Posted in Your Story

Declaring “Fifty is Fabulous”… Because She Can!

It’s been awhile since I’ve shared one of Your Stories, so I’m happy to bring you Tess’s story today. I met Tess when she came to one of my book signings. We soon discovered we share a few interests… running, eating well and drinking wine.

Since we only live a few miles apart, we’ve enjoyed connecting via all three… including a few fabulous Cook N Share evenings, Tess hosted at her house.

So when she recently accomplished a major goal after dealing with some delays and challenges along the way, I asked her if she’d share her story with us, because I love her positive attitude about turning 50. (maybe because I’ll be looking at that in a few years) 

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Tess first run

During one of her first runs in 2009

Tell us a little about yourself.
I began running in 2009 during a stressful time in my life. It gave me the chance to be alone and sort through my thoughts…. or to not think at all.

Actually, I began walking, which turned into occasional jogs and then eventually running. My husband was shocked by this new behavior because I never liked to run, but soon I was hooked.

 

You set a goal for yourself a few years ago,
what was it?
After signing up and running a few local 5k races, I wrote down that I wanted to do a half marathon before I turned 50.
At the time I was about 46 or 47 yrs old and 50 sounded so far away.


In reaching that goal, what did you discover about yourself?
I had originally planned to run a half marathon in October of 2012 but because of IT band pain and going to 2 physical therapist… I had to pull out of that race.  It was disappointing and I was afraid that I may have to give up running altogether.

But, I kept doing the exercises from my PTs and also starting to go to a chiropractor which helped tremendously. (I love how she didn’t give up. She kept doing what she can!)

 

And what did you discover about age, especially the ‘big’ one you recently reached?
I learned that I was stronger than I thought, because the old me WOULD have given up.  Now I am running mostly pain free and I did meet my goal.  I ran my first half marathon 5 days before my 50th birthday. (Woohoo!)

tess half marathon (1)

Exhausted, but happy! (Official time was 2:41)

 

I don’t feel that old…
not what I thought a 50 year old should feel like.
I believe I am fitter and stronger than ever before!
Fifty is Fabulous!
- Tess Eby

 

Have you set any goals for the future, either for soon or for the next decade?
I am surprised that I am thinking about doing another half marathon… maybe the Garden Spot Village half in April of 2014.  So I continue to train, running 3-4 days a week. I hope to be able to keep that up over the winter months.  Maybe my goal to do just one half will turn to 2… or 3. Winking smile

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What does a well-lived day look like to you… or in other words, if you knew you were dying tomorrow, what would you do today?
I hope to live a long, healthy life and to still be able to run 5ks well into my 70s.  I am so inspired by the older men and women I see along the trails that are still out there doing what they can.

Of course there is no guarantee that if you take care of yourself… eat a healthy diet and exercise… that you’ll live a longer life. Only God knows the number of our days.  But,  I believe that if you do those things you will live a happier life and in turn make those around you happy too!

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Thanks for sharing your story Tess!
Keep on doing what you can, because you can!

Readers, if you have an comments/congrats or questions for Tess,
please share them below.

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I’d be so thankful if you took a minute to check out my latest challenge!

NYC fundraiser website

Click anywhere on the picture for more info.

Posted in Your Story

Adriane—Getting Real About Fitness, Because She Can!

Beat Beethovan with Janet

Adriane and I

At a race in the past year or so, I met Adriane and I love the changes she’s made in her life. Even though she faces obstacles, she does what she can live life well.

I want to share her story with you and also let you know about a free fitness opportunity she has for women in/near the New Holland, PA area. Info at the end of the post.

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Tell us about yourself:

I am Adriane Warren, 33 years old, from Ephrata, PA. I live with my husband John and have a daughter Alana 15, and a step-son Jami 14. I LOVE the outdoors, cooking, photography, anything fitness, and of course spending time with my family. I work as a Medical Assistant at a local family doctor’s office. I have always been fascinated by the science behind the body and love being able to use that in my everyday life.

In 2010 at 31 years old I was diagnosed with 2 slightly herniated discs in my back and spinal stenosis. I also have chronic kidney disease and inflammatory arthritis, but I’m currently taking my life back. I come from a family with many health problems including a mother who is classified as super morbidly obese with hypertension, depression and type II diabetes, and a father who almost died of a chest wall aortic aneurysm at 42 years of age. My father now has a mitral valve replacement, internal defibrillator and pacemaker, and has had a double by-pass. He also suffers from CHF and COPD. Seeing these problems first hand helped with my “wake up call” in realizing I never want to suffer from something that I can control and prevent.

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When did you decide to make some changes to your life and why?

I know the exact date my life changed for the better. It was February 1, 2011. At the time, my life was in a vicious cycle. I would have kidney flare-ups that would cause me to miss days, or even up to a week of work at a time. I’d have nausea, extreme fatigue, headaches, dizziness and would lie in bed for days. Lying around never helped my back issues due to getting extremely stiff, which in turn would flare every joint in my body. Any exercise would make the pain worse but no exercise piled on more pounds.

Finally I had, had enough!

My orthopedic doctor recommended me getting injections in my back to help the pain. I had one injection that did nothing and had made up my mind, that after the second injection I NEEDED to make a change. The second injection again, did nothing, and it was time to put on my big girl panties and do what I needed to do.

Progress for Janet

Adriane Warren – making real changes!

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It’s hard to make changes, how did you do it?

The very first thing I did was try to find something I could use or do that would be relatively quiet since we live on a second floor apartment. I found something called an Air Climber and decided to give it a try. I also purchased a few exercise DVDs. I started working out 6 days a week for about an hour at a time. I would do the air climber for about 15 minutes and then a circuit training exercise DVD for about 30-40 minutes.

I was not willing to go outside and let everyone see me. I worked out in the bedroom which had a small space, MAYBE 6 x 12 feet. I would work-out at the end of the day, some days not finishing up until about 10pm.

A few weeks into working out I decided that I needed to start eating better too. I did a TON of research and decided that I wanted to try the Maker’s Diet, basically a very clean approach to eating. I cut out all white flours, sugars, processed foods, and simple carbs.

The weight literally started dropping off. I felt AWESOME! I had so much energy, slept better, felt better, and stopped getting so many health issues. In all of my yo-yo dieting over the years and trying to keep off weight, there as never a point that I made a physical goal for myself. It had always been about the number on the scale and thinking that that would make me feel better about myself.

Then I read an article in a magazine about training for a 5k. What really got me is that the models they had pictured looked like your everyday woman. They weren’t decked out in high tech running gear, looking all fit and young. I must have read that article and picked up that magazine staring at the pictures at least 40 times.

I finally realized that I’m not going to get ahead without: 
1. Doing something that scares me, and
2. Making a physical goal for myself rather than a weight loss goal.

Mrs. Smith's 5 mile trail race
I decided to revamp the training they had listed and make it go a little longer so I could work my way up slower. At this point, I had already lost about 30lbs. I got the ok from the doctor I work with, who is also an avid runner. He told me that if I do the training, he will come along and run the race. GREAT, I had a goal! I started off doing run/walks and eventually worked my way up to all running. On September 17, 2011 I ran my first 5k.

Knowing that I had a goal to work towards was what I needed to stay on track, versus before when every time I lost weight, I would eventually gain it all back. I started signing up for more races so I would keep going and not let myself get off -track.

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Are there any situations that make it easy for you to slip back into old habits, if so how do you counteract that?

Every day is a struggle. I always say that anyone who tells you, or makes it look easy is lying. It goes by one choice at a time, one day at a time. We all have bad days, and I’m trying to not beat myself up over a few steps back, as long as the majority of steps are forward.

I had shoulder surgery in September, 2012 and that had me go backwards a bit. I ended up gaining back about 13lbs post-surgery and over the holidays. I was unable to run or do much exercising for about 12 weeks, and it was very slow moving after that.

The beginning of this year I put things back into high gear and lost the 13lbs and then some. I HIGHLY recommend taking progress pictures, documenting inches and weight, and looking at them often. The “former me” is what keeps me going. I look at the woman I was, and how far I have come, not only physically, but emotionally and it scares me to go back to that.

Where I was once afraid to move forward, I am now more afraid to go back. I also recommend keeping a journal, or writing blog posts to go back to and read. It’s really fun to go back a year or so and see what I was going through, or thinking at the time.

REAL JOURNEY PICS (2)

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What goals have you reached that you didn’t know if you could?

In total, I went from 230 lbs at 5’5” down to the mid 160’s, losing about 65lbs and over 70 inches. I am down approximately 4 dress sizes, and can even wear a smaller shoe size! I can do daily activities and recreational activities with my family without getting winded or feeling horrible. I am proud that I can now unload about 10 bags of groceries from my car and carry them up a flight of steps like a pro. It is stupid little things like that, that you will soon start to notice when you start getting healthier.

