Pushing Past Post Polio:
Boston Marathon Runner Leaves Post Polio Syndrome at the Starting Line
Crossing the finish line of the Boston Marathon, Mary McManus felt a cocoon of shame, humiliation and pain from polio stricken limbs lift from her soul and dissipate in the cool spring air. After months of rigorous training, the moment of redemption arrived. The butterfly was born.
Fifteen months earlier, Mary had declared, “I am going to run a marathon.” Mary knew God was calling her to reach beyond her normal fears and physical limitations and well, go for it, all the way, to the end. She knew she would run this race whatever it took, that she was supposed to do this.
Inspired, her husband Tom and daughter Ruth Anne decided to train and run with her, dedicating their fund raising efforts to Spaulding Rehab Hospital where Mary was originally diagnosed with post-polio syndrome and given physical therapy and tools for Mary to regain her independence and mobility. Team McManus was born.
“I traded in my polio shoes for running shoes. From running for 30 seconds to having completed the Hyannis Half Marathon and 21 miles on our long training runs, I am ready to run the 113th Boston Marathon,” stated Mary on their fund raising page as they trained each month through warm and cold weather.
On one of the training runs, Ruth Anne yelled, “Hey, mom, stop. I see a quarter.”
Mary didn’t want to stop since she had her momentum going through Heart Break Hill, a series of hills which would fall around mile 20 on Marathon Monday. Pausing for her daughter, she smiled in amazement when her daughter held the quarter face up in her hand. Of all the people featured on quarters in recent times, here was a quarter with Helen Keller, a woman known for her independence and achievement despite being blind and deaf. This was one of the many signs of encouragement from God Mary received to let her know that she could do it.
Training was filled with fun moments of laughter and complete melt-downs. In one incident, Ruth Anne shouted, “Mom, be careful” as they ran towards an icy spot only to find herself in a snow drift the next second.
“The team began their 26.6 mile trek - a 57 year old man, a former couch potato daughter, and a 55 year old female polio survivor all thinking, ‘how could three less likely people be out here?’”
In another, both women doubled over in hysterical laughing when Mary noticed the strap to her running bra hanging below her shirt. It just gave way and took their controlled breathing and momentum with it as they laughed in spite of themselves. Tom turned around to see why his faithful team wasn’t keeping up with him on this particular run. Grateful to see nothing serious had happened, he laughed too. Running and training together had become a bonding experience for all of them.
Finally, the day arrived. It was chilly but the sun was shining. Mary and Team McManus tied their numbers securely around their waists and lined up with the early start group for the mobility impaired runners.
“This is the moment I’ve prepared for,” thought Mary. “I’ll make it no matter what.” With that, the team began their 26.6 mile trek from Hopkinton to Boston - a 57 year old man, a former couch potato daughter, and a 55 year old female polio survivor all thinking, “how could three less likely people be out here?”
The beginning was the toughest because Mary had not trained along this leg of the race. Once they were through the first part and the next stretch became familiar, the threesome
enjoyed the run knowing that every step drew them closer to the finish line.
Town by town, they would reach the markers indicating one more leg of the journey was behind them. Mary knew various friends would be along the path praying and cheering them on. These same friends and many more helped them raise an incredible $10,535 for the hospital, $1,500 more than their goal of $9,000.
With their names plastered all over their clothes, cheers from the side rose: “Go Team McManus! Go Mary!” Mary knew they could see that she was running from the heart.
Drawing closer and closer, a stiff wind picked up and the weather dropped ten degrees. It became gray and chilly and Mary knew her joints wouldn’t be happy. On a good day, she would struggle to adjust to cold weather due to osteoarthritis, and the symptom of cold intolerance from post polio syndrome. Fortunately, part of her winter training in the cold temperatures helped her now. The mental exercises came back to her.
“Imagine hot lava pouring into your bones,” she told herself. Towards the end, her trainer ran alongside her with more words of encouragement: “Don’t stop. One step at a time. Put one foot in front of the other.”
Eating salt to prevent cramping, Mary and her team made it to the last water stop before it closed. Running through an underpass, they kept their tradition of screaming to hear their echoes. In this case, Mary’s screams came out as a welcome relief to pain and became an expression of an overwhelming sense of euphoria. They were so close.
Time and time again, Mary had asked herself during training, “can my body really do this?” Reaching the finish line at the end of a long, long day or 7 hours and 49 minutes to be precise, Mary was able to answer her own question: “Yes!”
“I never thought I would say this in a million years but running is a lot, a lot of fun,” says Mary, after finishing another 3.1 mile run just two weeks after the marathon was over. She didn’t just stop running just because the big race was over. Now, Mary inspires others to keep going until they reach their goals, one step at a time.
BIO: Mary McManus found a new passion in poetry and creating greeting cards after being diagnosed with post polio syndrome. The race that set her spirit free now fuels this passion. Her work and words can be found at www.newworldgreetings.com and www.newworldgreetings.blogspot.com. A documentary is coming out later this year based on her overcoming the symptoms of post-polio syndrome and going on to running and finishing the 2009 Boston Marathon. View the clip above.
Thank you Mary, for sharing your Story with us.
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