35. The Warrior Woman

35. The Warrior Woman

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners

The Warrior Woman

That which does not kill us makes us stronger.
 ~Friedrich Nietzsche

My sister Mary is strong. She is not one of these girls who cries over broken nails. She doesn’t cry. Yell, maybe, but not cry. A warrior woman whom I dared not wrestle, especially in front of my friends. She won awards for track and field as well as basketball in high school.

Then the accident happened.

Her boyfriend had been driving the car when the Ford F-150 swerved into their lane going over 70 miles per hour. It hit them head on, pushed them backward more than 50 yards before riding up over the top of her Toyota Camry, crushing the roof.

When I showed up in the hospital I didn’t even try to count the tubes going into her. Her arms and legs were bandaged, as was her head. She was so thoroughly covered by bandages and blankets I could only see her face, which was swollen, but only from crying. She actually had been crying. That worried me more than the tubes.

We learned that the truck’s driver and passenger had been drunk, and the passenger was killed when the truck flipped after crushing the roof of my sister’s car. But Mary, strong as she was, survived somehow with only lacerated arms and legs, and severe nerve damage in her right leg and hip.

When the small car and the Ford F-150 smashed head-on, the impact was so great that Mary’s seat belt burned through her dress, through her skin, and into the muscle and bone of her leg and hip. She learned that she’d need physical therapy even to walk, so bad off were her right leg and hip.

Ten years later, Mary was still picking windshield glass out of her forehead, arms and legs. She’d been dealing with the pain of damaged nerves in her leg, foot, and hip for a decade. Frustrated, she wanted to fight back against the pain, to assert herself that though wounded, she was a wounded warrior. And warriors don’t pity themselves, don’t dwell on what they can’t change. Against her doctor’s recommendation, she began to run again.

When my sister begins anything, she does not wade in. She dives in head first, clothes and all. In fact we’ve jumped off several high bridges that way. That is the way Mary went into running, the way she reclaimed herself, her strength, her soul.

Mary boarded a plane for Colorado in September of 2007. Her destination was the Colorado Marathon. After only training for it a few weeks, with a scarred, burning hip, leg and foot that seared with pain at every step, she ran 26.2 miles. And as soon as she crossed the finish line, she said, “That’s it?”

Amazingly, the running helped. During the race, she’d been in pain for the first few miles, but her leg actually felt better afterward. Not having run many marathons, she was still finding her pacing, and after the Colorado Marathon she realized she still had plenty left in the tank. Her one regret, of course, was that she hadn’t run harder.

My sister still runs, still has marathons on her mind. No one thought she’d ever be the same after that horrific crash. But in a sense we were right. She’s not the Mary she used to be. She’s even stronger. It took that crash for us to realize that it was never really Mary’s body that made her strong in the first place. It was her unflinching vigor, her passion. If anything, that crash only made her stronger.

~Ron Kaiser, Jr.

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