A month ago I ran the 119th Boston Marathon with Marathon Strides Against MS Boston Marathon Team. Not only was I honored to make my dream come true along side 53 team members who raised money for the same cause, but I was asked to be the only team member to speak at our pre race pasta dinner. Living in Denver, CO, my only connection with everyone until this point was our Team Facebook Group. Being able to introduce myself while sharing my passion and purpose for the pursuit of these particular 26.2…. with everyone all at once, was the icing on the cake.
SO…I thought to share my speech with all of you, too. Here goes:
“I can’t believe this weekend is finally here. If you’re anything like me, you booked your flight in December and told the Customer Service lady that it was taking you to run the Boston Marathon. I’ve pretty much told anyone that would listen to me since the day I found I was on the team. You see, I have Boston Roots. I was born in Framingham 37 years ago. My Dad raised me to be a die-hard Pats & Red Sox Fan. My Mom raised me to be a die-hard Lobster & Clam Chowda fan. My Grandma didn’t call me Carlyn, she called me CAH-LYN. Boston is in my Blood and I love being in this city! This is one of the reasons I stalked David for weeks before he officially told me I was accepted to run with all of you. Being here, and especially being asked to speak tonight, truly is a dream come true. I’m honored to share my story of WHY this particular marathon, for this particular cause was a must on my To Do list in life.
So…can anyone remember when running 6 miles scared the hell out of you? I can. It was my training run for my first half marathon, 5 years ago. Standing before you now, I can honestly say that I don’t just like to run, I love it. However, running the Boston Marathon never crossed my mind until the tragic events of April 15, 2013. A voice from within spoke to me and I knew I had to run–for Boston. I also knew there was no way on earth I could qualify. It just so happens that I met Phil Yastrow, a former runner with this team, who told me he got in by running for MS. What? You mean I can fundraise for my cause AND run the Boston Marathon? This had my name written all over it.
The decisions I’ve made over the years led me to this moment. I believe every day we have the choice to look at life from a positive or negative perspective. We have the power to allow tragedy to create purpose and take action rather than waiting for life to happen. I know I am here with all of you because I have chosen to walk (or in our case, run) a life paved by optimism and opportunity.
To start, it was October 1997. I couldn’t feel the water hitting my arm in the shower. Then my entire left side fell asleep. Within a day my torso was numb, followed by the loss of vision in my right eye. I was an invincible 19-year old sophomore at Indiana University … until I was given my diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis. MS, what the heck was MS? Thankfully, I was told to look up the National MS Society. I read that MS was different for everyone, that the symptoms varied and there were treatment options. Yes, I was scared – But I was comforted by the love and support from all my friends and family. However, any “woe is me” thoughts soon vanished when 2 of my best friends died 10 months apart in separate car accidents. The first was one month after my diagnosis. I share this as part of my story because accepting their deaths was much harder than accepting my MS. Rather than feel that life was unfair, I felt fortunate to be alive. I wanted to experience all that I could for myself and their spirits, too. Shortly after their passing I had my first of many AH HA moments and declared a Mantra I still say today: I will plant my feet all over this planet as long as I can.
After graduation, I moved to Dallas, TX. I was 23 when I happened upon a Lunch & Learn presented to my company by the Director of the local MS 150, now called Bike MS. I walked up to the Director and said, “I have MS”. It was the first time I’d shared it with anyone that understood what that meant. Though I didn’t own a bike and I was anything but a runner, I decided to step out of my comfort zone and join a local friends & family team. The Society asked if I would appear on the local news to promote the bike ride. My Dad flew out to crew, my friends made signs to cheer me on and I met other people “like me”. Most people I met with it were much older than me yet often I had an earlier diagnosis! So I made up the joke that I’d had MS longer than I’d been legally able to drink. I’d never been an adult without it. But jokes aside, I liked this new sharing role. I liked fundraising and I liked making a difference. I loved this experience so much I did it again the following year.
Fast Forward to 2004. I followed my dream of living on the beach and moved myself to San Diego, CA. Soon after, I called the Society to get involved. Upon hearing my name, they immediately asked if I was related to the Chapter President, Allan Shaw. I laughed confused because I was not related to THAT Alan Shaw, but I was related to an Alan Shaw, my Dad! Coincidence? I think not. I had an instant family! This family turned out to be incredibly helpful when at age 26, I had my next exacerbation. I woke up and couldn’t get out of bed. My left leg was paralyzed. This would last for a week. I couldn’t drive because I couldn’t feel my clutch, but I was able to take my wiggle of a walk to the gym and use the recumbent bike, lifting my left leg onto the pedal, making sure to stay active with my right. And after a couple weeks my body was back to “normal” but I was forever changed. This is where I would adopt my next Mantra: Move it or Lose it.
