I met Michael Leitson through this blog, as he’s another young stroke survivor who sustained his injury at age nineteen. He’s been gracious enough to share his story about learning how to run again — something I still haven’t done yet (but will — it’s really from lack of trying). I am excited to offer a new perspective from another survivor to inspire the rest of us!
Over time, I built up my endurance. By the time I left Shepherd, I was walking with a brace, and it was then that I started walking everywhere. Being trapped in the hospital for so long and only being able to go outside for thirty minutes a day made me restless. I had to stand up, get outside, and move around every single chance I got. I suppose I developed my love for the outdoors this way. Walking all around my neighborhood greatly improved my stride.
At Pathways, the day therapy place I went to, I learned how to walk without flopping my foot. I remember the first time my therapist made me jog down the hall for the first time after my stroke. She had to run along with me, hold on to me, to make sure I didn’t fall over. When I jogged down the hall a couple times, the days of running came back to me. I loved the feeling and eventually wanted to get back to it.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get back to running as soon as I should. I was working hard on my arm and fingers, which were of course lagging behind, in concurrence with all sorts of tests to get me back to school the next semester. When I did move back on campus in January, I took great advantage of the nearby gym. I hit the weights every day and began using the elliptical to guide my legs through the motions of running.
I first built up my endurance by increasing my time on the elliptical by a few minutes every time. Pretty soon, I was logging up to forty-five minutes, setting the level harder each time I used it. Then I moved to the treadmills, since my legs had relearned the motion of running. I didn’t stay on the treadmill for long, as they can be dangerous if you run too fast on them.
When I moved back home in May, I went running for real. I ran around Sweet Apple, less than a mile from my home, where I’d had my first cross country race, so I could relive the memory every time. I often ran one or two laps around, exhilarated by the feeling of being able to run again. Of course, my right foot didn’t hit the ground perfectly, but I didn’t care. I would work on it and still continue to work on it to this day. I began to redevelop my love for running, one that was more appreciative in nature.
This past February, I ran my first 5k race since the stroke. Since I didn’t properly tie my shoes beforehand, I had to stop and retie them often. I completed the race in thirty minutes, a little bit longer than I had hoped, so I was a little disappointed. But I did run my hardest, and by the end of the race I was exhausted and happy, on my “runner’s high.”
Although I am busier than ever with classes these days, I still try to get out and go running at least three times a week. Hopefully, I will participate in more 5ks and maybe some 10ks. I eventually would like to run a half-marathon, but that is a long way away. I love the feeling of running and wish that everyone in the world could experience the same feeling. If you have the ability to run, you have so much to be thankful for, and I encourage you to take advantage of it and always appreciate it. If you’ve had a stroke or any type of brain injury, or if you have temporarily lost the ability to run, there is still hope for you. You can work up to it, develop the necessary movements and skills, by challenging yourself as you go along. First learn to walk, then jog slowly, then jog faster until you reach your desired speed.
Believe me, I know some movements are hard to relearn, as I am having the same issues with my fingers, but I believe that with determination, anything can be accomplished. Never ever give up. Always try harder. The result of all the hard work will yield an appreciation for running that you would have never imagined.
To read more about Michael and his story, please visit the Georgia Brain Injury Peer Visitor Page.