Also I NEVER pictured myself to be a runner! The first 5k was a feat in itself, but after I started training for it, I knew that wasn’t going to be the last, nor was it going to be the hardest thing I would do. I saw a lot of friends having info/pictures up about running mud runs, so I decided to look into things further.

I researched tons of races and decided on the Spartan race series, and signed up for a Spartan Sprint. This is a 5+ mile trail run up and down double black diamond ski slopes with at least 15 different obstacles. The obstacles include jumping over 8 foot walls, crawling in mud under barbed wire, rope climbs, carrying a 20lb sandbag up and down a ¼ mile loop of ski slopes, a small swim, and jumping over fire. I was scared to death yet extremely excited.

I linked up with a group online that is specifically for women who run these races. I got TONS of support from other racers. This was another thing I was lacking in previous weight loss attempts. I had never surrounded myself with like-minded individuals. You NEED to have a great support system of people who understand you and will push you in the right direction.

The day I crossed the finish line of my first Spartan has by far been the biggest accomplishment of my life. I never thought I would see the day that I would reach such an extreme fitness goal.

Barbed Wire

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What goals do you have for yourself in the future?

I have a HUGE bucket-list! Since meeting others in the OCR (obstacle course racing) world I have learned about many other races/events that I want to take place in. I would love to do some higher level Spartan races (longer distances and more obstacles) a half and maybe full marathon, a triathlon, a Goruck or S.E.R.E challenge (a military type team based “race” where the object is just to finish) and lots of trails to conquer in my hiking.

Another HUGE goal of mine is to inspire others. I started Real Fitness, which is a fitness concept to help others. I have a Facebook page, blog, and an accountability group, Real Fitness/Real Accountability.

I am just starting another new concept, Real Fitness/Real Difference, where I would get a group of individuals together who struggle with morbid obesity or physical problems that limit their abilities for hard/high impact exercise. It would be very light work-outs with lots of stretching and a walk afterwards. I eventually want to pay it forward and might ask a small donation for upcoming trainings and all the money would go directly to a health foundation.

I want others to see and realize that it CAN be done. Even with some physical limitations, you will feel better in the end. I also have aspirations to get my personal training certificate and a certificate in Weight loss and Nutrition counseling.

New Real Fitness (2)

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What does a well lived day look like to you? If you were going to die tomorrow, what would you do today?

Wow, that’s a really loaded question and something I’ve not really thought too much about. For me a great day is spending time outdoors with my family. I don’t have a crazy answer like going sky diving or bungee jumping. Although I have a huge bucket list, I don’t feel the need to get everything accomplished to feel fulfilled. I love my life right now. Sure there are ups and downs, but that’s what life is all about. I absolutely LOVE the beach, so if I knew I was going to die tomorrow, I would tell my family we’re loading up in the car and driving to the beach and or maybe go somewhere tropical since I’ve never been!

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I love how Adriane not only does what she can to help herself, but she also helps others. She does some training and also hosts some “Ladies Night”. She has one coming up on Thursday, May 30th in New Holland, PA. Ladies night is:

Leave the martinis behind and come play with some tires. This will be a FREE 45-60 min training session, including a warm-up. Circuit training type workout using body weight exercises, tires, sledgehammer, sand bags. Don’t let it intimidate you. Come DO WHAT YOU CAN! Remember Real Fitness is about REAL people. Bring water, gloves if you have them (gardening gloves are fine) and lots of determination!

If interested, check out the Ladies Night facebook event page or email Adriane at:
akuenzli@hotmail.com (put Real Fitness in the subject line)

far from not yet

Here’s some final encouraging words from Adriane:

Your body can become a prison if you let it.
Prison is a very hard place to escape.
You need to dig deep, break the chains and sometimes even crawl.
Breaking free is the best feeling in the world and

knowing that I was able to accomplish this is so rewarding.

Posted in Your Story

Rebecca—A 1,000 Mile Journey, Because She Can!

rebecca-profile-2Thanks to the wonderful world of Facebook, I recently met Rebecca online. Rebecca live within an hour’s drive from me near Philadelphia, so hopefully we will meet in person sometime.

Today I want you to meet Rebecca, because she is one of those folks who does what she can, with what she has, where she is… because she can!

Here’s Rebecca’s inspiring story…

 

Janet: Tell us a little about yourself.

Rebecca: I am a teacher, inline skater, cyclist, reader, writer, photographer, traveler, friend, oldest sister, cousin, daughter, or granddaughter — depending on who you ask.  I’m 43 years old and live in Philadelphia where I help run the special education program at a public charter school.   I am also an above-knee amputee walking step-by-step through an unexpected journey.
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When and how did your world change?

On the morning of November 9, 2010, while riding my bicycle to work, I was struck by a garbage truck when it turned into my designated bike lane.   My left leg was crushed by the wheels of the truck, and I suffered severe internal injuries.   I was taken by ambulance to Jefferson Hospital’s Trauma Center.  There, an amazing group of trauma surgeons saved my life, but they had to amputate my left leg to do so.

Dec. 17. 2010. Ready to be discharged from the hospital with my brothers Andy and Mark

With her brothers about 5 weeks post-accident… December 17, 2010

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What was your recovery like… physical, emotional and/or mental? 

Prior to the accident, I bike commuted for 5 years.  I skated with an inline skate club for 15 years.  I led an active life that included working full time, socializing with friends, and traveling.  I was always healthy.  I rarely missed a day of work.

During the long recovery after the accident, I found myself in unchartered territory.  There were many set-backs, including infection and abdominal complications.  Over 2 years, I was hospitalized 7 times and had 15 surgeries.  The acute pain and phantom limb pain were at times difficult to bear.  I struggled with nightmares and flashbacks of the accident.  Being sedentary and dependent on others was a big adjustment since I’d been so active and independent before.

But I was lucky in more ways than I can count.  I’d been wearing a bike helmet and sustained no head injury in the accident.  From the very beginning, I received first-rate medical treatment and rehabilitation.  When my leg was healed enough, I was fitted with a state-of-the-art prosthesis and received excellent prosthetic training.

Early on, my aunt and uncle gave me a necklace inscribed with the Confucius quoteThe journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.  As I recovered, I decided to set a goal of walking 1000 miles on my prosthesis.  Each mile marker served as a way to measure progress and help me digest all that had happened.  I documented the journey via my blog: A Thousand Miles.

Throughout this experience, I’ve been supported by family, friends, and professionals who never gave up or let me feel alone.  Even today, 2 ½ years later, they continue to encourage me every step of the way.

Mile 1 with my brother Mark and Jack

The first mile of a 1,000 – with her brother Mark and Jack.

I like hearing what makes people do what they can… was there a defining moment that inspired you to push your limits or was it a slow realization of seeing what you are capable of? 

When I met my prosthetist Tim for the first time, he said, “I’m not going to tell you what you can’t do.  You tell me what you want to do, and I’m going to help you get there.”  I was sold!   I told him I needed a leg I could SKATE on.

My friend Susan helps me relearn to skate

Her friend Susan helps her relearn to skate

But there hasn’t really been one defining moment in this journey.  Rather it’s been a process that’s unfolded day by day, mile by mile.  The slogan of my rehab hospital is BELIEVE.  And it’s those types of messages that guide me forward.  Whenever I have doubts about my own abilities, I look to those around me for reassurance.

For example, I wanted to try to ride my bike again, but after the accident I was skittish and leery.  I was afraid that getting back on a bike – the very act of pedaling – might make me relive the accident like I did so many nights in the beginning of my recovery.  My physical therapist Deb was determined to teach me to ride.  She said, “It’s ok if you don’t want to bike again, but you should know that you can.  It should be your CHOICE.”

So my therapy team puzzled out how to keep my prosthetic foot on the pedal, and we practiced session after session in the basement of the rehab gym.  Finally, on March 30, 2013, almost 2 ½ years after the accident, I rode my bike away from that intersection where I’d been hit.  It was my official 1000th Mile!

There are a thousand stories like this.  Throughout my recovery, I’ve met so many people who’ve pushed themselves to new heights.  And all along, I’ve been embraced by a team that enables me to test my own limits and see what I’m really capable of achieving.

Mile 1000

‘Leaving her foot’…

Mile 1000 bike ride

Then biking away from the accident location –   the 1,000th mile

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What do you do that others are surprised you do? 

I paint the toenails of my prosthesis!

Although it seems like a small detail, people are always surprised when they see me with painted toenails.  I just tell them, “I gotta keep the main thing, the main thing!”

That first summer, I asked my prosthetist if I’d be able to walk in sandals.  He showed me how to use strips of Velcro to stick my prosthetic foot to the sandal.  When I got home, I just had to give myself a pedicure!

