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Crutching the NYC Marathon as a Woman Living With Paralysis

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My name is Hannah Gavios and I am a woman living with paralysis. On November 4th, 2018, I will push my body — both mentally and physically — more than I ever have before when I crutch 26.2 miles for the TCS New York City Marathon.

Running was always a big part of my life up until two years ago. While on a trip in Thailand, I was attacked and in my effort to escape, I fell off a 150-foot cliff and broke my back, sustaining a spinal cord injury. I was rescued the following morning and taken to a local ICU for emergency spinal surgery. After 18 days of initial recovery, I was flown to Mount Sinai Hospital in NYC for inpatient rehab, where I was treated for two months. Once released, I continued my long road to recovery, going to physical therapy and engaging in other rigorous activities such as rock climbing, Krav Maga, a type of self-defense training, and becoming a certified yoga instructor.

I was later inspired by a spinal cord injury survivor who also crutched the NYC marathon last year in nine hours. I thought to myself if she could do it, so can I!

I officially started training in April 2018 and have gradually been increasing my distance and efforts. I work with Coach Mark Zenobia, Team Reeve Coach for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. I began by increasing my training hours outside using my forearm braces. When I reached three hours, I began to track my miles each time I went out. I eventually had to get new braces, as my old ones broke from the intense training.

I’ve been doing two big training sessions per week while stretching, doing yoga and getting massages on my off days to recharge. During this process, I have been taking at least one day off a week from my full-time job to train and am proud that thus far, the furthest I’ve crutched is 18.7 miles in seven hours. I have more to go but am committed to this cause and crossing the finish line on November 4.

Naturally, the toughest aspect of training has been dealing with pain and discomfort. My hands get blistered and chewed up from leaning all my body weight into the crutch handles each time I swing. My hip flexors get fatigued early on (usually after mile four) from lifting my legs off the ground. Since I can’t move my ankles, feet and most of my butt muscles, my arms, hip flexors and hamstrings are working extra hard to lift practically my dead weight.

I believe if I can increase awareness of spinal cord injury and raise enough funds through the marathon for Team Reeve, the peer to peer fundraising arm of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, we can find answers that we don’t have yet. Since my spinal cord injury is incomplete and lower in my body, I am still able to stand up and walk with assistance. While I’m grateful for that mobility, I recognize there are people living with this injury who can’t do any of that. I want to give each of them hope that they can control what they once had.

I hope to show people that no matter the injury or restriction, anything is possible. Our limitations should not define us. You can do it and so can I. You can read more about my story here.

Originally published: October 31, 2018
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