sites (God’s Country). We made it and it’s been so great and a nice change of pace. One of the first things I did, was seek out running groups in my area and mapped out running paths (and we’re not going to talk about all the hills out here). I joined the Black Girls Run Seattle group (1st running group I joined in the PNW) and those ladies are great and so supportive and have made me feel welcomed. So hilarious as well. It was here, while working on post with CYS, that I found and joined Stroller Warriors Lewis-McChord. I have gotten encouragement and tips about running on post and meet ups (even though some of the times I can’t make). I was part of the base running group while we were stationed at Moody AFB. I wasn’t familiar with running on post here at JBLM, but Stroller Warriors helped me with that and the mileage around the flight line. Running groups look a little different now due to Covid, but we’re still getting our miles in. One thing I have had to adjust to, is winter running. Man, that is a different kind of beast. I’m slowly learning about cold weather running. But I’m out here doing it because I am a runner!
I am currently training for the Springtime Surprise at Disney World the end of March/beginning of April. I’m running with the American Cancer Society in honor of my grandmother who passed from cervical cancer. It’s my first time fundraising for a race. I’ve been more consistent with this training than before. Additionally, I won an 8-week training program with a running coach, physical therapist and mentor and it has been so great. My coach was on the cover of Runner’s World! I learned so much and still use the training techniques. I would recommend a running coach. It was something I wish I had done at the beginning of my running journey.
I will say this, I never thought I would be that girl running. I had every excuse: I’m too fat to run, black girls don’t run, this will ruin my hair, I have knee problems, it’s too hot, it’s too cold, it’s dark outside, I don’t want to run by myself, I don’t have the right this or that. It was always something. I still have those moments and days. But it’s seriously mind over matter, and I’ve seen what running and exercise has done for me. Not just in how I look, but so much more. It’s made me a better person. It’s made me stronger, and I’ve made so many friends. The support of the running community is amazing. I’ve found who I am, continue to grow, and I love her more than I ever have or thought I ever would.
For those that say you can’t do this, or you’re too this or you’re too that…STOP IT! I know it’s cliché, but if I can do it, you can too. I promise you that you can. I’ve tried all the diets (name it, I’ve done it… twice), I’ve had all the excuses, I’ve had all the surgeries (brain surgery, rotator cuff repair, 2 knee surgeries on the same knee, disc repair in my neck, back surgery, hernia repair, cyst removal from my wrist, I have no arch in my right foot and foot pain is constant- so yeah I have them all). I’ve been told that I shouldn’t run, that I will more than likely quit. But you know what, I’ve had so much positive support and positive results that quitting is not an option anymore. Period. I love the person I’ve become and don’t plan on looking back. The future looks bright, and I know running and fitness will be a part of it…. Always.