But really, it’s part of a larger picture.  I have an optimistic and bright outlook on life.  I need to put my best foot forward – even with a body part that resembles a robot!  It’s just one more way I try to keep my life “normal.”

Sportin sandals

Putting her best foot forward!

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In what ways do the obstacles you face affect your daily life that others might not be aware of?

With jeans on, you might not be able to tell I wear a prosthesis.   With lots of therapy, I’ve learned to walk with a natural gait and navigate most types of terrain.  But the paradox of walking better is that people FORGET.

They forget that I have to concentrate when I cross a street or go down a hill.  They don’t realize how my independence is limited by weather conditions – snow, ice, or wind – that make walking on a prosthesis difficult, if not impossible.

Also, I can’t wear my prosthesis 24/7.  I take it off every night and can’t wear it when I have skin irritations.  Without it, I need crutches and adaptive equipment.  I’m less confident and able.    And I’m much more vulnerable, especially in emergency situations such as illness, fire alarms, or power outages.
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What goals have you reached that you didn’t know if you could?

I certainly never imagined I’d be able to teach people about prosthetics or mentor other amputees.  I’m pleased to say that I’m currently doing both.  I’ve had the opportunity to share my knowledge with elementary and middle school students, as well as with classes of PT students at local universities.

I also volunteer at the rehab hospital where I was a patient.   I love meeting new amputees who are just beginning this journey.  I hope that my experiences can help them weather the ups and downs of their own recovery, and in some way, inspire them to reach their own goals.

Mile 160 with my surgeons

Mile 160 with her surgeons

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What goals do you have for yourself in the future?

I’d like to take more steps forward, of course.  To continue volunteering and give back to the organizations that have given me so much.  To promote bicycle and motorist safety in order to reduce future accidents and injuries like my own.

I’d also like to pursue many of the life goals I had before the accident.  Physical activity, socializing, and travel are still difficult for many reasons.  Ultimately, I’d like to walk into a future that interweaves my old life with my new one.
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rebecca rock climbing

Reaching for new heights!

 

What does a well-lived day look like to you… or in other words, if you knew you were dying tomorrow, what would you do today?

Sometimes I wonder what I would have done differently on November 8, 2010, if I knew what was going to happen the very next morning.  This question reminds me of that.

In my life now, every day is a well-lived day.  I’m not always as comfortable as I like.  I don’t have as much energy as I used to have.  And I’m not happy every minute.  But I’m full of passion and creativity that used to get brushed aside in the daily hustle.  My relationships are genuine and deep.  I prioritize and engage in activities that have meaning.

If you’d asked me 3 years ago where I’d be today, this is certainly not the place.   But taking this journey has taught me to live life fully, in way I never had before.

I wake up each morning knowing ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN. And often, it does!

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Inspiring… right? 

Read more about Rebecca’s 1,000 mile journey—from the day of her first blog post Go
to the day she completed the 1,000th mile, A Beautiful Day.
You can also connect with her at A Thousand Miles on Facebook.

Rebecca, thanks for sharing your story with my readers.
Bike, climb, roll, walk on… because you can!

 

Hector Picard—Riding for Baby Jameson, Because He Can!


Hector i will 5k 13
I was in Florida recently for a combination of business, vacation, visiting family and friends. Along with a few runs on the beach (my favorite place to run) I looked for a race to run while down there.

I was happy to find the I WILL INSPIRE 5K was happening in Tampa the weekend I was near there. And it was one of the most inspiring and meaningful 5ks I have ever run. My picture recap here.

Hector Picard was one of the inspiring people I met at the 5k and today I’m sharing his story with you. Hector not only survived a traumatic work-related accident, but he has gone on to thrive and to do what he can to help others.

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Tell us a little about yourself.

Born and raised in Miami, FL to Cuban immigrant parents in 1966. I have two daughters from a previous marriage, ages 22 and 19. I’m married to Wendy and I have two step kids, ages 11 and 9. I was recently blessed with a granddaughter.
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When and how did your world change?

On March 31, 1992, while working as an electrician on a substation transformer in Hollywood, FL. I was hit with 13,000 volts of electricity twice. The electricity entered through mind right hand and exited my right foot then entered my left hand and exited my left hip. I fell two stories and on fire.

I wake up one month later with my entire right arm gone and half of my left arm as well second and third degree burns over 40% of my body.
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What was your recovery like… physical, emotional and/or mental?

My recovery process was mostly physical and emotional. I had to deal with life without my hands. I had a wife and a one year old daughter to think about. No time to feel sorry for myself. I moved forward and had a second daughter who recently blessed me with a grandchild. The positives in my life far outweighed the difficulties.
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I love hearing what makes people do what they can… was there a defining moment that inspired you to push your limits or was it a slow realization of seeing what you are capable of? 

It was a little of both. The first twenty years was about raising my kids and being a good husband and provider. I did work around the home, coached my daughters softball teams, went on vacations and sold real estate.

Life was good, but then my wife decided that she wanted out. This was tougher than dealing with my “disability”. That was 2008, the defining moment in my life. This is when I started pushing my limits.

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website

Hector Picard – Pushing his limits!  Don’tStopLiving.org

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What do you do that others are surprised you do?

I love it, when I stop at an intersection while cycling and I start to stretch. Every driver making a left turn has to do a “double take”. They can’t believe what they are seeing.

hector bike

Hector Picard — Riding, because he can!

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In what ways do the obstacles you face affect your daily life that others might not be aware of?

The little things are the worst. I can lift a 100 lb. bag of cement a 100 feet with not much trouble, but picking up a quarter from the floor can be a major endeavor.

hector carry bike

Hector carrying his bike during a triathlon transition.

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What goals have you reached that you didn’t know if you could?

I became an IRONMAN (swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, run 26.2 miles) on August 11, 2012. In March, I will be completing my fourth. As a kid I thought that those that completed an Ironman were crazy.
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What goals do you have for yourself in the future?

My immediate future goals are to compete in IRONMAN Hawaii and to (drum roll, please!)

Do my second cross country cycling trek,
“Hands For Baby Jameson – Cycle USA”

POSTER-Hands for Baby Jameson

Hector Picard — Hands for Baby Jameson

On June 8th, I will ride my bike from Miami, FL to Spokane, Washington, 3200 miles in 36 days to raise money for a little boy born without hands and forearms.

(Janet here: I asked Hector if Jameson was a family member and he said no, but he wants to do what he can to help him. Seriously, who volunteers to not only ride 3,200 miles for someone else, but to organize it into a fundraising endeavor?! Naturally Jameson’s parents want to offer Jameson the same opportunities every able-bodied child has, but the high cost of prosthetics makes that difficult, so Hector is doing this to raise funds for Jameson’s prosthetics.)

Hector profile 2

Hector Picard

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Other goals include building my motivational speaking business and being able to tell my story to people all over the world.
(info about his speaking engagements here)

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What does a well-lived day look like to you… or in other words, if you knew you were dying tomorrow, what would you do today?

Waking up and kissing my wife and interacting with my kids (two step kids included),  I live each day as though it were my first. I approach it with excitement and anticipation.

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Not only is Hector accomplishing great things for himself and for others, but he’s a genuinely nice person… I’m so glad I got to meet him.

Follow his ride from Florida to Washington (seriously FL to WA—that’s across the whole freaking country!) by liking his Hands for Baby Jameson Page.

Click over to see Hector’s schedule for the ride… he might be riding through your state or town. If so, grab a bike and join him, he’d be thrilled to have you bike a few of the 3,200 miles with him. (and take the man a pizza or homemade bread or something!)

Also, consider supporting this adventure for Hector and Jameson. I’ve never been so grateful for my two arms/hands as I’ve been putting together this blog post. I kept thinking about how I would type, click, drink my coffee or scratch my nose!

Hector is a true example of doing what he can,
with what he has, where he is… because he can!

hector personal poster

So what was your excuse again?

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More of Your Inspiring Stories
Chris—Climbing and Encouraging Others, Because She Can!
Shawn—Laces up and Runs, Because He Can!

Nik Toocheck—Running the World for Children, Because He Can!
Russell Selkirk—Enjoying Life on a Roll, Because He Can!
Brian Simpson—From Disability to Marathons, Because He Can!
Beverly Shantz—Living and Laughing, Because She Can!
Chris Kaag—Doing What He Can, Because He Can!
Troy Roland—Hockey and Running, Because He Can!
Running at Age 72 and Age 84—Because They Can!
Living Each Day Well–Because She Can
Michele Lynn—Believed She Can… and She Did!
Consistency Helps Dawn do Anything—Because She Can! 
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Posted in Your Story

Chris Prange-Morgan—Climbing and Encouraging Others, Because She Can!

chris Morgan Red Rock portrait

Chris Prange-Morgan

About a year ago I was directed to a blog written by a gal named Chris through a mutual online friend we have. Since then Chris and I have often connected on our blogs and through Facebook.

