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AUTHENTICALLY BOLD: REBECCA

BETTER, NOT BITTER

Month

April 2014

Channeling My Inner-Laura Ingalls Wilder

One of the more positive stories my parents would always offer me as a child is “what goes around comes around”, namely as it pertains to fashion styles, societal practices, trends and more.  When you are young, you do not necessarily take the words of your experienced parents with more than a grain of salt; after all they are “old” people who are a little out of touch (or are they really?).

I am a by-product of the 80s (even though I was born in the mid-70s).  I find it highly amusing, and oddly comforting, that a brief walk through Target to get prescriptions is enhanced by vibrant neon colored clothing everywhere.  I see lace popping up again on anything from shoes, to shirts, to shorts and I am instantly twelve years old again.  I love it.  Let’s start pegging our pants again and layering our socks, baby (or maybe not).

Recently, I ran the 2014 Boston Marathon in a day-glow neon yellow running shirt (underneath my fundraising shirt) and I revel in the memories of when I ran for an All American Cross Country team in Munich Stadium in 1989, in yes, you may have guessed it:  day-glow neon yellow running tights that would have matched the aforementioned shirt to a thread.  Twenty-four years and the cycle of fashion trends is coming full circle.  FUN!  (Although, I secretly hope mesh shirts do not find their way back, along with the Moms jeans! Eek!)

Recently, the trends with food also seem to be shifting, perhaps circling back to a prior era.  More and more of my friends, as well as the public in general, are making empowered decisions for better choices on what to feed their families.  Fast food has become a once in a while “treat” – because come on, sometimes one just needs a dose of salty French fries.  However, every day meals are being crafted at home, from scratch and using better ingredients that come from local sources versus the pre-packaged and processed variety in the inner aisles of our box grocery stores.

Even in households where both parents work, the act of preparing foods like Easy Mac or Hamburger Helper seems less likely.  The ingestion of the unpronounceable ingredients of so many “quick & easy” dinners is apt to leave mothers shuddering across the nation, and they take a few more minutes to create healthier plates of nutrition for their families.

As a child living in Oklahoma, we had a small farm for a while.  We raised pigs, goats, chickens, rabbits and the occasional wild animal that showed up in our lives, including a baby skunk.  Part of the intent of raising these animals, unbeknownst to me as a young child, was to utilize the meat to feed our family.  Needless to say, I was rather traumatized when my father announced it was time for the slaughterhouse for our four pigs that I had lovingly cared for and named:  Miss Piggy, Bacon, Porkchop, and Ham.  My father promised that Miss Piggy would not be sent for slaughter during all the days that she would come to me for back scratches and hugs, or when she would run to the fence to greet me after I came off the school bus.  My father broke my heart for the first time by breaking this promise and I vowed to not eat one ounce of the hundreds of pounds of meat that soon filled our freezers.

It was here, in Fairland, Oklahoma, where I first learned the phrase, “Did you ever see a chicken with its head cut off?”  Science demonstrated itself as my father slaughtered one hundred chickens himself; we had to do the cleaning and prepping process ourselves. Chicken after chicken lost its head and then ran around the yard for what seemed to be hours.  Fortunately for me, the process of raising and prepping chickens for food was a way of life back then.  We raised the animals from young, tender ages to being full grown – we fed them, we nurtured them and we knew all about them.

Fast forward many years to present day and thoughts about where our food comes from resurfaces.  Living in suburbia, growing and raising your own food sources are not likely. Our food can only come from the stores that provide it, right?  Yes and no.

After a hard cancer battle, I began to really evaluate our food sources.  Having no explanation for my cancer diagnosis, I began to suspect that environmental factors may have been at play.  Worried for our children, we began to make different choices to enable and empower us for good health.

Five years ago, we joined a local CSA (Community Shared Agriculture) for a share of the crops produced.  By signing up in the winter months, you provide the local farmer with the cash up front to purchase the seeds and supplies necessary for the crops ahead. In return, you get a weekly share that lasts anywhere from sixteen to twenty weeks of the abundance of the farmer’s land grown in June to October.  One benefit to joining a CSA is knowing where your food is grown; how the farmer treats the crops with pesticides, if at all; and eating the nutrients your body needs with the changing seasons.

Early June provides fresh berries and leafy greens:

ImageFollowed by tomatoes and summer squashes in July:

ImageAmple amounts of fresh corn, more tomatoes, summer squashes and greens through all of August:

ImageSeptember and October bring in more of the harvest and root vegetables including butternut and acorn squashes, potatoes, and so much more:

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Our current and by far, most favorite CSA is with Harper’s Farm & Garden. A few shares *may* remain, so do not hesitate and contact them to sign up today. Trust me, you will not regret it.

