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I wasn’t always the avid runner many people know me as today. I pretty much detested running for most of my life. That’s why when people tell me, “I can’t run,” I tell them, “If I can run, you can run.” They’re typically skeptical until I tell them my story.
On April 18, 2014, I was diagnosed with a deep vein thrombosis (DVT), also known as a blood clot. What I first thought was a simple muscle strain from an overzealous yoga pose turned out to be far more sinister. The clot ended up breaking away from the popliteal vein (behind the knee) in my right leg, splitting into several pieces as it traveled, and lodging itself (now in multiple fragments) in both of my lungs.
Within a few hours of my diagnosis and being started on an oral anticoagulant (blood thinner), I felt pain in my back. It was a Friday and, assuming that it was just from the stress of finding out I had a DVT, I ignored it for the entire weekend. By early Monday morning, the pain had become like a knife, so I decided to call my doctor. He said, “Get to the ER as soon as possible. The clot may have spread to your lungs.”
On April 21, 2014, 11 days before my 48th birthday, a CT scan confirmed that I had multiple bilateral pulmonary embolisms (PEs). I was admitted to the hospital and received intravenous (IV) heparin for two days to begin dissolving the clots.
In the days that followed, I began to educate myself further about blood clots. One of the factoids I came across still sends chills down my spine: Sudden death is the first symptom in about 25 percent of people who have a pulmonary embolism, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. I also learned about genetic clotting disorders, so I made an appointment with a hematologist. Blood work revealed that I have a genetic predisposition to clot: Factor V Leiden. I also had antiphospholipid antibodies, antibodies directed against certain blood proteins which, according to my hematologist, make people’s blood “sticky” and more likely to clot.
The lingering pain in my back was a constant reminder that, as my mom likes to say, 'Tomorrow isn’t promised to anyone.' I was acutely aware of my status as a mere mortal and felt a sense of urgency to make the most of each and every day that I had left on earth.
The lingering pain in my back was a constant reminder that, as my mom likes to say, “Tomorrow isn’t promised to anyone.” I was acutely aware of my status as a mere mortal and felt a sense of urgency to make the most of each and every day that I had left on earth. And although my clots weren’t my “fault,” they still awakened my desire to get healthier; I was a bit overweight and not very active. So, I started researching fitness activities that can improve circulation. Nearly every internet search I did rendered the same result: running. But I hated running, remember?
On June 9, 2014, I received an email from the ASPCA about Team ASPCA, a program that allows people to fundraise for the ASPCA through various athletic programs. It was a call for runners for the 2014 Rock ‘n’ Roll Los Angeles Half Marathon. It “invited” me to participate in “the world’s largest ‘Halloween’ half marathon.” It promised I would reach my fitness goals, meet like-minded people, and make a real difference for animals in need. This email was a sign. It didn’t matter that I didn’t like running or that I had never done anything like this before; the universe was talking to me, and I was listening.
I joined Team ASPCA, and after that email literally set me in motion, I’ve been running to help animals ever since. To date, I’ve raised nearly $25,000 for three different animal/environmental charities; the ASPCA, a national charity, and two Los Angeles area charities. Along the way, I discovered that I actually do like running and have participated in more than 50 races in the last six years, often placing in my division. Once I saw that I could set big goals like completing a half marathon and raising significant funds for animals and be successful, I began to believe in my own power and felt more comfortable trying new things.
As a result of my health scare and that fateful email from the ASPCA, I’ve also challenged myself to go skydiving, which I did while training for the 2016 Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon on Team ASPCA in an effort to skyrocket my fundraising. I’ve also done two triathlons, taken up springboard diving, and participated in two ultra-marathon relays, among other adventures. The path they sent me on also exposed me to careers in animal welfare. Formerly a fantasy, I now work part time in the field. While I have struggles like everyone else, I can truly say that I love my life. It’s purposeful, fulfilling, exciting, joyful, and, despite being finite, full of possibilities. Maybe I’ll go scuba diving with Great Whites next. Or perhaps try cliff diving. Life is an open road.
Where would you like to go? Don’t forget: If I can run, you can run.