Chris’s energy, stamina and giving atitude impresses me and I wanted to share her story with you today as one of YOUR Stories.

Sharing one of YOUR inspiring stories each week (more links at end of post) has become of the highlight of my blogging and today only adds to that. I’ve enjoyed connecting with Chris over the past year, so I’m honored to have you ‘meet’ Chris today.

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Tell us a little about yourself.

I live in Wisconsin with my husband Scott and two children, Jade (7) and Kai (6).   Both of our kids are from China and were toddlers when we adopted them through “special needs” adoption programs. Jade has a bilateral cleft lip and palate….and is otherwise healthy as a horse and very bright. Kai had some very difficult challenges….many, due to orphanage neglect. He has several diagnoses:  Autism spectrum disorder (PDD-NOS), Ideopathic Short Stature, ADHD, Developmental Trauma Disorder, Speech and language issues and a unilateral cleft lip and palate.

My husband and I both have backgrounds in the human services field (he in school psychology, and I in social work), which made navigating the “system” for our children a little easier than for a lot of folks. However, the emotional issues were much more difficult. Kai’s medical and behavioral issues became overwhelming, and I felt like I was turning into a “basket case” of a parent….Always on edge, running from appointment to appointment, and not doing a very good job taking care of myself.
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When and how did your world change?

One afternoon, on November 30, 2011, I had decided to squeeze in an hour of climbing at our local climbing gym prior to taking my son to an appointment. (Rock climbing, hiking, camping, and the outdoors are passions of ours).

chris morgan climbing

Chris Prange-Morgan doing what she loves… climbing outdoors.

That day in the gym, in a moment of distraction, I had forgotten to clip into the auto-belay system prior to climbing, and slipped off of a hold 28 feet up the wall (my son was with me, but did not see my fall….).

As I laid on the floor waiting for the ambulance, I lamented to the manager of the gym as he held my head in place:  “I can’t believe I forgot to clip in!  Oh my god, I have been so stressed out!  How could I do this?!” Of course, he kept reassuring me, but in my heart-of-hearts I kept thinking that this was more-than a wake-up call. Oddly, I never passed out despite the severity of my injuries, and had the presence-of-mind to give the gym manager my husband’s work phone number.

It wasn’t until I was in the ambulance that I began to realize just how bad of shape I was in. Luckily the paramedics had started me on an IV of Dilaudid early on, which kept pain manageable once the shock wore off.  As the medical team in the ER cut of my clothing and I felt the bones in my pelvis not connecting (I explained the feeling as “marionette-like”), I thought to myself… this is going to be ugly.

When my husband arrived at the ER, he informed me that in the phone call he received, the woman at the climbing gym stated “the good news is that she’s still with us.” After lots of X-rays, CT scans and an ultrasound, the doctor came to inform us of the extent of my injuries:

“You have what is called a vertical-shear pelvic fracture….we are going to have to drill a hole through your femur and put your right leg in traction for a few days before we go in to surgically put things back in place. Your sacrum is broken, and that is an area where a lot of nerves pass through…we won’t know what we can do until we get in there. You have an L1 vertebral body fracture and transverse-process fractures, so you will need to wear a brace for some time. We are especially concerned about your ankle. Your fracture is really, really bad, and will require a two-stage reconstruction process.   Complications with this type of fracture include degenerative arthritis, soft-tissue damage, need for further reconstruction, and amputation.”  “Amputation??”  I questioned…. “Yes” he replied… “you literally crushed your tibia. We’ll see what we can do.”

This was when my husband passed out and the nurses wheeled him into another room to monitor his vitals (I still get a lot of mileage razzing him about that).

Chris Morgan hospital

SO…I guess one could say that my world literally came crashing down on that day.
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What was/is your recovery like… physical, emotional and/or mental?

The recovering journey has been sort of a rollercoaster ride. After spending several weeks in the hospital and rehab, I was sent home to a hospital bed in our living room…on “forced recumbancy” for healing of my pelvic fracture, now held together by screws and metal bars (called an external fixator). I sustained some additional complications along the way, including a staph infection in my pelvic external fixator (necessitating removal), a blood clot in my popliteal vein (requiring the insertion of something called an “IVC filter” and blood-thinning medications), and soft-tissue necrosis (tissue death) at the site of my ankle injury, requiring a limb-preserving soft-tissue transfer surgery / graft (something called a free-flap) to save the ankle.

I worked my butt off in physical therapy.
Four months after my accident, I began walking again.
Seven months after my accident, I returned to climbing.
It felt great to get back on the rock!
Chris Morgan

Climbing again! With her family.

By about August, 2012… nine months post-injury, the joint pain in my ankle increased to a point where walking became barely tolerable. An x-ray confirmed that debilitating arthritis had set in. My options began to narrow: Consider a fusion of the joint or an ankle-replacement surgery. In December 2012, the hardware in my ankle was removed to prepare for an ankle replacement…but in early February, 2013 it was determined that the bone-quality was still pretty pathetic. At this point, a bone-graft is being considered. We are in the “waiting game.” (update on the waiting game below)

My emotions have definitely run the gamut, from deep depression to immense gratitude….and everything in between. I’ve had days where the pain has been really tough…. where I yearn desperately to return to my “pre-accident” level of functioning.   I’ve cried more than I have in my entire life, but I have also learned to appreciate more than I ever have before. Sometimes it is hard not to anticipate a setback. I think that mentally I’ve come to a point where I tend to brace myself for the worst….secretly hoping that I will be pleasantly surprised. I’m trying to shed that mindset, and to not dwell on “shoulds” or “maybes”.  I find that focusing on the present moment….embracing all that “now” has to offer has been the most helpful in maintaining a positive attitude.
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In what ways do obstacles affect you that others might not be aware of?

Persistent lower back pain is probably my most nagging obstacle…..and there are good days and bad days. The difficult thing about pain is that, although people can’t see it, it can be very debilitating at times. It is also so hard to predict how my body will feel from one day to the next, which can be a real drag. My right ankle does not “work” like it used to, and I have some sensory loss. I can’t raise up on my toes or squat down in the way most folks would, which makes me quite clumsy! Frequently I will use a knee-walker (we call it my scooter) if I need to walk long distances (or rely heavily on trekking poles when hiking). I don’t really like using the scooter because of the attention it draws, but it definitely beats ending the day in tears.
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What goals do you have for yourself in the future?

Chris Morgan climbing 2

Climbing with her husband

To keep the laundry from piling up to the ceiling, to be a good mom to my kids, and maintain a good sense of humor! I hope to continue connecting with other folks who have had similar struggles and deepen my relationships in ways that are fulfilling and life-giving. I want to celebrate the milestones of my kids…..to look back at all we have overcome together, and celebrate how we have grown despite the challenges. I want to live in a way that speaks meaning and purpose, however that plays out.

Depending on my surgeries, I hope we can be climbing again…as a family, by the summer months. In the mean time, I find deep fulfillment in visiting patients in the hospital I spent time at this past year, as a volunteer through the pastoral care department.  Currently we are working to develop a support program for survivors of trauma, and this development is quite exciting (the goal is to have things going by “trauma season” [yes…hospitals call it that!] which begins in April….after the Wisconsin winter has melted away and folks begin to enjoy the beautiful outdoors again.).

I also am on an advisory committee at Children’s Hospital of WI, where I do my part in helping to educate new medical professionals about the realities of raising a child with special needs. This whole experience has been oddly liberating, in the sense that I don’t feel the need to prove that I “have it all together” anymore….although that temptation definitely still exists (my body is quite the humbler that way.) Being an athlete, I’d always been a competitive and driven type of person….very self-critical. I am slowly learning to let that part of me go….and am trying to embrace a gentler, more accepting “me.” 

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Now you see why Chris inspires me! Not only does she do what she can with her own recovery, but she’s parenting those two beautiful children of hers through their own challenges, while in the middle of facing challenges of her own.

And while still recovering, she is volunteering at the hospital and
helping to develop a support program for survivors of trauma.

I’m so excited about the program Chris is helping with… it is needed at hospitals and trauma centers everywhere and I look forward to seeing it come to fruition.

As Chris noted above, she might be facing future surgeries—that time has come. She posted this update on Facebook yesterday:

CT scan today. Bone-graft surgery March 20, 2013, and hopefully ankle replacement 6 weeks afterward (hoping the graft “takes” well.) Will likely need to be “non-weight-bearing” for about 3 months…which would be mid-June. Ugh. Prayers and positive energy needed….