While vegetables and fruits certainly make up a large portion of our nutrition, we started looking for better meat sources.  Time after time again, we were disappointed in the disgusting taste and quality of many supermarket meats.  After spending much money on store-bought chicken breasts, only to have them be rubbery, taste poor and throwing the uneaten meat out; I decided there has to be a better option.  We were purchasing much of our meat at Central Street Meat & Deli, however, I knew there had to be a local farm that allowed us to feel confident about the source of our meat, as well as allowing us to support another farmer and his family.

Our current favorite meat farm is Kalon Farms.  Owned by Keith and Ashley Kopley, the quaint farm in Ashburnham offers such a wide variety of meats that we have yet to try all their offerings.  A twenty minute drive from where we live in Leominster is quick and easy.  We have fine-tuned our purchases so we go once every three weeks approximately and fill our freezer with a multitude of goods.

ImageThe meats at Kalon Farm are prepackaged in vacuum sealed pouches and frozen.  From fresh bacon, to ham steaks, to sirloin tips, to beef stew meat, to hamburg, and to roaster chickens; our dinners have never been better.  Preparing has never been easier, as the packages are easy to defrost and the meat remains as fresh as the day it was sealed.  My children even ask now, “Is this the farm meat? It’s so delicious, I can taste the difference!”

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Chili Lime Roasted Chicken infused with Clementines

My oldest, once a true vegetarian because she disliked the taste of meat and how the animals are treated is now eating small amounts of meat again – because the meats from Kalon Farm are tasty and she knows the animals are being treated humanely.

Now to find a local baker and I will feed my family much like people did in the “old days”; by shopping at each respective market for our food.  With the recent news of the latest carcinogen in our breads, (who wants to eat the chemical in yoga mats and sneakers a.k.a.  Azodicarbonamide), my focus is on finding suitable bread choices for my children and their beloved sandwiches.  The current favorite in the household is products by “When Pigs Fly” – namely their sourdough and rye varieties.  When Pigs Fly is based in Maine, but fortunately, their fresh, artisan style breads are available at many local markets.  The company uses only organic and fresh ingredients, and despite the higher cost,  we rest assured that our six year old can read the ingredient label with no hesitation.

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While I am unable to channel my inner Laura Ingalls Wilder and live on the prairie supplying my own food sources for our family; I am able to keep the local farmers in business by purchasing their quality goods and we are confident that the majority of our food is not likely to kill us. Although, we do enjoy Cheetos once in a very blue moon (translate: once or twice a year), have you ever stopped to ponder what exactly IS a Cheeto?

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What are some of your favorite local food sources? Share them with us!

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Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston

boston rjs numberThe journey to the Boston Marathon is truly unlike any other experience. Sure, there’s the twelve week (or longer) training programs you follow to pave the way for your body and your mind to start preparing for race day itself, but nothing, truly prepares you fully for anything and everything that can happen.

The winter of 2013-2014 was known as the one plagued by the Artic Vortex; many of us runners had no choice but to log mile after mile after mile in temperatures that would barely break the freezing point. We were layered upon layered with clothing, gloves, hats, face masks, wool socks, Yak-Trax and more to muscle our way through what Hal Higdon told us to for each respective week.  Our plans revolved around when we had to run, how long we had to run and life in general simply had to follow that course.

We runners try to do everything in our power to prepare for the big day, whether it’s the veterans who have done countless marathons, or us newbies who have only ventured as far as our half-marathons and our longest training runs have taken us. We use body glide to lube up every part of us to avoid the dreaded chafing everywhere that skin may rub.  We clip our toenails super short. We find clothing that makes us most comfortable, often ditching the undies and running commando in the simplest way to prepare. We carb-load the week before and we drink gallons upon gallons of water or Nuun-laced water to be sure our glycogen stores and hydration levels are prime come the day of the big dance.  We double, triple, quadruple check our supplies and make sure in our typical OCD style that EVERYTHING is ready and we are PREPARED.  We are a neurotic bunch.  We check again.  Yes, we do.  (Okay, we check one more time, too).

