30 April 2014

Shout out, sister

My sister is pretty damn awesome, not to mention that she is way nicer than I am and has pretty much the best sense of humor, ever. She joined the Marine Corps in 1995, and, after two tours in Iraq, she last served in a hot fill billet at Walter Reed in Bethesda, as a patient liaison in the critically wounded ward.  Late last year, she transferred to the reserves.

In 2010, she wanted to run a marathon as a celebration of turning 40 - and she wanted it to be with me. She signed us up for the Marine Corps Marathon (duh), and we both figured there'd be plenty of time for both of us to train. We built dual training calendars and encouraged each other along - she was running mostly on her own, given the demands of her job and the screwy hours. She scoffed at me for putting in speed workouts, I got the, 'Seriously?'  As it turned out, my recovery took a lot longer than anticipated, including a corrective surgery in late July 2010, and we were left trying to figure out how we could run this thing together. In mid-September she said, 'Well, let's just do it next year,' - this after having put in five months of running and serious training.  That's just how she is.

I concocted a plan that would allow us to run the race together - I printed out the course map, highlighting the turns and corners where the course came back on itself or where the diameter between loops segments was narrow (i.e., the Mall). In this way, we created a series of break and join points along the course which would keep us together but not have me running any significant lengths at a spell. We had about eight break/meet points.  The plan was that  I would always be on the right hand side of the road. We bought matching shirts so we could spot each other in the mass of runners. She had her finish time goal set, with the required times at each mile to achieve it, to be wrapped around her wrist.

Race day came and we executed perfectly (I should hope so), meeting up at each planned spot. When we crossed the bridge to Crystal City, we chanted a "This bridge ain't sh&t" mantra along the way. Just as she was emerging to cross under the bridge from the Pentagon, she looked at me and said, 'I can't, I have to walk, my legs really hurt.' I said, "You can. We're going to do it together." We started a shuffle for three, walk for one - it extended to a shuffle for five, walk for one. We were inexplicably joined by a dude who had come to cheer on his friends, and he ran with us for the last two miles, just before the turn up to the Iwo Jima Memorial. We ran up the entire hill and she crossed the finish line of her first marathon. The first thing she did was turn to me and say, 'Thank you, Beans, I love you." I'm blessed.

Oh yeah, and she's running again this year. Boom.

(Click on pic to see full-size slideshow.)

28 April 2014

Can't is a four-letter word.

The first race in my series is this weekend - there'll be a wooded trail course, hills revealing lovely vistas, copious sunscreen, sweaty spandex, knee-high socks, and slightly suspect food choices. It'll be fun. There will be some who are there to break 100 miles. There will be some who are running their first ultra. There are probably a few there because someone told them they couldn't do it and they accepted the challenge to prove that person wrong.

The funny thing about someone imposing a limitation upon you is that the limitation can become the focus, rather than remembering the reason behind what you wanted to accomplish in the first place. There's also a huge difference between "can't" and "shouldn't." There are physical activities I did before my injuries that I probably shouldn't do now, because there could be some nasty consequences. Doesn't mean I can't do them (ok, fine, if I tried hoisting two sea bags and lugging flight gear to the bird on my stick legs today, probably not going to happen, fair enough - sheesh).

The doctors said I wouldn't get back in the cockpit. I was determined to get there.  Yet, there came a point during my recovery when I realized I had to redefine my end-state. Could I sit in full flight gear, for a minimum of four hours, potentially 12, and fly a mission? Probably. Would I be in pain? Assuredly. Was I a liability in the air in that state? Without question. Would the Corps have given me the numerous waivers I would have needed to get back in that coveted seat? Based on my initial inquiries, likely.  And as I left base each day, especially days with physical therapy, I knew that my physical self wasn't holding up in the way it needed to in order for me to be the pilot and officer I wanted to be. Beyond that, I was pursuing a goal as if I hadn't already achieved it, and blithely dismissing the long-term health consequences, not to mention glossing over the potential impact on my little ones. 