Folks, as you can see Chris has come a long way, but her recovery journey isn’t over… and as we’ve also seen she is always encouraging others, even as she faces challenges of her own, so let’s encourage her today.

Leave a comment below and/or visit her blog A Crazy Kind of Faith. Follow her blog to get updates on her surgeries and her recovery over the next few months.

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More of Your Inspiring Stories
Shawn—Laces up and Runs, Because He Can!
Nik Toocheck—Running the World for Children, Because He Can!
Russell Selkirk—Enjoying Life on a Roll, Because He Can!
Brian Simpson—From Disability to Marathons, Because He Can!
Beverly Shantz—Living and Laughing, Because She Can!
Chris Kaag—Doing What He Can, Because He Can!
Troy Roland—Hockey and Running, Because He Can!
Running at Age 72 and Age 84—Because They Can!
Living Each Day Well–Because She Can
Michele Lynn—Believed She Can… and She Did!
Consistency Helps Dawn do Anything—Because She Can! 
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Posted in Your Story

Shawn—Laces Up And Runs, Because He Can!

I like to read… whether it’s long books, articles or short quotes. Words keep me going, so on Facebook I like a few pages that post encouraging and motivating sayings. Last year sometime I started following a page called L.U.N.A.R. (Lace Up Now And Run) which posts sayings related to making the most of life and running.

shawn LUNAR head photo

Almost every time I saw something L.U.N.A.R posted, I found myself agreeing and often sharing some of his posts on my Because I Can page. For a time, I assumed L.U.N.A.R was simply the page of person who loves to run, but a few months ago I realized that while it is the page of someone who loves to run… it’s also the page of someone who has and continues to face tough physical challenges. He posted this picture a few months ago.

shawn LUNAR running

Brain surgery? Second brain surgery?! I had to find out more about the story behind L.U.N.A.R.

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Tell us a little about yourself.

My name is Shawn Mastrantonio, I’m 43 years old and live in Sayre, PA with my wife, Kim, who is my rock. I have a rare genetic cancer syndrome called VHL (Von Hippel Lindau). As young child, I was familiar with this disease as my Dad, brother, and cousin had it. My dad and cousin along with other relatives previous to my birth passed away from VHL. I didn’t realize it then but through the challenges that VHL had handed to my family I was learning lessons about faith, acceptance of what is given you, and finding the strength to make the best of it. My Mom, who is one of the strongest people I know, (the other being my brother, Brian, who has had over 30 brain surgeries related to VHL) taught me so much through the way she lived her daily life.
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There’s a common thought that we can overcome obstacles… I’ve found that sometimes we can and sometimes we can’t, but we can learn to live well even with difficult obstacles. What obstacles have you learned to live with and/or overcome?

I was diagnosed with VHL in 1993 when it was discovered that I had a large brain tumor and cyst in my right cerebellum. Given the type of tumor, hemangioblastoma which is common in VHL and the family history the diagnosis was easy. I had surgery and lived life for quite awhile as a “passenger” as my outlook was dismal due to what I had seen people go through with VHL. So, I lived a dual life. I took care of my body through working out but I also abused it by consuming alcohol. I didn’t think it really mattered and there were times that I didn’t think I would make it too far into my 40’s.

That changed when I met my wife in 2002. It didn’t happen overnight and is still an ongoing process as I carried a lot of anger and fear regarding VHL. Life was going good for us but I had stopped doing my annual MRI checkups to monitor any new brain tumors. In 2009 I scheduled a MRI after getting the “treatment” from both Kim and my Mom. The MRI found 3 tumors, 2 new and the 3rd (and most concerning) was a recurrence from my previous tumor.

That night I had my “pity” party and the next day I started running.

lunar

Reposted from L.U.N.A.R

 

At that time, I was trying to run away from the new challenges I faced. I ran out of anger and fear but over the course of a few months that changed as running began to be a testament to the strength I didn’t realize I had. I used running as a tool to prepare to face battle, surgery, rather than run away from it. I got nearly 2 years of running to prepare myself and prepare myself I did. Then on January 31, 2012 I had surgery to remove the tumor recurrence. I came out of surgery well, that part is due to the great surgical team, but my body recovered very quickly and was only in the hospital for 3 days post op..

What goals have you reached that you or others thought you couldn’t?

Since surgery, I have run a few local 5k’s and 2 half marathons. The first was in less than 9 months from surgery and a new PR! I have some races planned this year as well but my overall goal is to continue to enjoy running as it is truly a gift. I am blessed everyday that I get the opportunity to run so I try not to take it for granted.
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Shawn LUNAR view run

Reposted from L.U.N.A.R

What motivates you to keep on doing what you can?

What I have learned from running is hard to explain. To me, it has helped me find strength I didn’t know I had, to face a challenge and the beauty of overcoming it, that we were born to run, I love taking in nature on runs and thanking God for the beautiful earth he has given us. I’m sure it is different for everyone but one thing I am certain of is anyone who runs will definitely say that running has changed their life.
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Shawn LUNAR couch

Reposted from L.U.N.A.R

What does a well-lived day look like to you… or in other words, if you knew you were dying tomorrow, what would you do today?

If I knew that I was dying tomorrow it would be a day filled with family, friends, laughing, tears, love, and of course I would have to squeeze in a run. It’s like the song by the Rascal Flatts, “I wanna be running when the sand runs out.”

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Shawn LUNAR bio pic

Important things in Shawn’s life.: being a VHL warrior, successful brain surgery, running and Kim.

Shawn says, “The main purpose of my page is to spread awareness of VHL. I am just one of many VHL WARRIORS fighting the battle.”

If you are like me, you’ve probably never heard of it VHL before, so click over to VHL.org and learn more about it.

Shawn is always encouraging others, so how about today we encourage him. Leave a quote and/or note of encouragement for Shawn in the comments below. And if you are on Facebook. go LIKE his page, L.U.N.A.R. and you’ll be encouraged everyday also.
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More of Your Inspiring Stories 

Nik Toocheck—Running the World for Children, Because He Can!
Russell Selkirk—Enjoying Life on a Roll, Because He Can!
Brian Simpson—From Disability to Marathons, Because He Can!
Beverly Shantz—Living and Laughing, Because She Can!
Chris Kaag—Doing What He Can, Because He Can!
Troy Roland—Hockey and Running, Because He Can!
Running at Age 72 and Age 84—Because They Can!
Living Each Day Well–Because She Can
Michele Lynn—Believed She Can… and She Did!
Consistency Helps Dawn do Anything—Because She Can! 

 

 
Posted in Your Story

Nik Toocheck—Running the World for Children, Because He Can!

When I had a book table at the Bird-in-Hand Half Marathon expo last fall I met a number of inspiring folks. One was Brian Simpson, whose story I shared a few weeks ago and another person I met was Nik from Nik Runs the World and I want to share Nik’s story with you today.

Nik and Janet

Along with being runners, I think Nik and I share something else. Neither of us likes to be cold and we dislike hearing about others, especially kids, who are cold. Other than complain, I don’t do much about it, but Nik does! He is taking his energy and using it for an amazing dream he has.

Nikolas Toocheck is a nine-year-old boy who is Running the World for Children – he is going to complete a marathon on each of the seven continents – and he may very well be the youngest runner to accomplish this! He has created a philanthropic campaign called “Running the World for Children,” raising money for a non-profit organization called Operation Warm, whose mission is to provide new winter coats to children living in need – so that every child wearing a new winter coat feels warm, valued and able to attend school on even the coldest of winter days healthy, full of pride and ready to learn! -from Nik Runs the World

I’ve often said running is for all ages and Nik is proving that… here’s his story.

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Tell us a little about yourself.

Hi I’m Nikolas. I am 9 years and I love to run. I love lots of sports like race walking, football, hockey, and baseball. I am excited to start baseball soon with a team.
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nik first M finish

Nik with his parents and sister after finishing his first marathon

You are pursuing an amazing goal… tell us about that.

My goal is to run a marathon on each of the seven continents to raise money and awareness for Operation Warm. Operation Warm is a nonprofit organization that provides brand new winter coats to kids who can’t afford to buy them. I have run one marathon so far in Delaware. (The Fortitude for First Descents marathon on December 1, 2012… see his recap video here)

Nik running with a hero of his (and mine), Dean Karnazes

Nik running with a hero of his (and mine), Dean Karnazes

Why did you decide to do this?

Well, I have so much fun running and I thought it would be so much more fun to help kids at the same time. I think it’s awesome that I can try to help kids while doing something I love so much.

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When we follow a dream, we usually face some obstacles to making it happen… what challenges have you faced? 

Some races haven’t let me in because of my age so we haven’t chosen all races yet.
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On tough days, how do you motivate yourself to keep going? 