Many of us are not talented enough to qualify via time for the prestigious Boston Marathon, so we offer to fund-raise and pray for a spot on a charity team. I was fortunate enough to land a spot on Team Eye and Ear for the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Institute and given a minimum (eek) balance I had to raise in exchange. Coupled with the intensive training that lied ahead for me back in December, I also had the challenge of raising several thousand dollars.

boston team eye and ear jerseyFast forward and suddenly, April 21st was upon all of us – race day was here. Carefully laid out clothes were put on after pounds of body glide was applied. For me, I body glided nearly everywhere because at the Disney Princess Half-Marathon I experienced some horrific chafing on my inner arms due to the excessive humidity.  Deodorant was forgotten (and yes, I noticed profoundly of that forgotten task around mile 20 – peeeeee uwwwww). I apologize to any and all people I hugged smelling like a rotten rhinoceros.As luck would have it for me (TMI ALERT!!!!!), my period showed up just in time.  @#&%$@?, thank youuuuuuu body.  (Yes, I can hear all the women uttering complete empathy for me at this point whereas the unfortunate men reading this are raising eyebrows and saying we could have done without that piece of information).  Running with your period sucks okay and it changes EVERYTHING.  Fortunately, for me, I only had to relieve myself ONCE during the race so I chose to ignore whatever else was going on down there until I got home that night.  Your assumptions are correct, I last peed about 12:30 pm about mile 5-6 of my run in Framingham and I did not go to the bathroom again until 9:30 pm that night.  Welcome to the land of Marathon running.

Filled with nervous energy that morning, we shuttled to Athletes Village in Hopkinton, which looked to me as Woodstock should have looked, except we were bouncing around to a nervous energy, not some hippie style music, and no one was smoking anything (maybe we should have been?). We made the half-mile trek with literally thousands of others to find our way downtown to the most profound starting line of my life. All this preparation for months, and here I was, quite unsure of what lied ahead of me and what to really expect.

Just like that, we were off…and running, as fast as thousands of sardines packed in a 29 foot stretch of starting line and road would allow. I was overwhelmed by the amount of spectators already screaming my name and ringing cowbell for me. Before I knew it, mile three was approaching and I realized I better start grabbing some water as it was much hotter than the weatherman had prepped me for. As soon as I started worrying about the weather, I spotted some of my family on the sidelines freaking out! My sister-in-law, her husband, their children were so happy and cheering for me – so I stopped for a selfie with them and on I went.

Somewhere along the way, I grabbed a drink of Gatorade (against my better judgment) because we were coached to alternate water/Gatorade every other mile. Having this be my first marathon, I thought it would be wise to listen to the professionals. I should not have. I know my body better and I have always used JUST water. By end of mile six, I was feeling particularly hot and incredibly nauseous.

The week prior to the marathon, I woke up with a massive chest cold and barking like a seal.   #@#(*&%@#$#(@*!!! All winter I remained healthy, with the exception of a one day stomach bug, but NOW, one week prior to the race of my life, I am hacking up a lung?!? I did not prepare for that.

After ingesting the Gatorade, I began coughing and felt like each cough would end in a projectile of vomit. The phlegm from the chest cold seemed to be hovering behind my trachea covered with sticky, sweet Gatorade.  Trust me, have you ever felt like puking in front of thousands of spectators? Not a good feeling whatsoever and I struggled to keep the contents of my stomach from surpassing the hollow in my throat. The last time I puked in a race was the Falmouth Road Race in 2003 when it was ninety degrees out and 90 percent humidity. Somehow, as the coughing worsened, I found a small stretch with no spectators and a bush – I ran over, gagged a few times and dry heaved into the bushes until the Gatorade was no longer in my system. Onward, I went.

My friend, Michael, had caught up to me earlier in the race, and we were running together as I started to gag on Gatorade.  I apologized for having to cough, gag, sputter, puke and we continued on. Poor guy. (Believe me, I *tried* to get him to go ahead and leave me be).  Within minutes thereafter, I felt a sharp snap in my right hip. @#(*$&#(*@#. A few minutes later, four more snaps in my right hip and the excruciating pain ensued.  I was having a panic attack about being able to finish the rest of the race, as I was only one-third of the way in. As the pain progressed, my weaknesses surfaced and I thought strongly about bailing out of the race at mile ten and again at mile twelve. As we passed two medical tents, I was lured by the premise of listening to the pain in my body but I knew too well that the medical attendants would not let me re-enter once I stepped out. Onward I went. I had no choice.

Race day hit nearly seventy degrees at its warmest point. Only a fellow Team Eye and Ear teammate from Florida was adequately equipped for the pools of salt and sweat that rushed down our faces last Monday. Several people I know were struggling with staying adequately hydrated, perhaps battling severe nausea thereafter or even having to drop out at a certain point because of confusion and disorientation.  Others simply had to take more walking breaks or slow their pace in order to persevere through the afternoon highs.

The finish line of the Boston Marathon is much more symbolic to me and to many of my friends. Sure, the famed marathon is bigger than life and surreal. However, for me, to cross that finish line meant so much more – as I blogged previously, 26.2 Examples of Inspiration, finishing this trek from Hopkinton to Boston was the completion of a few chapters of my life allowing me to move forward. The venture over the vinyl mark on Boylston Street really does mean I am done with cancer, those steps forward are more steps away from my deceased parents, the tumultuous years and ensuing bad feelings that linger, but more importantly, my triumph in crossing that finish line gives other cancer patients *hope* – and I will say it again, I am living proof that cancer can be beaten and we are able to take back that control we lose during our experiences.