What would be the physical cost to reach 40 sit-ups? What would happen when I hoisted another Marine, most certainly heavier than me, and tried to run with him? (It was inevitably a him.) What would happen if my bird went down, would I be able to help my crew? Would I be able to help myself?  I wrestled with these queries, feeling like a failure, and ultimately recognized that I might well could, but that I probably shouldn't, for me and more importantly, for those who were placing themselves in my trust. The question I asked was: Was it worth putting my flight crew, not to mention other Marines and Sailors, at risk just to prove myself? No.

And so I decided to tackle the other thing the doctors said I wouldn't do - run more than three miles (a number they gave me to allow me to pass the Corps' physical fitness test). What better way to prove them wrong than to run for 24-hours?

27 April 2014

The "I" in team....

I often joke that, "There is no 'I' in team, which is why I am not on one," especially when there is some group effort in which I am forcibly partaking.

The reality is that being a part of a team has been essential to my life, even as many of the sports I have done are called "individual effort" sports. Without the other people on my team, I would not have run as far, swum as fast or biked as hard. (I most certainly would have slept in a myriad of times - including today! - if not for knowing that the team would help get me through whatever punishing physical challenge was in store that day.) Even when I have entered a race singly, I arrived at the start in part due to their support and encouragement.

Over these past four years, it has been my friend, family and USMC team, my physical therapy teams, my medical teams and my sports teams that gave me an unwavering cushion of support, on which I rested my fatigued and overwhelmed self many times. They couldn't walk for me, but they never let me fall, even when I stumbled, which I did with supreme regularity.

Thank you to my teams, past and present.

25 April 2014

How the zebra got her scars, Pt. 2

30 Jan – 2 Feb 2010

I have been bleeding internally for over 19 hours.

The surgeon re-opens my distended abdomen, first at the c-section incision, then vertically, up past my belly button, as he painstakingly searches for the source of the bleed. He can’t find it. I receive more blood. The blood flows through my arteries, ceaselessly emptying into my body, coagulating and congealing amongst my internal organs. An erroneous wound to my colon and another to my large intestine are identified and repaired. They re-sew my uterus. I fail. I am resuscitated. I receive more blood.

I am heavily sedated but not unconscious; there is also a drug to try and erase my present memory. My intestines sit atop the swelling mound that has become me, contained by a wound vac. I have tubes through my neck to my heart, I am intubated and my wrists are strapped down. I fail. I am resuscitated. I receive more blood.

A conference is had, how long to wait, will the wound heal itself? They cannot find the origins. I am given more blood, the hospital is running out. They send out a vehicle to obtain more; it crashes on an icy road. A second vehicle is sent; the ice storm claims it as well, a pitiless joke. They cannot save me. A decision is made, phone calls begin. It is not safe to transport me by road. The civilian life-flights will not fly in the weather.

I take over 12 bags of blood, four bags of platelets, three bags of plasma. There is no more blood to give. I am still bleeding.

My brethren come to my aid; the Marine Corps search & rescue squadron, call sign Pedro, takes the flight. Final transport preparation is made. The CH-46 lands and off that bird walks one of my former crew chiefs. He later tells me it was not one of my better days. Halfway through the flight, I fail. I am manually resuscitated.

At the second hospital, the new team stabilizes me. I receive more blood. I have a football-sized hematoma crushing my right lung. I fail. I am resuscitated. I receive an injection of blue radioactive dye and the doctors watch on the CT scan screen as it ebbs out through a cluster of severed uterine arteries. I receive anesthesia and the nurses roll me to surgery. I have swollen to over 200 pounds.

They remove the hematoma football and inject my arteries with a gel, embolizing them from the inside out. They wait. The bleeding stops. I return to the table for the insertion of mesh sutured into my abdomen to close me. I am stable.