Eat a donut and an A3 bar :) But seriously,  it has been so, so cold outside and I think if I keep going, I can hopefully inspire people to donate and get kids coats to keep them warm.
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What can others do to help you reach your goal?

My million steps for a million dollars idea was created by determining that I will run about 1,000,000 feet to complete 7 marathons.  Hopefully people will want to sponsor some of my steps to help children in need.

By going to Nik Runs the World people can donate. The donate tab goes to a special page and money goes directly to Operation Warm which is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.  Just $20 provides a new coat to a child to keep them warm.

nik sister coats

Nik and his sister at Operation Brotherly Love helping pack and give coats from Operation Warm to kids

Nik’s next marathon is in Antarctica (yes, that’s Antarctica!) on 2/25/13.

I hope Nik has a warm coat, pants, shoes, hat, mittens and everything else needed for himself when he runs there! Leave some encouragement for Nik below and if interested in helping Nik get a step closer to his goal… visit Nik Runs the World for more pictures, info and the donation page.

Wishing you the best Nik!
Keep doing what you are doing, one step at a time…
because you can!

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More of Your Inspiring Stories 
Russell Selkirk—Enjoying Life on a Roll, Because He Can!
Brian Simpson—From Disability to Marathons, Because He Can!
Beverly Shantz—Living and Laughing, Because She Can!
Chris Kaag—Doing What He Can, Because He Can!
Troy Roland—Hockey and Running, Because He Can!
Running at Age 72 and Age 84—Because They Can!
Living Each Day Well–Because She Can
Michele Lynn—Believed She Can… and She Did!
Consistency Helps Dawn do Anything—Because She Can! 

 

Posted in Your Story

Russell Selkirk—Enjoying Life on a Roll, Because He Can!

My life continues to be enriched because the IM ABLE Foundation sponsored me to do a marathon this past fall. I will be forever grateful to them! Not only is my life enriched, but other’s lives have been enriched also.

I was part of a team of five, together this team raised over $15,000! 

IM ABLE uses those funds to provide resources to allow people with various physical abilities to be as active as they want to be. It was an honor to be present recently when they gave a new hand cycle to their latest recipient, Russell Selkirk.

Some of IM ABLE’s directors and runners with Russell Selkirk

In chatting with Russell, I was impressed with his desire to do what he can after unfair and difficult circumstances changed his life. He can’t change what happened, but he’s doing what he can to enjoy what he has.

Both in person and online, I have an amazing group of cheerleaders and many of you supported and enriched my marathon experience with encouragement, money, cheers and more. On behalf of IM ABLE, Russell and myself… thank you! And today I want to give you a glimpse inside one person’s story and how his life will be affected by your goodness.

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Janet: Tell us a little about yourself.

Russell: I was very active physically when I was young, even into my teens and then a little less once I was in college. I didn’t get my license until I was 19 because I just walked or rode my bicycle most everywhere I needed to go.  I was never into running, as my frame and build wasn’t really conducive to it, but I had a mean sprint.  I loved to swim, hike and climb, occasionally took lessons in martial arts, and loved to wrestle and roughhouse.  Even though college slowed me down quite a bit I still was pretty active, but once I got into the work force it really slowed down quite a lot.  I gained a good amount of weight over the following years

Not long after college I met the woman who would become my wife through mutual friends, and after a short time I moved to PA and we started building a life together. I worked hard, had several good jobs along the way and a few not so good ones, and eventually got into a comfortable place with myself and my life.  I started working on both my physical and mental self, cutting down on the bad foods (less junk food and I cut out caffeine altogether), eating more of the good ones, and trying to have a better mental attitude (I was previously a classic pessimist with a temper) and living more in harmony and understanding with the people who intersected my life.  Things were going great and life was good!  I even managed to lose a few pounds here and there, but I was still too heavy.

 

On the morning of September 8th, 2010 I started my nearly 30 mile journey to work and my life changed forever.  I was stopped, waiting behind a “work truck” at a red light listening to the radio program I always did when driving to work when I just happened to look up into the rearview mirror as a pickup truck slammed into my car from behind.  As I started getting my wits back about me, I remember thinking to myself “Oh great, now I have to find another car” “How am I going to get to work?” “Damn, where did my glasses go?” and “I need to call my wife” all at the same time as it usually goes after something like that happens.

I’ve been in a few accidents before, so this was just another I’d have to deal with, right?

Then I realized my seat had broken and I had the lumbar support jamming me in the back pretty hard.  The acrid stench of the airbag having gone off filled the car, but the windows wouldn’t go down.  I tried to sit up to maybe open the door so I could get some air, but I was having a hard time doing that, and the pain in my back was pretty bad.  I thought the damage to the front end from the second impact of hitting the truck in front of me had trapped my legs under the dash.  It took awhile, but eventually the fire-rescue guys showed up and ended up having to remove the doors & cut the pillar out to get me out ‘safely’.  *That* was painful.  And by that time I had already been informed that my legs weren’t trapped by the dash.

Here’s something few people outside my family and close friends usually don’t know: My little brother had some issues during high school and after, (I wasn’t around since I was already married by that point) but he had made some poor choices and ended up getting in a bad accident.  He is a quadriplegic, and my wife has both a quad and a paraplegic in her extended family. So of course some of the things running through my head at that point were not good.  How was my Mom going to deal with hearing this?  After a very painful ambulance ride to the hospital, a helicopter ride downtown to a specialist hospital and then at my request transport to HUP (because my wife works for them and our insurance requires us to be at one of their facilities), I was told what the situation was and was put into surgery.

My L1 vertebra had sustained what is called a burst fracture.  That’s a fancy way of saying it was broken in several pieces.  They didn’t know how severe the damage was to my spinal cord at that point, but they were hopeful as I could just barely move my right foot slightly 6 or 8 hours after the event.  So they did a couple operations (at the same time), one to rebuild and bind the damaged vertebra and one to fuse it to the two adjoining vertebrae above and the two below to keep it stable enough so that it could both heal and prevent me from reinjuring it after. I was in the hospital for a week, on a whole lot of pain medication, and mentally numb.  The final diagnoses was that I was an ‘incomplete’ paraplegic, one where the spinal cord was bruised sufficiently through impact or swelling to impair function, but not always permanently.

Then I started inpatient rehab at Good Shepherd/Penn Partners.  I was still in a bit of a funk, but my wife knows me well and pretty much told me to knock it off in a tone that took little argument.  She was right of course, but it is so big of an adjustment to deal with. Instead of dwelling on it I threw myself into rehab as best as I could, I think even to the surprise of my therapists.  I did my best to maintain a positive outlook, always do my best at whatever tasks I was given and eventually even started to give encouragement to other patients that were having a hard time.  I was in for two months before I was ‘ready’ (though I was very much ready myself by then) to come home.  By the time I got home I had lost almost 40 lbs. just from my regimen at rehab.  It was a good start.

I had an orthosis for each leg, a full length one for the left and one for the right ankle, and with a lot of work could get around my house with a walker.  My house was too small to use a wheelchair, so that’s part of why it took a bit longer to get me ready to go home.  They had to make sure I could handle getting up and down stairs and wait for my orthotics to be made.  At first I had a Home Health Aid come in 5 days a week to help me dress, and shower, and get food for breakfast.  I did in home therapy twice a week, and was getting around a bit better.  I hit the limit of in-home therapy, no longer needed the aid (though I still needed my wife’s assistance for showering at that point) so then I went three days a week to a local establishment that had aqua therapy.  Eventually even the therapists there had done “about as much as we can do for you” so I continued to go a couple days a week doing supervised exercise, and still getting my time in the pool.

A few months later I got a call from my therapist downtown.  They were starting a support group and wanted me to come be a part of it.  It was a long way to go for a support group, but my wife took the time off each month to take me down.  One of the guests a few months in was a gentleman from a group called The Pennsylvania Center for Adapted Sports, which does all sorts of activities designed to get the disabled involved and active in physical activities.  They do rowing and hand cycling in the summer months and swimming and skiing in the winter, as well as some boating and kayaking here and there.  He was letting us know that cycling season was almost here and wanted to get some of us to come down.  My therapist there was a volunteer for the organization, and I always loved riding. Heck, I still was having trouble shedding more weight, so it was a win-win and I decided I was going to at least try it.

Russell on a roll!

I took to it pretty quickly.  It wasn’t the same as what a regular bike was, but it was fun and got me out and about by myself (on a closed course, but a pretty big one at that).  I even volunteered to participate in a race using one of the groups bikes.  I came in last, but I still managed to do pretty well.  I was a bit jealous of the guy who won.  He had a really nice racing hand cycle and lapped me every lap I did except the last one.  I want to be that fast.  I wasn’t going to be able to do it only cycling once a week like I had been.