Cancer is a very scary world and those of us who have been afflicted often have fears of recurrence, despite all sorts of statistics thrown our way and milestones that we strive to hit. Knowing that I took my body back and completed the Boston Marathon may just give someone else the little bit of hope that they need to persevere in their own daily marathon. For if I have given one person that teensy bit of hope, I will feel very good about taking my journey here.

Needless to say, the race carried on and I saw friends and family and critical mental points. I knew after the twelve mile mark that I could really not ever bail; and with Michael’s encouraging words (“We will walk the rest if we have to!”), I pushed through the pain. My mind constantly battled with my body; and yet, as soon as I thought of a few of the names I had carefully written on my shirt, I found more strength to put one foot in front of the other for another mile and another mile thereafter.  I saw beloved friends at mile 6, mile 15, mile 16, mile 17, mile 18, mile 19 and again at mile 21 before those on the final stretch.  Thank you for helping to carry me forward.

boston friends picboston iacaboni pic boston mile 18 pic

My last meltdown was at mile twenty-two, not only was my hip slowly about to come out of its socket, but the blisters on my neuropathy-filled feet were popping with every step. Thinking we had just two miles ahead of us, I forced myself to quell the pain. Suddenly, an awesome cheerleader on the side yelled, “You’ve got this guys, only four miles left!” I angrily turned to Michael and asked him to repeat what this spectator had just screamed. He confirmed alright that we had four miles left to go. Mentally prepared for two more miles of extreme discomfort had just doubled before my eyes.  Yet, I must go on as the Prudential Tower was in sight. Moments later, I passed a man with a prosthetic leg and reminded myself that I had NOTHING to complain about.

I thought about Jackie and Cara; I knew they would need me to finish this race.  I pulled up my blue and yellow Boston Strong inspired Athleta running capris, courtesy of my best friend, Karen who is currently undergoing treatment for leukemia.  I thought of her literally…on…my….ass…..  How fitting?  Karen was riding my ass to get to the finish line.  Suddenly, I could HEAR her voice telling me to dig deep and finish this damn race.

We *finally* turned right onto Hereford Street and I looked up the slight hill to see that the crowds were still in full force on Boylston Street. Despite the hours that had transpired, the message of Boston Strong rallied through shortly after 6 pm, when the majority of the other runners had long since completed their race. Michael and I charged on and looked at each other – we both verbally announced that once we turned onto Boylston Street, every step of the remaining two-tenths of a mile would be RUN to the finish line.

Michael pulled ahead of me, while I was trying to soak in every face that was then screaming my name, clapping for me, and ringing more cowbell for me. I heard my name in a familiar voice from behind me and across the street, which with my hearing impairment is something of a miracle in and of itself, only to see my good friend Deana and her significant other, David cheering me on. I could not stop or go backwards, for fear I would not finish with my injury, so onward I ran.

As the crowd got louder, I threw my hands up in the air in triumph! Twenty four years after I first wished to run the Boston Marathon at the age of sixteen, over six and a half hours after I first stepped over the starting line in Hopkinton, and here I was……..running down Boylston Street. The tears escaped me and the inconsolable sobbing began. I had runners before me, I had runners behind me, but here I was in the middle of the street with thousands of people cheering my name and applauding my finishing efforts. For that brief moment in time, this was MY race and I felt as if I were Meb Keflezighi about to soar across that finish line.

I spotted my family in their red Team Eye and Ear shirts in front of Crate and Barrel, I ran over to hug them and sob all over their happiness-filled faces. My oldest quickly proclaimed, “Momma, go finish YOUR race!”  I hobbled on another 200 yards to the blue and yellow line that signaled the completion of my journey. More tears, uncontrollable sobs and a feeling of victory oozed from every ounce of my body.

boston official finish

A fellow Team Eye and Ear teammate had finished at the same time and we were instantly interviewed by an unknown reporter before I was greeted by my exuberant family and a couple of work colleagues. I had a compelling need to go get my medal and hobbled down further until I could see my beloved friend Lauren waiting for me. Lauren is a volunteer who distributes medals every year and I knew I could get my medal from NO ONE but her.  I had fears that she had left earlier in the day since I came in so much later than planned. However, I saw her standing in the throngs of medal presenters and I dragged my leg to get there as quickly as I could.  Upon Lauren’s notice of me coming, I burst into yet more tears and sobs as she grabbed a medal to place around my neck. I hung on to that poor petite girl for longer than necessary, embraced my hours-long body odor all over her tiny being.  I could not stop, I cried hard tears for finally being at this point of closure.

