I started running later in life, in 2009, I was 25 years old and I had just moved back in with my mom after hitting what felt like rock bottom in my life. I was dealing with depression and had gained about 40 lbs. When my mom picked me up from the trolly station she walked right by me because she didn’t even recognize me. This doesn’t come as a surprise; I had completely lost who I was. I made a decision when I moved back to pull myself together, I had a 7-year-old daughter and I had an epiphany that I needed to set a better example. This may come as a surprise to some that it took me seven years to realize this, but I was young and headed down a loopy, difficult path.
And so, I started once a day for 20-30 minutes going out for a walk by myself, which I found to be very calming, and at times with the family dog. Then one day I decided to pick up the pace and engage in a brisk walk, every time that I could go just a little bit longer or a little bit faster I felt this sense of achievement which I hadn’t felt in years. This eventually evolved into a walk/jog, I started to lose weight, and gain confidence back, I had found a decent job, and soon after met the love of my life, my now husband Greg. Greg and I got married in 2011 and were enjoying everything in life together. We love traveling, eating, cooking, and above all just being together.
In November of 2011, Greg and a few friends had become adamant about me getting a mole on my arm checked. I eventually went only because it had started bleeding and that was finally enough to raise some concern for me. I went to the dermatologist, not thinking much of it yet and she said to me that she was going to cut part of it off right there in her office and send it for a biopsy. However, in her professional experience, it looked like melanoma. I had no idea what this meant, she explained a little about it and I read more when I got home. It was skin cancer, the most aggressive kind, but if caught early there was a good prognosis. EARLY? Had I waited too long? And within a few days, it was confirmed, only three months after we got married on a boat on the beautiful San Diego Bay, I was diagnosed with cancer. Because the lesion was so deep they decided to do a lymph node biopsy, which also came back positive, the cancer had spread. I went through multiple surgeries and 5 months of chemotherapy. I was in so much pain from the treatment, it felt like someone had hit me in the head with a sledgehammer. My diet consisted of almost only mashed potatoes; it was all I could stomach. And Greg was the most amazing caregiver, he bathed me, tried to lift me up when I cried, and did everything possible to make me feel better. In 2012, a year after I was diagnosed all of my scans came back negative and I was declared NED (No Evidence of Disease).
I realized at that time how much I missed moving my body, I slowly started walking/jogging again, and a few months later I signed up for a 5k. Running felt difficult and slow, but so wonderful at the same time, a sense of normalcy. After that first 5k, my running started to evolve, this was due to all of the people I met along the way. There’s a whole community of young adult cancer survivors that run to raise funds and advocate for cancer survivors, research, and awareness of all types of cancer. I ran with the first-ever all-cancer survivor team to run Ragnar SoCal, a 200-mile relay from Huntington beach to San Diego. This gave me so much inspiration to continue to run and evolve in my running. I wanted to do more, and push boundaries, it made me feel alive.
In 2016 I found trail running with a group called San Diego Trail runners. Some of these crazy people were running 50k, 50 Mile, 100 Mile races! I didn’t even know these distances existed. I was intrigued, I was hooked, I fell in love with trail running. Trail running made me feel free, the community made me feel happy, I had found myself.
On August 8th 2018, it was a normal day, I had a run planned for the next morning, probably just a short run of 5-6 miles. My daughter went to a show at a theater in downtown San Diego, and she asked if I could drop her off and pick her up, which even though 10pm was late for me to be heading out, I was happy to do it. I wanted her to go, but she didn’t ask to go out much.
We were chatting in the car on our way back home from the theater about how the show went and all of a sudden I heard tires screeching, I looked toward the sound and saw a truck coming from the opposite direction, flying over the median, I screamed, and I heard the impact.
I sat there for several seconds, gasping for air, and thought to myself, “this is what it feels like to die”. After a few moments of sitting there and realizing I wasn’t dead yet I was able to open my car door, I tried to stand up but went straight to the ground. Laying in glass and motor oil in the middle of the street I just kept asking where my daughter was. I knew, I can’t explain how I knew at the time, we had been hit head-on by a drunk driver, this was later confirmed.
Paramedics came and we were taken to intensive care in separate ambulances. After getting several images done I was given the news, I had 4 back fractures, the major one being a burst fracture of my L4, I was possibly paralyzed. I had lost the ability to urinate on my own which is what led them to believe there may have been a spinal cord injury. Aside from that I had broken ribs and a lung contusion, the lung contusion is what was causing the difficulty breathing and the reason I had initially thought I was dying.
The road to recovery from this accident was long, not only physically, but mentally. I can’t say that I am fully recovered mentally. The good news was that I wasn’t paralyzed. At my first outpatient visit to the neurologist, about 2 weeks after the accident, one of the first things I asked him was, “when can I run again?”. His response shocked me, “8 more weeks”. I was healing remarkably well. And exactly 8 weeks to the day I went out for my first “run”. It was one mile total, it was slow, it was hard, and it was amazing. 10 months after the accident I ran a full marathon, 11 months after I ran my first 50k, and 16 months after I ran my first 50 miler.
Maybe that makes the comeback sound easy, it wasn’t, but getting up to run, to push myself, on some days gave me purpose. And once I got into the longer distances there was something I craved with the suffering. The feeling I get when the race is over. The feeling of pushing yourself through when things get hard. Some call us ultra-marathoners, some call us crazy, but no matter what they call us I think we are all doing it for some underlying reason, a greater sense of purpose.
My goal last year was to run my first 100k, and then I had brain surgery. I know that perhaps I am saying that very nonchalantly, “brain surgery”, but somehow brain surgery doesn’t seem too bad after everything else I went through. Needless to say, I didn’t get to run my 100k.
I had surgery in June 2022, and in August 2022 they had to go back in and fix something from the previous surgery. This was totally deflating. I felt like I was recovering for an eternity. Running is like my therapy and when I can’t do it I start to feel like I’m falling back into a hole. Some people might ask how I get up and decide to go for a run after cancer treatment, or after having a broken back, or after brain surgery, the only answer I have is, if I didn’t I might not have pulled through.
I don’t have any races lined up this year yet. I am doing Rim2Rim2Rim in May and for now, that seems like a big enough challenge for the whole year, but we’ll see what happens.
My hope is that with my story someone else going through some type of adversity can feel inspired or hopeful, one day at a time, one mile at a time, and know that they are strong and they are not alone.