FOOT NOTES: How exercise can change a life

Editor’s note: You can read Andy Sandrik’s “Foot Notes” every other Friday in The Record Herald. It will feature Sandrik’s stories, as well as a round-up of how runners from Franklin and Washington counties perform on the race paths.

Every day Darrie Spahr finds herself more and more amazed at just how much her body is capable of.

Spahr works out regularly. She ran her first half marathon in February and will be taking on her third triathlon this weekend.

At 52, Spahr, of Mercersburg, says there’s no doubt about it: She’s in the best shape of her life.

“I used to be non-athletic. I just stayed home, raised the kids and worked on an off, but I was never an athlete,” Spahr said. “I’m almost 53 and I can finally say I’m an athlete. I’m just making goals and striving for those goals.”

With every athletic milestone and each race finish comes a more eager willingness from Spahr to call the worst day of her life — a day that has left her with memory loss and lingering headaches — a blessing.

In 2011, Spahr’s life as she knew it changed forever.

“There was an ice storm and I must have forgotten I was on ice and I fell on my head and had a seizure,” Spahr said. “In the hospital, they were asking what my name was and I couldn’t articulate it. I kept telling them, ‘I know’ instead of my name.”

Misdiagnosed with a minor concussion and released from the hospital, Spahr’s existence for the next year was a true struggle. She couldn’t keep her balance, her memory suffered and she was forced to leave her job as an elementary school secretary.

“When it takes you four to five minutes to do single-digit addition, and you have a Bachelor’s Degree, it just shows how much damage was done,” Spahr said. “I just wasn’t functioning right.”

After battling a number of other symptoms, Spahr got a second opinion from a concussion specialist at Ohio State and it was confirmed: She was dealing with something much worse than a mild concussion.

“It was a brain injury, to the front and the back,” Spahr said. “I had to have surgery on my neck and had to get three screws and a plate to hold the vertebrae together.”

After the surgery, Spahr felt some relief, but was caught in a seemingly-endless cycle of expensive physical therapy. She asked her therapist if swimming would help in her recovery and was told that it would. By January 2015, Spahr had a YMCA membership and her life was already starting to turn a corner.

“I think swimming is the best exercise for anybody and everybody,” Spahr said. “It’s low impact and physically and mentally healing. The first time it took me 45 minutes to do five laps.”

In 2016, Spahr discovered a new sport: Running. She said she was slow and couldn’t run a mile, but taking it one day and one step at a time, she eventually reached that goal. When Spahr reached three miles, she wondered what it would be like to run four miles.

Spahr was soon competing in 5Ks and 10Ks before eventually completing the Hagerstown Triathlon, an event she will be running this weekend for the third straight year.

“People were saying, ‘wow, you’re moving along,'” Spahr said. “I just couldn’t sit down and be like, woe is me, I have a headache. I had to do something.”

The goals keep on coming for Spahr. After this weekend, she’ll be gearing up for her fourth triathlon and working toward a second half marathon. Spahr even asked herself out loud if she would be willing to try a marathon.

Spahr said that her journey is far from over, rather it is just beginning. She’s still paying a daily price for her brain injury, in the form of headaches, and acknowledges that she sometimes has to find “which drawer” she stored some of her memories. But overall, Spahr says, her life has improved.

“At first, this was difficult, but now I look at it as a blessing because it has changed my life in a lot of ways,” Spahr said. “I’m running and doing triathlons. I picked up a camera and started a photography business. I’ve become closer with my husband. All because of this injury.”

Spahr is hoping that her story can inspire others, especially those battling chronic illness and injury, that there is hope. She says there’s a certain feeling that comes with crossing the finish line.

“When I finish a race, it’s amazing and a blessing, and I’m hoping I’m showing others that it can be done,” Spahr said. “It’s do-able, you just have to do it. If you can only do it for five minutes, start right there and grow slowly from that point. I didn’t think any of this was possible when I first started. You just have to make it a habit and keep going.”

1 STEP BACK, 3 STEPS FORWARD

There’s plenty of reason to celebrate in Washington County as Smithsburg’s Lee Follett has returned home a champion from the Special Olympics in Seattle.

Follett competed in three events and won the 1,500 walk with a time of 14:50.73. He was bestowed his gold medal by U.S. Olympian Apolo Ohno. Follett also competed in the shot put (3.53m) and 800 walk (7:18.88). The victory serves as another feather in the cap for Follett, who also claimed a gold medal from the World Games in Ireland as a runner.

While Follett was giving his all in Seattle, local ultrarunners were being pushed to the limit at the Cacapon 12 Hour Challenge in Berkeley Springs, W.Va. Hagerstown’s Jana Fridrichova, 39, completed 47 miles to finish as the third female and 14th overall. Other local finishers included Hagerstown’s Matthew McDonald (31.5 miles) and Mercersburg’s Mitch Hawbaker (32).

The Catfish Triathlon in Harrisburg drew a handful of Franklin County competitors, including Greencastle’s Ryan Barnhart, who posted a time of 1:10:31 to finish 14th overall. Barnhart was chased by Greencastle’s Keegan Reed (1:20:35) and Waynesboro’s Deb Swope (1:38:07).

There were plenty of Fourth of July races held throughout the region, although many runners chose to stay local. In York, the Shoe House 5-miler saw Chambersburg’s Holly Caltrider (55:08) and Abby Caltrider (1:22:08) each cross the finish line.

The main draw, of course, was the Firecracker 5K in Waynesboro. The race drew 376 runners and was won by Darren Harman in 16:00, while Julien Webster was the top female in 18:47. The event was covered by The Record Herald and Lee Goodwin’s account of the race can be found here (http://www.therecordherald.com/sports/20180704/running-firecracker-5k-heats-up-july-4).

And now, a look ahead:

Tim & Susan Cook Memorial Race: Saturday, 8 a.m., in Chambersburg. Race-day registration is available for this one-mile race, which begins at CAMS and ends at CASHS. For more info, check out the event flyer posted to the Chambersburg Road Runners Club Facebook page.

Hagerstown Sprint Triathlon: Sunday, 7 a.m., in Hagerstown (Md.). Athletes will push themselves to the limit with a race that includes a 300-meter pool swim, 11-mile bike ride and a 3.1-mile run. Look for the race on racinemultisports.com.

Ausherman XC Series: Tuesday, 7 p.m., in Mercersburg. The Ausherman XC Series makes its next stop at James Buchanan High School. One- and two-mile races are available. Check out the race flyer on the Chambersburg Road Runners Club Facebook page for more info.

Also: Midsummer Night’s Mile (Friday, in Rockville, Md.); Arts & Parks Red Hot 5K (Saturday, in Harrisburg); Great Inflatable 5K (Saturday, in York); On the Rocks Trail Run (Saturday, in York); Hagerstown 5K No. 2 (Sunday, in Hagerstown, Md.); Baltimore Orioles 5K (Saturday, in Baltimore, Md.); Kensington parkrun (Saturday, in Kensington); PVTC All-Comers Track Meet (Saturday, in Columbia, Md.); Harrisburg Mile (Wednesday, in Harrisburg); Big Dipper 4-Miler (Saturday, July 11, in Mechanicsburg); East Berlin Area Community Center 5K (Saturday, July 21, in East Berlin); Mid-Summer Madness 5K (Saturday, July 21, in Harrisburg); Columbia Association Kids Triathlon (Sunday, July 22, in Columbia, Md.); Hayden’s Heroes 5K (Sunday, July 22, in Frederick, Md.).

This article originally appeared here via Google News