boston lauren rjs meda

I do not remember much thereafter, other than my NEED to get to the medical tent for my hip. I demanded ice and some ibuprofen from the kind medical attendants after they laid me on a cot. I was given ice in no time, but told they do not disburse medicines of any kind. I was slightly annoyed because this *was* the medical tent after all (I realize afterwards why they do not distribute, but in that moment, I NEEDED ibuprofen). The physical therapist refused to work on me and the doctor came over to evaluate. I insisted that if he could not give me ibuprofen, then he better damn well give me a shot of vodka for the pain. Unfortunately, they denied me that as well but they did get a good chuckle out of me. The doctor suggested I had a stress fracture, despite my description of feeling something actually tearing in my hip. He gave me crutches and ordered me to call my doctor the next morning. I declined the crutches with a disgruntled “no, thank you!” and a nurse told him I had injured myself at mile seven. He looked at me with a wide-eyed gaze and asked in disbelief, “You just did 19 more miles with that injury?” I smiled and said, “Yes, we ARE a special breed, aren’t we?” The doctor discharged me from the tent and I met my loving family to find our way home. Little did I know that not only was the Copley T station closed, but all surrounding stations were also closed for safety. It took me another hour to walk from the medical tent to Park Street station so we could catch the T to Alewife for our car ride home.

April 21st left me feeling pretty beat up: blood blisters on three of my toes and I will lose at least two of those toenails; a foot sized blister on the ball of my left foot (over-compensation for the right hip injury?), and a torn hip flexor. However, all of these injuries will heal quickly as the body is a remarkable machine.

legs tired run heart

My memories are rampant:

  • Participating in the 118th Boston Marathon in the year after our city was shown some of its darkest memories helped add to the display of perseverance, strength and determination shown by those affected last year, as well as those that trained through tough New England weather to be ready.
  • Raising nearly $12,000 for Massachusetts Eye & Ear Institute and meeting some of the kindest people on earth on my Team Eye and Ear; but also by securing donation after donation from the good people I have in my life who wanted to not only be a part of this historic day but to carry me along in this journey of a lifetime.
  • Taking that *stroll* down Boylston Street to the finish line……. these memories and my finisher’s medal will last me for my lifetime.

Thank you.  Thank you for reading this.  Thank you for supporting me in my never ceasing talk about the race or my training.  Thank you for your donations.  Thank you for being the world’s best cheerleaders.  Thank you for making me feel like I am a superhero and that I can do anything I set my mind to doing.  Thank you for positively changing the world we live in and helping Mass Eye & Ear in making their strides to help each other as fellow human beings should.  The 2014 Boston Marathon has restored my faith in humanity.

It is not too late to continue to make a change, donate here:  http://www.crowdrise.com/teameyeandear/fundraiser/rebeccasoulliere

Now, we move on to our next, as of yet undefined, adventure!  Any ideas?

(No running quite yet, thank you very much.  I just cannot wait to get back to my crew at #Crossfit 978.)

boston believed she could so she did

P.S.  If your stomach can handle it, here’s the physical toll 26.2 can take on you:

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26.2 Examples of Inspiration

In my opinion, April 15, 2013 is similar to September 11, 2001. A regular day taken by cowards who sought to invoke extreme forces of evil on innocent people by bombing a sporting event; a world renown road race nonetheless. Fear was instilled on thousands as bombs went off and ripped apart bodies and lives. Immediately, however, the strength and determination that is not only the bond of the running community, but also of the Boston community, proved to be tantamount to the acts of stupidity carried out by two lost souls seeking to gain their moment of fame for an extremist view.

 

boston strong all

A year later, resilience and perseverance shine brightly as the families of those who were lost that tragic day last April find their ways to navigate a world without their own. The injured survivors remain in search of new patterns of *normal* with missing limbs, damaged hearing, and constant physical pain, all of which are daily reminders of how their lives were forever changed by simply being a part of a bond; an inspirational race which delivers its own form of resilience and perseverance.

After watching the horrific events unfold last year from afar and feeling the pain, the suffering, the anger, the disbelief, and the entire range of emotions that surged through my heart, I knew I had to be in Boston in 2014. The gravitational force, if you will, that pulled my heart strings back to Boston were intense.  I somehow had to find a way to not only be present in Boston in 2014, I had to make the 26.2 mile trek with purpose, with strength, with determination, with resilience and with perseverance.

Aside from being emotionally pulled by the lure of my home state, the signs were ever-present; symbols compelling me to face my fear and participate in the 2014 Boston Marathon. In less than two months after the bombings of last year, I reached a critical milestone in my breast cancer battle – five years with no evidence of disease. I would be cancer free, crossing what my oncologists deem most important finish line – the golden ticket for a form of breast cancer that statistically has the highest rate of recurrence.

