31: Not Just a Run

31: Not Just a Run

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Recovering from Traumatic Brain Injuries

Not Just a Run

There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way and not starting.

~Buddha

Suddenly I awoke. I saw my sister Melinda sitting beside me staring. “Aren’t I supposed to be at work?” I asked her.

“No John, you have today off,” she answered.

I noticed I was in a hospital gown, tied to a hospital bed. “Melinda, why can’t I move my left leg?”

“John, you were in a car accident.” I fell silent for a moment or so, before simply putting my head down and falling back asleep.

Over the next little bit, I learned that I had suffered a catastrophic traumatic brain injury in a car accident on my way to work almost two weeks before. My legs hadn’t been hurt or damaged by the accident. My brain had simply forgotten how to operate my left side. I began the usual rehabilitation that TBI survivors must deal with, including physical therapy and cognitive techniques.

Friends and family flocked to my side, offering support, aid, advice, and just wanting to see me. As is extremely common amongst people dealing with TBI, I developed anxiety, depression, along with dealing with all the emotional problems that come with the entire situation.

It was so frightening to have to rely on a chair with wheels attached to get anywhere. The idea of going down the hall to watch TV was daunting due to the effort required; I kept traveling in circles around the hallways.

One of the things I immediately noticed was how much the gym calmed me. Growing up, I had never been a very physical person. Now I loved it. As the ability to get out of the wheelchair came back, I had to work on my balance and coordination the most. I felt so proud and happy when I finally “graduated” from the chair to a walker, then the walker to a cane; eventually I was able to stand and walk unaided. Throughout all of this time and to this day I still can’t put on my shoes without sitting down, and likely never will; but at least I am able to walk.

The gym provided the opportunity to use exercise bikes, elliptical machines, a treadmill and a track. I loved using these facilities, laying the groundwork for what was to unfold almost two years after the accident, when my close friend Rick, who is a runner, persuaded me to try it. At first it was very frustrating, as it highlighted and exaggerated all of my deficits. I started to learn more about what my recovery would entail. I was making gains physically, but now had to manage the barriers of cognitive fatigue, and lack of initiative and follow through, all of which make achieving goals very hard.

After running regularly for a month or so though, I started to love every second of it. The constant chatter in my mind quieted down. I had such a serene feeling when I was done. I even got a chip to put into my shoe to track my performance with my smartphone, which provided the ability to follow my running distances and times, giving me something solid to mark my progress, as well as giving me the push to keep going.

As the months went on, I started running farther and faster. Rick decided it would be a good idea to challenge me to run a half marathon with him. At first I was extremely reluctant. But I finally decided to accept the challenge and began looking into training options. I had only been seriously running for about two and a half months and had only participated in one organized run, a 3K.

As time went on, and the date of the race drew nearer, Rick hurt his knee. He was very apologetic that he would not be able to run with me, however very insistent that I still run it on my own. Obviously I felt heartbroken and upset. My best friend who had made me a runner wouldn’t be running my biggest race with me.

September 22, 2013, race day, was upon me. At this point in time, it had only been two and a half years since I woke in that hospital bed, and nine months and 631 kilometers since beginning to run. I sat down, nervously shaking, put my shoes on, and proceeded to run my first half marathon. There is no way to accurately describe the feeling of slapping the headphones on, and after a while, realizing how much ground I was covering. I was doing it. I was running a half marathon. I had initiated something and followed through with it. I was accomplishing my goal.

My time ended up being 1:59:25, a time seasoned runners would be proud of. I felt so overwhelmed at the finish line, I almost started crying. I felt so silly. Why would I feel that emotional about putting one foot in front of the other rapidly and repeatedly? Then I realized it was seeing the culmination of months of research and work unfolding into something satisfying, a monumental accomplishment, not just for my physical side, but my cognitive and emotional sides as well. Crossing the finish line wasn’t just running a race; it was organized executive function at work.

Through several group therapy sessions, and other means, I have connected with a few people with TBI, all of whom also have to sit down to put on shoes. I realize however, that almost all people who have suffered TBI need to use many aids, strategies and alternate techniques to achieve their goals. One other thing I have learned is that when those things are used, whether it be a date book for daily routine, or sitting down to strap on footwear, watch out. There is no telling how far any of us TBI survivors will go. The road to recovery is yours to travel down as you will.

~Johnkle

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