Why I'm Determined to Run a Half-Marathon as a Person With Chronic Illnesses
“I’m going to run a half-marathon,” I said.
“Yeah, right. You run?”
“Yes, why is that funny?” I replied.
“Because you’re chronically ill. Sick people can’t play sports.”
“Oh, can’t they?” I said, as I eagerly put on my running shoes for another multi-terrain, 11-mile training session in the wind and rain. “You just watch me.”
My name is Erika Bohling, and I am 20 years old and live in the Cotswolds, England. I have brown wavy hair and blue eyes. I’m 5 feet, 6 inches. I love music, dancing and being outdoors.
I’m also chronically ill.
I have Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS) and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS). When I was 12, I was also diagnosed with severe complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS). It had taken control of all four of my limbs, rendering them useless. I was told if I couldn’t successfully fight the condition that I would never walk again.
For me, a half-marathon will be an extremely tough journey. Training with an illness will be hard. And I don’t mean it’ll just be a little tiring. This will be one of the toughest things I will ever do — mentally and physically.
Let me put it into perspective. When you are walking down the street, shopping, getting on a bus and having coffee with friends, are you consciously trying to prevent your joints from dislocating? Are you thinking about what you can do to stop your heart beating at 160 beats per minute because you stood for more than 15 minutes? Are you thinking about how much time you can spend out of the house before you’re overcome with paralyzing fatigue? Are you thinking about whether you can eat anything or not just in case your digestive system decides it won’t work today? Are you thinking about whether you have enough money in your bank to afford your medication that month?
Well, these are just a few of the things I have to think about every single day just to live a relatively “normal” life. So throw a half-marathon into the mix and it multiplies these issues by 100.
So why do it then? Good question!
I’ve grown up in a society where disability and illness are taboo. A vast majority of people assume an illness or disability means you can no longer live a fulfilling life and you definitely can’t participate in sports. This made life growing up hard for me, and even more so when I felt really ill two years ago. I believed my life was over, I could no longer be successful or happy and that I could definitely not participate in sports.
The wonderful work from all of the athletes in the Paralympics has done a lot to improve public perception of what a person with a disability can do. But there are still people who say to us that “we can’t play sports.” The conversation I started this post with is a genuine conversation I had with someone.
So I am determined to run this half-marathon! Training will be hard for me — I know that. I also know there will be times my health will go downhill, I will be scared, upset and want to give up. There will be days when I will think it’s impossible.
But I will remember what that person said to me. And I will remember the little girl with Down syndrome I used to teach dance to and the many other children with disabilities out there with so much passion, enthusiasm and raw talent. And I will do it for them. So they can grow up knowing that just because you may be disabled or chronically ill, it doesn’t mean you can’t do something. You may just have to do it in a different way.
I will be blogging throughout my journey in an attempt to show the highs and lows of training while ill. I will be raw and honest, open about the extra barriers I face but also about how it is possible and how rewarding it will be.
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