In January 2014, I turned forty. Yes! Forty! My sister always told me her thirties stunk and that life truly started at forty. I was ready……a lot of garbage happened in my thirties and I was ready to close the chapter on that phase of my life. Forty! What better age, nearly twenty-four years after my first proclamation that I would someday do the Boston Marathon, that I seek to cross that finish line. Now or never, people.

boston strong all marathoners

My mother passed away suddenly, two days after the bombings last year. She and I had had a tumultuous few years since she and my father had lived with my family during some health crises they both had. As a result of her mental illness and her abusive behavior towards me, particularly during my breast cancer battle and pregnancy, we were somewhat estranged when she passed away. We had evolved to a cordial relationship post-breast cancer, simply so that my children would be able to have better memories of their grandmother than what had transpired during her residence with us. However, I kept my distance from her solely because it took me losing a few pieces of my heart to understand that just because she was the woman who birthed me, that fact alone did not give her the entitlement to treat me poorly. In any event, the emotions that surfaced with her unexpected passing caught me a bit by surprise, perhaps because I was already so emotional by what had transpired just a couple of days earlier in a race so near to me and on my home soil.

I am going to run from Hopkinton to Boston in less than a week, simply because I can. As much as running this race may be about me: all the emotions, all the signs compelling me to be there, all the adversity I have faced and conquered……this race is really not about me. Each mile will progressively get harder than the last and the pain will surface, causing me to question my ability to undertake such a monumental effort. After thirteen miles in or so, the mental game will kick into high gear and the self-doubt will try to shift into place.

boston strong run

There are so many reasons why………..and these reasons will carry me through. The factors that compel me to put one foot in front of the other are as follows:

Mile One:  Dedicated to my friend, Jacqueline Skinner LeBlanc. Jackie just recently lost her battle to her breast cancer. We became friends and bound by the ties that bind in the brutal world of fighting breast cancer. Our journeys were parallel; yet, for some reason our destinies were vastly different. I will start this race with the strength of Jackie to propel me forward for the long haul.

Mile Two: Dedicated to Cara LeBlanc Kelly. Cara was younger than I was in school, but I could never forget her beaming smile. Fast forward some years and this smile was present again as she taught my oldest daughter at her elementary school. Our paths crossed yet again as Cara was diagnosed and fought a tremendous cancer battle of her own. Despite the valiant battle Cara waged, she managed to give me her radiant smile with every meal that I delivered. We shared cancer war stories and again, our destinies were vastly different. My mind does not quite process the reason behind who gets to survive and who does not, but I do know that this early mile of my journey to Boston will be fueled by the energy of Cara’s smiles that I banked in my memory.

Mile Three: Dedicated to the remaining cancer warriors that fought their own valiant battles and little do they know, they continue to give me strength when I am looking for it the most:  Dad Dickinson, Tony Menendez Aponte, Donna Fontaine, Patti Brown, “Robie”, Ruthie Tumenas, “Ro” Boissoneau, and Rhonda Richards.

Mile Four: Dedicated to Roseann Sdoia, one of the first survivor stories that captured my heart as I drove up I-95 last year to return to Massachusetts from a week away. For some reason, Roseann could have been me and I latched on to her story of recovery shortly after my donation to her GoFundMe account.  My decision to follow her thereafter resulted in a continuance of inspiration and perseverance as she began life anew and with a new leg. Roseann was at the finish line to watch friends come by, an annual tradition. Read more about her here: http://www.shape.com/lifestyle/mind-and-body/losing-part-my-leg-doesnt-change-who-i-am

Miles Five, Six and Seven: Dedicated to Jaqui Webb, JP Norden, and Paul Norden, who were all watching the 2013 Boston Marathon from the sidelines waiting for a friend to pass the finish line when they were impacted by the second of the bombings to go off. Both JP and Paul, brothers, lost a leg in the explosion whereas Jaqui was significantly injured and required several surgeries. Today, on this one year anniversary, the Norden brothers are walking the marathon route – on their prosthetics because they can. Follow them here: https://twitter.com/WCVB/status/456061394266251266/photo/1

Mile Eight: Dedicated to Martin Richard who was 8 at the time he lost his life in the explosion on Boylston Street last year. My heart breaks still for the Richard family of Dorchester. How do you ever move forward with the loss of your young son? How do you not harbor extreme hatred towards those cowards who carried out this disgusting and inexplicable crime? How do you pick up the pieces of your shattered hearts and help Martin’s siblings enjoy their lives, now also riddled with reminders of that day as young Jane demonstrates her new prosthetic leg? You just do. Support them here: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/martin-richard-family-healing-year-bomb-article-1.1755927