In 2006 I signed, by myself, and walked in my 1st 3 Day, 50 Mile MS Challenge Walk in San Diego. At this point, my Dad had previously walked in 5 Carolina Challenge Walks so he was the inspiration for me. It was my turn to show that someone with MS could walk for others with MS. The following year I convinced another girlfriend my age with MS to join me. My 3rd year she & I formed Team OptiMiStic, with the M and the S capitalized, and recruited 5 others. I gave my first MS speech at that candlelight dinner. The drug company, Acorda, also selected me and my team for a documentary about the challenge walk. Each year I looked forward to seeing my extended MS family while creating awareness and assisting others living with MS. It felt like my purpose. MS was literally paving a path of amazing people and experiences in my life. Upon feeling this silver lining with all of my being, I declared my next Mantra: Set Backs are Stepping Stones in Disguise.
By the time I walked my 4th Challenge walk, I’d become a bit of a runner. Then, one afternoon in late 2009, at the beach, some friends challenged me to join them for a half marathon the beginning of 2010. After a several beers my arm was twisted. Little did I know that would be one of the best, life-changing decisions I’d ever make. By the end of 2010, I’d run 3 half marathons. Yup, I’d been bitten by the Run Bug… hard. And each race I planted my feet somewhere new. Each time a little faster. I had MS but MS did not have me.
Fast Forward to 2011. After being let go from my job in San Diego, I created a 6-week cross country road trip filled with 15 cities, lots of friends and now… lots of runs and landed myself on the beach of Wilmington, NC! I also started my blog Strangers To Friends. I couldn’t help but reflect on all the serendipity in the form of friendships, especially with people I met because of my MS. Without fear, I followed my intuition, allowing one closed door to be the opening of another. Within the next year I appeared on The Anderson Cooper Show to speak about my MS, and ran 3 more half marathons, including the NYC Half. The day I ran my 6th, I got the tattoo ♥ Life (it’s actually my Mom’s handwriting) on the back of my neck, base of my brainstem, top of my spinal cord, where I knew my lesion to be. I thanked my body for each step it had allowed me to take and every experience MS had motivated me to accomplish. I still get excited when a runner behind me notices it and asks me about it. I like to think it’s my bumper sticker 😉
This brings me to 2012. I heard one more whisper, to bid farewell to the beach and take on the mountains, which brought me to where I am now, living in Denver, CO… Within 3 months I ran half marathon #8 and signed up for The Portland Marathon. My friends followed along on FB, watched how I’d not allowed the label or disease to hold me back and called me an inspiration. Ha, but after that marathon I swore on everything in me that I would never, ever run another one again. Famous last words, right?
The following year, 2013, was really tough. I broke my 5th metatarsal on my right foot. 4 months later I was in a horrible bike accident that launched me face first into the street, shattered my 2 front teeth and caused my back and neck muscles to tighten up so badly that it took another 5 months before I could run. Being forced to be still from freak accidents that had nothing to do with MS was almost more challenging than when it happened because of MS! While healing my foot without surgery, I was forced me to rely on my left leg, the one paralyzed years before, which to me was a silver lining. So, 9 months post foot break, I drove to Moab, UT for my first time and PR’d my 9th Half Marathon. To date, this is one of my proudest moments because I had to mentally and physically over come a lot to make it happen.
And here I am today, in the best shape of my life, ready to make my dream come true and take on 26.2 miles with all of you. My journey with MS seems to run parallel with my journey of running. Think back to the moment you decided to commit to the 2015 Boston Marathon to run with our team. You knew you were giving up sleeping in on Saturdays for long runs, but could any of us have predicted ALL THE SNOW? I salute your commitment because you made my Colorado Winter look like a walk in the park! But just like our commitment to accepting MS and doing something about it, we put one food in front of the other. We can’t predict the storms ahead, but we can choose to power through life, like we power through 18 miles on a 15 degree day. By saying yes to this marathon, I said yes to so much more. I made the choice to take on training for the past 4 months and to raise money for my cause. None of us can control what happens in life, but we can control how we respond to it. And I couldn’t ask for a more epic way to use my MS to motivate me that to run a marathon with all of you. So on behalf of everyone with MS, thank you for your choice to be here, so that we can run as a team and do all we do to help those with MS.