2 Feb 2010 – I don’t know what time it is. There is a clock on the wall but my eyes won’t focus. My throat is raw and I am thirsty. The room is quiet but for the mechanical breathing of the medical machines to which I am tethered. I cannot move or lift my head. I am in the ICU at New Hanover Regional. A nurse appears. She calls K. and puts the phone to my ear. I start to cry.

24 April 2014

How the zebra got her scars, Pt. 1

27 Jan 2010, 1930 -  Not feeling well, my legs are swollen, my ankles hurt, my face hurts. Walked to the Y from the house to swim and had to stop several times to catch my breath. Something isn’t right, thank goodness I have a check-up tomorrow.

28 Jan 2010, 0800 – Arrived at the Naval Hospital for my 37-week check-up.  I am 167 pounds. My blood pressure is 172/112, apparently this is a screaming red flag, in addition to the swelling, and the positive test for ureic protein. I have severe pre-eclampsia. They are admitting me. I contact my command and K’s command. They pull him out of the field.   
29 Jan 2010, 1300 – After almost 29 hours of attempting to induce labor, my kidneys begin to fail and I am rushed away for an emergent c-section.  My daughter comes into the world early but strong and with no issues of her own. I start having breathing problems and can’t get air, it turns out I am over-anaesthetized; I get taken to the recovery room where I remain for three hours, away from my little one.  They keep me on oxygen when they bring me back to my room.

29 Jan 2010, 1830 – I hurt, not just a discomfort, but real pain. On my right side and every time I move it hurts more, searing up through my abdomen and my chest. I am told this is normal. My daughter is with me and K. is taking a nap.  They draw my blood.

29 Jan 2010, 2300 – I tell the overnight attending that the pain is getting worse. They say that “all my vitals are checking normal” and it’s just the after-pain from the c-section. They check to see if I am bleeding externally. I am not.

30 Jan 2010, 0030 – They draw my blood. I tell the nurse it hurts.

30 Jan 2010, 0400 – I have not slept, it hurts so bad. I haven’t really eaten and trying to breastfeed hasn’t been working so well. K. is exhausted and trying to sleep. My daughter is also resting. I tell the nurse it hurts.

30 Jan 2010, 0600 – They draw my blood.  I am tired. And cold. I tell the nurse it hurts.

30 Jan 2010, 0800 – A new doctor comes in with an ultrasound, says he is going to scan my abdomen to see if he can determine why I might be in so much pain. After he is done, I start trying to feed my daughter.  K. is sound asleep.  The doctor returns less than 10 minutes later, with two nurses holding bags of blood, an anesthesiologist, a cardiologist and another surgeon, as well as a document saying I give them permission to open me back up since they think I am bleeding internally.  My daughter is pulled from me, still hungry and over my protests. I hear the doctor ask the nurses what they are waiting for but I don’t hear their reply. I only hear the doctor say, 'All that blood must be in her before we leave this room.’  The anesthesiologist says, ‘I need to do this now.’  I say, “Can someone please wake up my husband and tell him what is going on?”

I don't have a conscious memory of what happens next.

Keep calm, v.1

Just a reminder that no matter what life throws at you.....

22 April 2014

Telling marks

About a year ago, I noticed my daughter making small marks in the upper right corner of her drawing paper, separate from the picture she created.  I asked what they were.  She said they were "telling marks" to remind her of the story her drawing told.  She then looked at me and said, "You have telling marks, Mommy, too.  On your tummy." 

She proceeded to explain that my telling marks were very important because they tell the story of how she and her brother were born (according to her, the doctors "unzipped" my belly).  I was stunned.  Where I saw harsh slashes unnaturally distorting my stomach, she saw the origins of her life.   Where I saw an ugly mess of misshapen scar tracks, she saw a joyful storyline.   She often asks to see them and she will trace their unyielding paths with tender fascination.  Without fail, she then wants the to hear the story of how she and her brother were born.  I always oblige, creating a happy tale out of those days which brought me the greatest horrors I have ever known - how's that for ironic therapy? 