Mile Nine and Ten: Dedicated to my breast cancer while pregnant girls, Rebecca Byrne and Adrienne Toth. When diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer at fourteen weeks pregnant, I thought to myself briefly – boy, what did I do wrong to deserve this? Are there any others out there that would have the misfortune of having to battle cancer while pregnant? Of course there are! Statistics show that it can be as common as 1 in 3,000! I recall when my littlest was two, a woman from Framingham reached out to me and wanted to chat because she was newly pregnant and had been diagnosed with breast cancer. I was adamant that we meet; not because I wanted her to see how well I was doing, but that I wanted her to see my little miracle and have that reassurance that her miracle would be okay, too! Rebecca’s little peanut is beautiful and Rebecca is doing rather well, herself. A high school classmate of mine made the connection via Facebook for another young woman who was also battling while pregnant. We chatted and I wanted to give her hope, give her inspiration, and make sure she knew it would all be okay! Her little miracle boy is quite possibly the cutest baby I have ever seen! Unfortunately, Adrienne’s cancer has recently returned – simultaneously with her boy turning one. My heart hurts for her, but I have no doubt that she has the strength, determination and perseverance to prevail. ❤

Mile Eleven: Dedicated to cancer survivor, Danielle Russo. Danielle beat stage 3 melanoma last year but has remained riddled with the “collateral damage” that cancer survivors deal with after their treatment has ended. A form of post-traumatic stress disorder, if you will, “collateral damage” is the pain that continues physically and emotionally once the chemotherapy stops coursing through your veins. “Collateral damage” is the new “normal” one must persevere through as their body, once taken for granted, no longer acts or moves the way it used to before that dark day when you were told you had cancer. Beating cancer is not a sprint, but in fact, a marathon – a race for your life, in which the best way to put one foot in front of the other is by taking it day by day. Danielle is inspiration for learning how to cope and by putting that best foot forward day after day.

Mile Twelve: Jeff Bauman, a hero in so many ways but namely for helping to identify the scum that targeted our city, April 15th, 2013. I will never erase from my brain, the post-bombing images I first saw of Jeff. However, this says it all: http://bostonherald.com/news_opinion/local_coverage/2014/04/jeff_bauman_thank_you_boston.  And to Carlos Arrendondo, for showing the word how to embrace humanity and care for one another, just simply as we humans should.

Mile Thirteen: Dedicated to my little buddy, Tommy Joffrion and his family; particularly his doting momma, Maria. Tommy is battling neurofibromatosis and chronic myelogenous leukemia. He’s seven. Whenever I think back on my arduous cancer experience, the chemotherapies, the surgeries, the endless testing and needles, my heart just breaks for Tommy and his family. My cancer appears cured; whereas, Tommy’s will be an unrelenting battle. I am an adult, whereas, Tommy has known this cancer world for nearly half of his life. Mile thirteen will be a pivotal spot in my race, where I know I am halfway through and I will think of Tommy, his precious smile and his determined momma, Maria, as I push through to persevere myself.   Read more and help them out here: https://www.facebook.com/TeamTommy2010.  Help generate funds for pediatric cancer research here, by supporting my friend, Candace – who is shaving her head as part of the St. Baldrick’s efforts to CURE childhood cancers:  http://www.stbaldricks.org/events/mypage/11195/2014.

Mile Fourteen: Dedicated to Adrianne Haslet, a bombing survivor who’s demonstration of strength, determination and perseverance in the face of adversity has been on display by her refusal to let adversity stop her. Adrianne, a dancer, recently danced again for the first time after losing her leg on Boylston Street last year. Her inspirational message is fuel for those of us who know what it is like to be knocked down, but the only option is to get back up and rise again.  http://ac360.blogs.cnn.com/category/adrianne-haslet-davis/

Mile Fifteen: Dedicated to Marc Fucarile, also a survivor who was spectating at the 2013 Boston Marathon and has a trying year after losing one leg and now begging to lose the other. Marc is friends with the Norden brothers and has a long recovery ahead. Help him here: http://www.gofundme.com/marcfucarile

Mile Sixteen: In memory of firefighter, Lt. Edward J. Walsh, one of Boston’s finest and bravest.

