Boston Strong - A Mother, a Marathon, and Cerebral Palsy

PRO Sports Club Erica Nash at the Boston Marathon Erica Nash at the Boston Marathon

The inspiring story of Boston Marathoner Erica Newman Nash, a 36-year-old working mother living with cerebral palsy.

Boston, April 15, 2013

On Monday April 15, 2013, I stood at the Boston Marathon start line with 14 other mobility impaired runners. It was a cold morning but my blood was pumping. After working with Personal Trainer Luke Montzingo for the past four months, for the first time, I felt ready. I was honored to stand at the starting line of greatness. The fact that I’d been raised in nearby Providence, Rhode Island, only added to my pride.

The Journey

Even though I’m a 36-year-old working mother of two children and have cerebral palsy, Luke trained me like a 25-year-old Ironman. He continuously pushed me just slightly past my limit to show me what I could achieve, keeping my cerebral palsy and injuries in mind by adapting each workout. His goal was not to make it easier for me, but to make it functionally possible. Luke treated me like a seasoned athlete. Mind-over-matter is a huge part of success in endurance sports, especially for a novice, let alone a novice with a permanent musculoskeletal disability.

It's hard to believe, but I only began running after a year-long bout with kidney cancer in 2009. I’d never run before, not even on the playground as a kid. I wore leg braces until age 10 and running around wasn't "my thing." I started running in 15-second intervals in the fall of 2010 with my former personal trainer. She showed me how to get fit, and Luke turned me into an athlete. Now, I’m not only a runner, but a Boston marathoner....and a survivor.

The Race

I ran a good race both physically and mentally. I took the first 10K too fast, as most Boston Marathon novices do. It was fun to pick up the pace when passed by elite runners, such as Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher, whom I idolize. I completed Heartbreak Hill at a steady pace. After mile 22, I slowed down to protect my posterior shin splints. I didn't want to risk my calf seizing up and not being able to finish. That tactic had me running 10 minutes slower than my planned pace. My projected finish time was 2:50 p.m. Even now, it seems unreal that I missed my pace and wasn't at the finish during the explosion.

The Last Mile

The last clear memory I have is passing the "one mile to go" mark. Then, with the Citgo sign in my sights, I knew all the rehab had worked. I was going to cross the finish line with my hands in the air and a smile on my face that would energize me for years to come. I remember calculating my plan of attack. I wanted to finish on a run interval rather than a walk. I saw a runner down to my right as I entered Kenmore Square. That’s not unusual at the end of a marathon. Then the crowd in front of me thickened. Within a minute, I realized we were barricaded in. We couldn't go forwards or backwards. I was at a dead stop after nearly six hours of running.

It was a surreal blur of commotion and emotion, almost like a dream. Having lived in Israel and in DC during 9/11, I knew it was for the best. However, by the time we were allowed to leave the area (we’d been stopped and held at mile 25.7 for over an hour), I was vomiting, had hypothermia, and had major spasms in my legs from my cerebral palsy. I have a very specific recovery routine to keep my muscles from suffering possible permanent damage from running, but there was nothing I could do.

The Greatest Challenge

According to the runners and bystanders around me, I was blue and shaking uncontrollably. Some wrapped me in garbage bags, while others ran for help. The EMTs rushed me to Massachusetts General Hospital, where my legs continued convulsing for seven hours. I spent nearly three days in the hospital to get the pain and spasms under control. The combination of running for nearly six hours, followed by the cold and wind, and topped off with severe convulsing spasms, tore up the muscles in my lower legs. Recovering both physically and emotionally from this horrific event has truly been the greatest challenge in my life.

The Finish

I thought this was going to be my last full marathon. I was sure of it. Being a slow runner adds significantly to my training hours, and it’s very hard on my body (and my family). But now, I'm so sad, angry, confused, and empty, I want that Boston Marathon finish line more than ever. I’m not sure if I’ll run the 2014 Boson Marathon, but I do know that Luke will be there to train me and mold me into a phenomenal marathoner once again.

This article originally appeared in PRO Pulse Magazine©, a publication of PRO Sports Club. Reprinted with permission.

Erica Newman Nash

Erica is the director of the Walk With Friendship fundraising event for the Friendship Circle of Washington. The Friendship Circle, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, provides respite, therapies, education and activities for families, children and teens with special needs. Erica also holds a Masters Degree in Education and is a Licensed Massage Practitioner.  After recovering from the Boston Marathon, Erica decided to scale back her massage practice and return to the non-profit world, focusing on working with the special needs community.

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