By Mary McManus
In December 2006, at the age of 53 years old, my world was crumbling around me. I was diagnosed with post polio syndrome, a progressive neurological disease which was a result of paralytic polio I experienced at the age of 5 years old. My limp returned. I had difficulty breathing and swallowing. I had chronic fatigue, pain and muscle weakness. Tremors of head and hands were evident and my co workers at the Department of Veterans Affairs Outpatient Clinic thought I had Parkinson’s Disease. I was told to quit my full time award winning career as a social worker at the VA and to prepare myself for a life in a wheelchair.
The years I spent living life from my head and being disconnected from my body finally caught up with me. The self loathing of my body from the polio and then sexual, physical and emotional abuse at the hands of my alcoholic father manifested in my body shutting down. I was just three years shy of retirement age. I had a choice. I could curl up waiting for the worst to happen or I could take my life into my own hands and find a path of healing and wholeness. I chose the latter. In February, 2007, during the dark night of my soul, I discovered the gift of poetry waiting to be born. It had a powerful healing force in my life as I harnessed the power of my unconscious to unleash healing in my body. The first poem I wrote was called “Running the Race”.
Why poetry you might ask at the age of 53 years old? It’s never too late to discover your true passion. When I was five years old, my physical therapist read Dr. Seuss to me before every painful physical therapy session. How apropos that the healing cadence that had brought me comfort and joy in childhood would return to help me heal during the crisis of post polio syndrome. I took a leap of faith in May of 2007 and left my job. I continued in outpatient rehab until I was told that they had done all for me that they could and to be aware that while I made tremendous progress, I was always at risk for a relapse. My body was burning to move more and do more. I hired a personal trainer and we built on the program prescribed for me by my rehab team.
Fast forward to February 2008. My trainer asked me what my new goals were since I was able to reach my initial goals of getting stronger, being able to get off of a low toilet seat and diversifying my health and fitness routine. First I said, “I want to feel free in my body. I want to walk outside. I want to learn how to dance again. (I was a ballerina until polio struck at age 5.) And then, as she was getting ready to leave my house with hand on door knob, I told her to WAIT. I have one more goal. The words were out of my mouth faster than I could process them. “I want to run the Boston Marathon for Spaulding Rehab Hospital”.
I traded in my polio shoes, leg brace and wheelchair and cane for a pair of Nike running shoes. At first I could only run for 30 seconds and walk for 4 and half minutes. Little by little the 30 seconds grew to 30 minutes of continuous running. We trained through the most grueling of New England Winters but on April 20, 2009, my husband, daughter and I crossed the finish line of the 113th running of the Boston Marathon. We raised $10,535 for Spaulding Rehab Hospital where I took the first steps on my healing journey. Running the Boston Marathon has given me a platform from which to share my journey and help and inspire others who are facing life altering diagnoses in their lives.
I am the author of two books of inspirational poetry, blog, am an inspirational speaker, a fund raiser and a social media maven. My healing journey is inspiring others to realize that they are not their diagnosis and there are always pathways to heal mind, body and spirit regardless of life circumstances. My greatest passion is working with Rotary International as a Rotarian to raise money and awareness for the End Polio Now campaign. I donate 20% of book proceeds and 100% of proceeds from the sale of my short film documentary, “Keeping the Pace: The Mary McManus Story” to the End Polio Now campaign. Sometimes life takes us on an amazing road trip for us to discover the path we are meant to be on.