Mile Seventeen: In memory of firefighter Michael R. Kennedy, one of Boston’s finest and bravest.

boston strong there is

Mile Eighteen and Nineteen: Dedicated to Sydney and Celeste Corcoran. Sydney is now eighteen, a year later, after the explosion nearly almost cost her life as she bled from a severed femoral artery. Like Roseann above, I was drawn to both Sydney and Celeste – a daughter and mother duo that had come to watch a loved one run the race, like thousands of other spectators that fateful day. Celeste lost both of her legs. Images of bystanders applying their body weight pressure to a fallen Sydney on the sidewalk of Boylston Street in Boston remain vivid in my mind. How easily could that have been my oldest daughter, who is now sixteen, and I if we were there watching the historic race? Their story here: http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/boston-bombing-anniversary/boston-bombing-strangers-ran-toward-chaos-not-away-it-n78376

Mile Twenty: Dedicated to Team Hoyt, Dick and Rick Hoyt, father and son duo who have been racing together since 1977. I will never forget lining up to run next to them in the Christopher’s Pub 10k in Leominster circa 1990 and thinking to myself that I would finish before them. Finish before them, I did not and I have been a fan of these two ever since. 2014 will be their final Boston Marathon and I am honored to be in the same race as these two inspirational men. http://abcnews.go.com/Health/team-hoyt-run-boston-marathon/story?id=23288967

Mile Twenty-one: In memory of Sean Collier: http://boston.cbslocal.com/2014/03/27/in-tribute-officer-sean-collier/

Mile Twenty-two: In memory of Krystle Campbell. http://boston.cbslocal.com/2014/03/27/in-tribute-krystle-campbell/

Mile Twenty-three: In memory of Lu Lingzi. http://boston.cbslocal.com/2014/03/27/in-tribute-lu-lingzi/

Mile Twenty-four: Dedicated to my family for putting up with my crazy ideas and for supporting me in such endeavors. My family makes me believe I can conquer the world, super hero style and make a movie out of it. Without them and without their patience as I spent hours of training for April 21, 2014, I would not be able to gear up and set out on my mission. I love them dearly.

Mile Twenty-five: Dedicated to all of you who helped me fundraise and make a difference for Massachusetts Eye & Ear Institute. While I am certainly crazy enough to run a marathon, I am certainly not within means to obtain a number by qualifying for the elite Massachusetts race. Thankfully, Team Eye & Ear had faith in me and offered me a coveted spot on their team! The fundraising amount seemed monumental, but I knew I would be successful. Thanks to the goodness of people out there, I not only exceeded my minimum due but I nearly doubled the amount required! Mass Eye & Ear continues to treat the bombing survivors, as well as make a difference in the lives of so many others. Perhaps, someday, Mass Eye & Ear will have an option for me to have better hearing myself. There are so many to name, but most importantly, a genuine note of appreciation goes to the ladies of Trinity Salon in Fitchburg, MA for their fundraiser which vetted over $2,100 for Mass Eye & Ear. As of today, we have raised in excess of $10,600! WICKED STRONG!

boston strong wrong city

Mile Twenty-Six: Dedicated to the girl who became my best bud at age thirteen, Karen Luchini. Karen *gets* me. What I was to running back in the day, Karen was to swimming. We spent years laughing, crying, farting, laughing some more and prevailing in our sports. Karen went to Northeastern University, so many years were spent shared on Boylston Street watching as the inspirational runners came across that famed finish line. Numerous times, both Karen and I were propped up against the metal barricade that kept us off the street but cheering for the participants; and each time, I remarked that *someday* I would be there….on that street, making my way to the finish line. Karen was one of my supporters during my darkest breast cancer days. She has dedicated part of her PMC Challenges to me in the past.  Ironically, Karen was diagnosed with a form of leukemia this past October and I have had to put my big girl panties on to be her biggest cheerleader as she battles for her life. I am honored to cross that finish line with her in mind as she wraps up her treatment for her cancer simultaneously. I am living proof that cancer can be beaten and life truly begins again. I will run 26.2 miles, but that last mile will be for Karen – so she knows that she’s approaching her own finish line in her toughest race yet; her race for her life and good health. The finish line is in sight for her and I know I will be by her side triumphantly as she crosses to the other side; just as I know she will be with me in my heart as I cross the blue and yellow finish of the 2014 Boston Marathon.

Boston_marathon_finish_line_136016193

Mile Twenty-Six Point Two: Dedicated to me. The gift I am giving myself is the two-tenths of a mile down Boylston Street in Boston, Massachusetts, amongst thousands of spectators rallying for me to get my feet across that finish line. My life has come full circle: from the loss of my hearing as a young child and the subsequent torment I experienced growing up; to the verbal and physical abuse I suffered at the hands of a mentally ill mother; to the horror and fear of fighting breast cancer while pregnant; to being knocked down again and again and again…..and rising to my feet once more.  We can fall seven times, but we must simply get up eight!

April 21, 2014 is for me, for you, for all of those that wish to take this journey. Adversity has nothing on us as long as we have the courage to dust ourselves off and try, try again. Boston and the running world were knocked down on April 15, 2013. We have dusted ourselves off, we have come together and we will run together stronger as we soar on Patriots Day.

Thank you for taking this run with me. ❤

boston strong darkness

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