I still have days when frustration causes me to curse the new normal and rail against the human error that caused it and I have no grand philosophy on or strategy for eradicating the physical and mental pain of telling marks.  I just know that my daughter gave me a way to see mine positively, a way to remember that, despite everything, those telling marks are the permanent testament to both the blessing of my children's existence and the simple fact that I am here to tell them our story. 

Cheers and thank you....

Inspiration and mentorship

If not for mentors, we all would flounder. Without my fateful interactions with and the direct interference of those listed below, there is no way this journey would be possible.  For your guidance, wisdom, benevolent harassment, integrity of purpose and for keeping me in pursuit, thank you:
  • Robert "Sideshow" C. (USMC) - for always being there, through everything, and for your friendship
  • Michael "Phloyd" M. (USMC) - for truly teaching me how to fly, the "what if" game, multiple life lessons, and for always keeping track
  • Ryan "Smut" S. (USMC) - for saving my life, in more ways than one, and for letting me know the expectations of the EAD crew
  • Thomas "Duds" D. (USMC) - for saving my life, more than once, and for never mincing words
  • Paul "Rocket" R. (USMC) - for being steadfast and loyal throughout, ironically humorous and for having a level of professionalism others only dream about
  • Stephen "Saint" A. (USMC) - for allowing me the latitude and for having a depth of character I hope to develop
  • Jan "Jaws" J. (USMC) - for listening to my rants, debating the merits and for not compromising your character to please others
  • Kyle "Hairy" B. (USMC) - for standing up for me, helping me stand up for myself and for navigating me through some rough seas
  • Bonnie D. (Wellesley College) - for never allowing me to leave the pool, except to throw up, and for always welcoming me back
  • Brian S. (Manatee Aquatic Masters) - for daily encouragement and for helping me learn to love "no rest" sets
  • John B. (Wellesley College) - for yelling at me on "easy days" and for teaching me how to train
  • Joy R-B. (Wellesley College) - for seeing in me the woman I wanted to be and for placing me on the path
  • Hal W. (St. Mary's School) - for emboldening me to speak, especially when my opinion went against the grain
  • Scott W. (St. Mary's School) - for your patience and for sending me to the college library to read
  • Joe V. (St. Mary's School) - for never letting me be lazy and for teaching me the 10 x 300 track workout
A multitude of people selflessly contribute to their direct communities and to the greater world. Below are those who I am honored to know and who inspired me to make this endeavor:
  • Lisa S.B. - Co-owner of Dreamchasers Outdoor Events, she has been a constant mentor in the power of spirit, giving, perseverance, humility, fearlessness and tenacity over the past 14 years. Her next adventure is Badwater 4 Good Water and BW4GWS; her previous efforts include Running Hope Through America.
  • Jenn M. - A fellow Marine officer and pilot, she conceived and executed the Gold Star Ride from Camp Pendleton, CA to Camp Lejeune, NC to honor the mothers of fallen military personnel, sharing their stories and highlighting their communities across America.
  • Adrian K. - A fellow Marine officer, Leadership Director for Service to Schools, he is also raising funds for his Afghan translator, whom he helped emigrate to America, and attending law school full-time.
  • Laurie and David S. - Throughout our 22-year friendship, they have been active in community philanthropy and have a lifelong commitment with Camp Sunshine, which provides support, joy and hope to children with life-threatening illnesses and their immediate families.
Cheers and thank you.....

21 April 2014

Back on the 'mill

I pressed 'Start' on the treadmill and my legs trundled forward at the prescribed speed. Yes, I am aware that the treadmill can go faster, thanks. What's with the pace? Well...

