Growing up I was always a very active kid. I spent my days going from one sports practice to the next, climbing trees, riding bikes, and going on family hikes or ski trips. I never sustained an injury other than spraining my arm at recess in fourth grade. I didn’t workout because my parents told me to or because I wanted to look a certain way; it was something I did because I genuinely enjoyed it. Looking back I definitely took my health for granted and was unaware of how many people weren’t able to do what I did.
When I started college in the fall of 2013 it was the first time in my life that I wasn’t in a sport. Since I had always been active I wasn’t concerned about lacking motivation to workout, join intramural sports, or go for a hike. Yet after only being at college for a week, the unthinkable happened.
For the two months leading up to college I had been experiencing lower back pain. It would come and go in waves and soon became so painful that it would bring me to tears. I rarely took Advil but found myself in so much pain that I was taking the maximum dose I could each day. My parents decided to take me in for an X-Ray only to have the doctors tell me that there was nothing wrong; that they should send me off to college. The first few days of college were filled with awkward ice breakers and more back pain. My parents were still worried so they had me schedule an MRI during my first weekend of school. My sister was a senior at the same college so one of her friends drove me to my appointment. I finished the MRI, got back into my clothes, and began the 15 minute drive back to school. Within five minutes of leaving the MRI office I receive a call… “Hello Marie. So we just looked at your MRI and something was truly alarming. The dye we injected in you shows that there is some sort of infection in your spine. We aren’t sure what exactly but we need you to go to the hospital immediately”. I remember fighting back tears and being at a loss for words. Shortly after I got back to school my sister came and picked me up. As soon as I saw her I completely broke down. I had never had a serious illness and was mortified at what could be wrong with me.
My sister drove me to OHSU Hospital where I was checked into the Infectious Disease department…I was scared. Doctors came in to talk to about my pain levels and make sure I hadn’t experienced any nerve damage. Within a few hours my parents had made the drive from my hometown in Washington in order to be by my side. The next few days were filled with a plethora of tests; MRI, CAT scan, spinal biopsy and many more. At long last the team of spinal specialist determined that I had Osteomyelitis (an infection of the bone) located in one of the vertebrae in my spine; typical in 60 year old men who recently have had back surgery…so obviously it was confusing how a healthy 18 year old female had gotten it.
I received a PICC line (Peripherally inserted central catheter) that was basically a tube that was inserted in my arm and went straight to my heart. I had to carry around what looked like a glorified fanny pack full on antibiotics for the next month. The antibiotics were hooked up to my PICC line and were being pumped into my body 24hrs a day. Once that was complete I had to inject myself with antibiotics multiple times a day through the PICC line. After a few months the PICC line was removed and I was on oral antibiotics that I took three times a day for another two months.
Yet having to take all these drugs wasn’t the hardest part for me, it was not being able to workout…AT ALL. Because the infection had been in my spine it had left my vertebrae very weak. I was specifically instructed to not run or partake in any other form of physical activity. For six months the only form of exercise I was able to do was walk around…THIS was difficult for me. I realized how fortunate I had been to be able to move my body. I knew that I had taken my body for granted and vowed to never do that again
By the time spring rolled around I was once again able to be active however I pleased...within reason. I had to ease back into running in order to not aggravate my spine, something that required a lot of patience. By the time I was starting my sophomore year I remember realizing how incredible my body was. Although it took time and numerous months of intense antibiotics, I was able to run, bike, hike, and ski once again. I decided to sign up for my first half-marathon in honor of being healthy once again. The following year I ran my first marathon and the year after that I ran a 50k and a 50 miler.
People often ask me "why?". “Why do you run that far? Why would anyone want to do that? Why workout at all?”. My answer is quite simply BECAUSE I CAN. I want to see what my body is capable of and never take it for granted. I’ve realized that our bodies are capable of doing so much more than our minds lead us to believe. If you had told me a few years ago that I would fall in love with ultra-marathons I would have thought you were crazy! But after having my health taken away for a year I realized how incredible our bodies can be. I run because I can and for those who can’t. I am well aware that not everyone is as fortunate as I am and that I am lucky my infection didn’t leave me paralyzed. Not a day goes by that I am not grateful for this body.
When it comes to everything we see with social media, it can easy to wish we had someone else’s body. In these moments I remind myself to practice gratitude for each part of my body. For my feet who have taken me up Mt. Rainier, to the magical Himalayas, through countless finishes lines, and wherever else I may go in this life. I am grateful for my legs, my core, my arms, my neck, and even my special little spine. And while it may have taken a serious illness for me to realize this, it shouldn’t have had to. We all have bodies and experiences to be grateful for each and every day.
When you wake up tomorrow let your first thought be one of gratitude. Gratitude for this life and for the body you reside in. I believe all bodies are magical vessels that carry us through this crazy life. So be humble, be kind, and be grateful to the body you have been given.