So I applied for a grant to the IM ABLE Foundation so I could get a bike of my own.  It took a bit of work and some soul baring, but I just received my hand cycle, bought a training roller and have started riding regularly.  I’m going to be ready for the coming season. Next race, I am going to do my damnedest to not be in last place.  I may even manage to get rid of some more weight in the process!

Russell’s new bike (on a training roller) from IM ABLE

There’s a common thought that we can overcome obstacles… I’ve found that sometimes we can and sometimes we can’t, but we can learn to live well even with difficult obstacles. What obstacles have you been able to overcome?

Well, I can shower by myself now.  That was a big one for me.  Even getting up and down the stairs fairly well was a big challenge at first.  My wife would hover behind me (I always face the stairs, even going down) and assist me if I was having trouble clearing a step in the beginning.

What obstacles have you learned to live with? 

Not being able to drive.  That was difficult for me as I’ve always loved driving.  I logged over 1 million miles by the time I was in my early 30s.  I am looking forward to using a vehicle with hand controls someday, but it is an expensive prospect to go about.

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What do you do that others are surprised you do?

Some people, even those I see fairly regularly are surprised at how well I move around, but really I suppose the biggest thing is that people are usually surprised at how well I deal with the whole situation, that I can have such a good mental attitude about such a lousy turn of events.  I have to say that there are days that it isn’t easy to do, but as I always like to say…

“It is what it is, so why not just enjoy what you have?”

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In what ways do your obstacles affect your daily life that others might not be aware of?

Not just the legs were affected… Most people tend to forget there is a lot of other function from the hips down that gets affected.  I still don’t have sensation in some areas of skin, and even going to the bathroom is something that becomes a challenge to deal with, especially when going out.  When I am not actively working out I spend a lot of time on the computer writing, keeping up with family and friends, and playing the occasional game, so keeping the weight off can be a challenge if I am not vigilant.

 

What goals have you reached that you didn’t know if you could?

With this determined look, I’m thinking not much will stop Russell!

Not really anything so far… Now, if I ever get to the point where I can walk without a walker?  Then we’ll have something to put down for this category.  Everything I’ve done so far has been a lot of hard work, but I always figured that would be the case from day one.  Well, maybe from day eight (when I started rehab) ;)

 

What goals do you have for yourself in the future?

Driving again someday of course.  Being a bit more competitive in races; I do expect to do better, though I am realist enough to know I am very outclassed by those at the top.  For now anyway.  To become as self-sufficient as possible.  I’ve come quite a ways, but I always view it as there is more to do, so my overall goal is to keep going as long as I can.

What does a well-lived day look like to you… or in other words, if you knew you were dying tomorrow, what would you do today?

Not much different than I generally do now, but I suppose if I was dying I may want to have a fun day of movies and games capped off by a really excellent meal, and I’d want to have my friends and family by my side.  Family and friends are important to me.  Most of my family is physically distant, and while I don’t get to see some of them as much as I’d like to, I have some really great friends that have been here for me through everything.  I don’t know that I could do as much as I have been able to without that support.

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Russell, thanks for sharing your story and here’s a few of my thoughts.

First: It was a pleasure to meet you and an honor to have you share your story here.

Second: I know you can’t do what you did pre-accident and adjusting to that sucks and it is hard. (freaking hard!) And I know you have many goals you want to reach and I applaud your desire and determination.
Having said that, I want to help you reframe one of your answers for this interview. You say you have nothing for the category of goals you’ve already reached.

You do Russell, you really do.
You are doing what you can, with what you have, where you are!

You made a choice to have a positive attitude.
You always did your best.
You threw yourself into therapy.
You encouraged other patients.
You walk with a walker.
You do steps.
You shower by yourself.
You’ve done aqua therapy.
You joined a support group.
You’ve competed in a cycle race.
You’re involved with The Pennsylvania Center for Adapted Sports.
You did the work to apply for the IM ABLE grant.
You came to the IM ABLE marathon send-off party.
You did this interview.
You got a roller for your new cycle.

You are doing what you can, with what you have, where you are! 

Third: Keep cranking on that cycle because we have some rides to do this spring and you don’t want me leaving you in the dust! 

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Roll on Russel, Roll on!!
Because you are ABLE and because you CAN!

 

If you have any thoughts, encouragement or questions for Russell,
leave them in the comments.
 

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*More of Your Inspiring Stories 
Brian Simpson—From Disability to Marathons, Because He Can!
Beverly Shantz—Living and Laughing, Because She Can!
Chris Kaag—Doing What He Can, Because He Can!
Troy Roland—Hockey and Running, Because He Can!
Running at Age 72 and Age 84—Because They Can!
Living Each Day Well–Because She Can
Michele Lynn—Believed She Can… and She Did!
Consistency Helps Dawn do Anything—Because She Can! 
  
Posted in Your Story

Brian Simpson—From Disability to Marathons, Because He Can!

I have the perfect story to inspire your mid-January day. Here is the first of YOUR STORIES for 2013. As you read Brian’s story, you’ll see why I was impressed with how he’s doing what he can, with what he has, where he is… because he can.

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Janet: Tell us about yourself:

Brian Simpson: I am a RRT (Registered Respiratory Therapist) and Exercise physiologist.  I have been an asthma educator for over 20 years.  This is something that has been near and dear to my heart as I have been a life-long sufferer of extremely severe asthma.  As most asthmatics seem to “out-grow” their asthma as they enter adulthood, mine did the opposite and progressed to a more severe lung disease known as COPD, or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.

By the time I was in my mid 20’s, I was wearing supplemental oxygen most of the time.  In 2000, after many years of fighting to continue working, I finally gave in and went on full-time disability, at the age of 30.  The last 6 months that I worked as a respiratory therapist, I was wearing nasal oxygen to care for my patients.

Brian – 2009 (350 lbs)

After being disabled for almost 3 years, I was strong enough to return to work.  I had renewed my interest in music while being disabled.  I began playing the oboe, a musical instrument that uses a double reed to make sound.  This double reed produces great resistance to breathe against.  This, in time, strengthened my lungs and allowed me to return to work.  I remained living a life of “ups and downs” over the next 6-7 years.  The most important thing to me was that I was able to work full-time.  All of my efforts were placed on staying healthy enough to work.

On my 40th  birthday, I decided I was no longer going to accept just “sitting by and watching life go by”.  As a result of 20+ years of chronic prednisone use for my lung condition, I had watched my weight balloon to 350 lbs!  I had tried over the years to lose weight, but my lungs just did not allow any consistency in exercise.   I made a promise to myself to try one last time……this time I would succeed!

I found a wonderful personal trainer. He was an exercise physiologist who had just returned home and was seeking full-time employment as a Health and Phys Ed teacher.  I committed to training with him 3-5 times a week.  Initially requiring supplemental oxygen to walk on a treadmill.  Over the next 6 months, I had lost over 90 lbs.  Not only was I walking on a treadmill, but I was running!  It was unbelievable to me.  I had gone from barely being able to walk 5 minutes to running my first 10k ( in 59 minutes and 45 seconds, which I was quite impressed with!).  It was through the inspiration of this young man that I began my Masters degree in Exercise Science, which I completed in 2011.  In this March, I will begin a Doctorate in Global Health Policy.

First finisher’s medal!
with his friend Barb

In  the following months I did my first half marathon, then a second.  Then I decided to train for a marathon.  In September of 2011, I ran my first full marathon on Presque Isle, in Erie, Pennsylvania.  Since then, I also did the Pittsburgh Marathon in 2012 and several half marathons, including the 2012 Bird-In-Hand Half Marathon.  It was at the expo that I came across Janet.  I introduced myself to her and purchased her book.  What an inspiration she is to so many.

I am currently training for the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati, OH in May.  I am going to have the pleasure of running with a dear friend of mine, Teri Dahl.  This will be Teri’s first full marathon.  The interesting part of my friendship with Teri is that she was my hospice nurse when I was so ill in 2002-2003.  That is when I wasn’t expected to live and see the end of the year….that was almost 10 years ago.

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There’s a common thought that we can overcome obstacles….I’ve found that sometimes we can and sometimes we can’t, but we can learn to live well even with difficult obstacles.  What obstacles have you been able to overcome? 

Well, despite still having stage IV lung disease (graded I-IV, mild to very severe) I have returned to work and am doing things I never thought possible.  I had never done so many things that most people take for granted.  I now hike, kayak, canoe, run, lift weights, and even can cut the grass.  None of these things had I been able to do as an adult.  I still have many limitations and must listen to my body on a daily basis.  I have good days and bad days.  I do as much as I can on good days, and I relax and focus on my health on bad days.  I have overcome the fear of dying. I now live and enjoy as much of life as I possibly can.

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What obstacles have you learned to live with?