In early March, while walking home after a balmy afternoon at the park, I stepped off a curb while holding my son in one arm and hoisting my daughter's bike in the other. I came down on a pile of tree debris snuggled up against a crack in the asphalt and down I went (don't worry, I cushioned my son's fall with a bony hip and elbow). My left ankle did not feel pleasant and it looked odd, but, since I had both the muffins, I used my son's scooter for leverage and made it home without further mishap.  I immediately got ice and went to the couch and my ever industrious daughter announced to our neighbors that, "Mommy hurt herself." After rushing over, initially panicked, they were kind enough to make the kids lunch and take my daughter for an afternoon play date while my son napped so I could RICE. They also recommended that I go to the hospital to get it x-rayed. Wasn't feelin' that option, nope - more on that in the future - so Vitamin M and an ACE bandage it was.

Fast forward to 10 days later, during a physical therapy session, and my PT says, "I know you don't want to hear this, but it's not getting better and you really need to get it x-rayed." Two hours later, courtesy of Ortho Wilmington, I learned I had a full avulsion fracture of my medial talus (translation: I broke off the knobby part of the bone on the inside of my left ankle). No running for six more weeks (yes, I actually used common sense and had paused my running after the initial fall). I was given permission to swim and to elliptical....yes! Bright side, I am now versed in how to wear a technical swim suit. Anyone else have a grappling match with those things trying to put them on? No? Just me? Very well, then.

Return to today, and after three miles on the 'mill, it was to the mat room for the physical therapy (PT) regimen. First mileage in the books. Boom.

Congrats again to everyone who ran Boston today (MEB!!!) and holy cow, Mike Wardian and Tom Clifford, running 2:23:32 and 2:29:37, respectively. Sweet inspiration.

Oh, and because someone said, "It would be cool if the pictures were bigger," let me indicate that they can be...it's a dynamic slideshow - click on it and the pics will come up full screen. So now you know. If you didn't. But you probably did.

Cheers and thank you......


Wanted to share a story from the Semper Fi Fund about their subset fund, America's Fund, and its connection to Boston. Read it here.

20 April 2014

Taking the first steps

This blog starts the day before one of my favorite races, the Boston Marathon.  There is much courage in those who will be taking their place at the starting line, along the course and near the finish line along Boylston Street - people directly injured by the blasts, others who responded in the immediate aftermath, and the multitudes impacted in the resulting wake of the attack. They are not letting fears, worries or doubts rule them as they make their way and stand in support across 26.2 miles. Neither shall I.

The Latin phrase "non mihi, sed tibi, gloria" is my family crest's motto, it means, "Glory to thee, not to me." It is a phrase of service and giving, about assisting others to achieve and to succeed. The work of the two organizations deserve the accolades and the support. I undertake this fundraising endeavor as a way to shine a light on the work of these organizations and to share the stories of the men and women to whom this assistance is crucial - both in their recoveries and in establishing their new lives.

Running has always been my solace, my joy, my panacea.  During my recovery, based on the nature of my injuries, multiple doctors repeatedly told me to forget about running ('Let it go,' said one). On a scale of "Uh, ok" to "Unacceptable," my response was "Oh, hell, no, doc." Thus, after four years, multiple surgeries, 22-months of rehab and with the assistance of on-going physical therapy, continued medical treatment and the manufacturers of ultra-compressive Lycra, I undertake this athletic endeavor to regain a piece of me.

The format for the races is one per month, for a total of 12 races. The 1200 is the minimum number of training miles I will log throughout the year (not inclusive of the racing miles). The race schedule is here; all races are distance races, varying from the half-marathon to marathon to ultras, culminating in an 150-mile race across the Moroccan Sahara in April 2015.

What can you expect on this blog? A variegated catalogue: motivational posts, travels to, travails at and results from the scheduled races (and any that pop-up in between); photos; my training calendar, including monthly totals for accumulated training and racing miles; stories of service members assisted by the MARSOC Foundation and the Semper Fi Fund; and, most certainly, haphazardly placed cultural references, for no good reason. 

I invite you to travel along for the next 12 months, whether online or at the races, and I encourage you to donate to either or both of the two organizations.

Cheers and thank you.....