There are some moments in life that you can never forget—moments when your whole world is turned upside, for better or worse. Living with PANS, a disease that sets in overnight and flares up in the same way, I’ve had more than my fair share of those life-changing moments.
However, another such moment (albeit a more positive one) happened on Saturday when I finished my first half-marathon: 13.1 slow, arduous miles.
That morning, as I squeezed my way through the crowd of 20,000 people and into my assigned corral at the start line, it was hard to believe that the time had finally come—the time to show that, in spite of my illness, I had earned my way into the throngs of runners who had also trained for this race relentlessly for months upon months.
I’ll never forget the feeling at the ten-second countdown as I stood at the front of my corral, staring down what seemed to be an endless stretch of asphalt. I’ll never forget the sinking realization that I had to depend only on my own body—one whose immune system once betrayed me in the worst way—to carry me through 13.1 miles of road.
Usually, before racing a half-marathon, one would’ve probably tried to run thirteen or more miles in training. I only got up to twelve because of an injury. Before the race, I hadn’t run more than eight miles at a time in over two months, so I felt extremely unprepared to run 13.1…
But the problem is that, once you’re there at the starting line, there’s no turning back. It’s a done deal. You have to at least try.
And the gun went off.
For the first two miles, I held my own at an easy pace. But although I was running steadily with a pace team, suddenly, it didn’t feel so easy anymore. I began to wheeze. My throat tightened up. I started to black out.
I watched helplessly as everyone left me crawling behind. There goes my two-hour goal, I thought to myself (before it occurred to me that I should probably find a medic or at least walk for a bit).
Only once in my life have I ever had an asthma attack, and it happened years ago—never during all of my difficult training runs for this race. To have something so unexpected happen precisely when I needed it not to happen was infuriating.
Being the stubborn and persistent person that I was, though, I kept running (well, more like waddling) for another mile, hoping it would pass. And of course it didn’t.
“I’m done. I can’t do this anymore!” I sobbed out-loud at mile three. “There’s no way I can possibly run ten more miles like this. Look at me! I can’t even breathe.”
But then, I began to think about how difficult the last nine years of my life have been. I thought about all the days I’d been sure I couldn’t possibly go on—yet I’d made it this far. I thought about all the other kids out there with PANS and PANDAS and how I wanted to show that our disease doesn’t get to win.
I couldn’t quit. With tears streaming down my face and onto the road, I slowed down, hydrated, caught my breath, then kept going for ten miles more.
The race began to get smoother after that, but it was never easy.
I wanted to stop when I hit a large hill at mile six and was already exhausted before beginning the climb.
I wanted to quit when I had a second asthma attack at mile nine.
I wanted to give up when my legs burned with lactic acid at mile eleven.
I wanted to go home when I reached mile twelve and my entire back was screaming at me for being subjected to the impact for so many miles.
Nevertheless, after two hours and thirty-two minutes, I crossed the finish line—and won. I may have run slowly, and I may have missed my time goal by more than half-an-hour, but that day, I outran PANS.
I won because I didn’t let my illness stop me.
I won because I overcame the paralysis attacks that plagued me last summer—and became a runner.
I won because I didn’t give up.
I won because I crossed a finish line that no one believed I’d cross.
My finish time no longer mattered—I won my own race.
I am still shocked that I pulled off a half-marathon, but I also know that I didn’t do it on my own. I surely never would’ve done it without the doctors and the treatments I’ve received. I wouldn’t have finished without the thousands of people who donated the plasma used in my IVIG infusions. I wouldn’t have finished without the physical therapists who fixed my knee when I injured it in training. I wouldn’t have finished without my family, friends, supporters, blog readers, and the thousands of people cheering on all the runners that morning.
So to all of you out there… Thank you!