The main thing I have learned to live with is that no matter how great I feel, and how strong I may thing I am I still have extremely severe lung disease.  I went from being too ill for a lung transplant, to not wanting one because I feel so much better than I did.  When I had to stop working, my FEV-1% ( how much of your total lung volume you can exhale forcibly in one second ) was 9%.  Anything below 30% Is considered very severe.  Well, even though my FEV-1 may only be 20-25% now, that is still a more than double of what is use to be.  So, to me, I feel awesome.  If I were willing to accept it, I could still be on permanent disability….but, can a marathoner be disabled????  So, even though I still have to take many precautions, I am still here, still doing it…BECAUSE I CAN!

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In what ways do these obstacles affect your daily life that others might not be aware of?

I think that all of my friends and family members that have seen me over the years, not to mention many patients I have cared for, don’t realize how poor my lung function still is.  Even though I look so much better and can do so much more than I could for years, I still have bad days.  Even a simple cold can require me to wear oxygen again.  My medication regime is still ridiculous in that I use nebulizers at least 4 times a day, still take high doses of prednisone, and carry a barrage of nebulizers with me at all times.  I receive a monthly injection, at the price of $1800 per month.  I must still pace myself with all of my activities.  One example was the Bird-In-Hand half marathon last fall.  I was not feeling well, it was very humid and overcast.  My PR for half marathons was 2:12.  That day, it was a struggle from mile 7 til the end.  I was so very short of breath and wheezing from miles 10-13.  I finished in a very disappointing 2:50….but I finished.  That Is what I need to remember.  10 years earlier, I was wearing oxygen and traveling in a wheel chair.

But, for the first time in my life, I am thrilled that people who see me, don’t know I have severe lung disease.  It is a great life to be treated as everyone else.  It is very difficult to take when an elderly lady offers you her seat in the middle of a shopping mall when she sees how much trouble you are having breathing, wearing oxygen.  That is not my life anymore!

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What goals have you reached that you didn’t know if you could?

Well, first of all, I was not supposed to live to 35, let alone see 40…and now 43.  I actually think I will see 50 one day!

I never thought l could lose 10 lbs, let alone 120 lbs.  I never thought I could walk a 5k, let alone run a 10K (especially in under an hour).  I never thought I could run a half marathon, let alone 8.  And, most certainly never thought I could finish a full marathon, let alone two!  So, I guess other than staying alive, continuing to work full-time, and running there might not be anything else that I could surprise myself by doing.

You are amazing Brian! You’ve come so far!! 

At mile 25 of his first marathon on September 18,2011 wearing a shirt in his mother’s memory. She had passed just 2 weeks earlier from lung disease.

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What do you do that others are surprised you do?

People that know me cannot believe that I run.  My friends and family have been at my bedside while I was being mechanically ventilated on a respirator.  They have seen my struggle with breathing and have no comprehension how I can run 1 mile, let alone 26.2 miles.

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What goals do you have for yourself in the future?

My immediate goals are to fun another half marathon next month, in Phoenix, A, to begin my doctorate in March, and to run the Flying Pig Marathon in May.  As part of my training guide for the Flying Pig, I will run a 28 mile long run.  This has lead me to dream of completing an ultra marathon this year, so that is the next milestone: THE ULTRAMARATHON.

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What does a well-lived day look like to you….or in other words, if you knew you were dying tomorrow, what would you do today?

Ummm, that’s a tough one….But I know what I would do:  I would get a few friends together (and of course my best friend, Duke, my 4 year old English springer spaniel) and do one last lovely run here in northwestern Pa.  Perhaps a beautiful 15 miler.  I can’t think of a better way to spend my last day.  I would do this, for one reason…BECAUSE I CAN!  I live each day to the fullest. 

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If you have any thoughts, encouragement or questions for Brian, leave them in the comments or connect with him on his Facebook Page: Brian Simpson

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*More of Your Inspiring Stories
Chris Kaag—Doing What He Can, Because He Can!
Troy Roland—Hockey and Running, Because He Can!
Running at Age 72 and Age 84—Because They Can!
Living Each Day Well–Because She Can

Running Truly is for all Ages
Michele Lynn—Believed She Can… and She Did!
Roni Noone does Fitbloggin’—Because She Can!
Consistency Helps Dawn do Anything—Because She Can! 
Beverly Shantz—Living and Laughing, Because She Can! 

 

Posted in Your Story

Blooming Where She’s Planted—Because She Can!

I have a vague memory of when I was almost four. A day when I was trying to understand why my older sisters were so excited. There’s going to be another one of us. What?

“That’s why Mom has been gone all day,” one of them said. ”She’s at the hospital getting a new baby!” (That’s how things were explained in my family)

A baby? I had one brother and three sisters and it never dawned on me that would change. But I was thrilled and couldn’t wait for mom and my new sister to come home.

That baby sister, Rosene, grew up and taught me many things.

Probably due to her name, Rosene was drawn to roses and she was impressed that roses bloomed and were fragrant, even if life gave them thorns and her goal was to do the same.

Her life motto was “Bloom where you are planted.” 

And she did—even though she faced more obstacles than most of us. Mentally she was as bright as you and I, but she faced numerous physical obstacles because she was born with Cerebral Palsy* which caused a lack of muscle coordination over her entire body.

My mom and I took Rosene to our local Special Olympics field day a time or two. Rosene loved every second of those days… whether she was focusing hard to throw a ball, walk a short distance or watching others, this smile never left her face all day.

My sister Rosene

She walked around age 2, but was unsteady and always had bruises on her knees from falling. With determination she continued walking (often with assistance) for most activities until her late twenties, when she began using a wheelchair.

If you’ve read my memoir, Because I Can, you know the relationship Rosene and I had was special, even if we didn’t always agree on everything. We fought, laughed, argued, joked and fought some more, just like most sisters do.

Rosene developed some health issues in her late thirties and she began having severe pain in her back, neck and arms. Due to complications from a surgery to try to decrease her pain, Rosene died at the age of 39 on October 22, 2008.

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Excerpt from Because I Can:

Rosene had been so tired of her life and she dreamed of the day she would be pain-free, so while I was sad to say good-bye, I was happy for her. From time to time, I felt guilty that I wasn’t sadder that she died, yet I was so grateful that she was pain-free. I envision her dancing and singing, without pain and limitations, in a beautiful place.

Bloom Where You are Planted by Rosene Hoover

Rosene’s life motto had been “Bloom where you are planted.” For her, this meant learning how to type on a computer, one finger at a time. Along with writing encouraging notes for others, she wrote short poems and had a computer journal which helped her process life.

In the months following her death, I searched her computer and collected her writings. Some I had read, some I hadn’t. I compiled them and the story of her life in a book for family and friends. Doing this was healing and inspiring.

During this time I was so thankful for a few things. I was glad that I had learned how to deal with my feelings. Though losing Rosene was different then my losses post-accident, the grieving process had similarities. I was also glad that my body allowed me to be running again. The trail was a good place to process my grief.

Some days I walked, other times I did running/walking intervals. On the days when the unfairness of life made me angry, I’d run as hard as I could. (attractive sight I’m sure … an angry middle-aged woman puffing along slightly faster than a snail)

The trail was also a good place to think about life … and to ask myself some questions. Rosene did the best she could in life with what she had—why should I do anything less? Was I blooming where I was planted?

I didn’t feel guilty, because I was still living and she was not, because I knew that was one of those mysteries of life I will never understand. But I had a desire to make the most of my life … because I can. 

I’m naturally curious and interested in many things in life, which explains all the unfinished projects around my house. As I thought about what my strongest passion were, I narrowed it down to a few things—running and connecting with people through speaking and writing.

Why don’t I try to increase my running? What’s stopping me from writing a memoir?

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Though I’m sorry Rosene suffered as much as she did, I’m grateful for what I learned from her. Remembering her attitude and her determination has and continues to carry me through many days, from trying one more time to smiling when I don’t feel like it to writing to short runs to marathon 1 and marathon 2.

As I wrote my memoir, I started calling it my “because I can” story. One day it dawned on me that could be the title. At times, I’d think about other title options, but I kept coming back to the influence Rosene had on me to keep doing what I can.

Many days my life was one step at a time and one word at a time and it was only by leaning on Rosene’s example of never giving up that I was able to recover well and able to finish a book.

I’m forever grateful to my little sis
for helping me live life well by inspiring me
to do what I can… because I can!

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Pieces of Rosene’s story have been scattered in some of my other posts, so some of this was posted before, but I wanted her story and her influence on BECAUSE I CAN condensed into one post.
 
*Cerebral Palsy (CP) is an umbrella term that encompasses a group of non-progressive, non-contagious conditions that cause physical challenges in human development. CP mostly affects body movement and muscle coordination.