October 7th will forever be known to me as the day I chased my biggest dream and succeeded. It was a day where I proved to myself that I can dream big dreams AND achieve them too. Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome challenges me constantly and often controls my life, but on October 7th I overcame all doubts and worked hard to take back control of my fragile body. It was an honor to use my race to not only defy my personal odds, but to also raise over $5,000 and run for my heroes with muscle disease through MDA Team Momentum.
Early in the morning while at the AWD (Athletes with Disabilities) start tent, I had the privilege of meeting up with Bryon Solberg, a quadriplegic and fellow Challenged Athletes Foundation athlete, who has run over 50 marathons using a cane and braces. He is incredible, funny, kind, and getting to celebrate the start of another marathon with him and his guide was an honor.
To quell our nerves at the start of the race, we got to watch some of the professional runners, like my favorite athlete, Gwen Jorgensen, warm up for the marathon. It was an incredible experience. Although my nerves were building, the excitement of race morning was starting to take over. Before I knew it, my guide, Anna, and I were approaching the start and crossing the line to begin what would be a 7 hour 37 minute journey.
Adrenaline was flowing and my nerves were going, but it felt great to be moving. Most of the race is a blur for me, but I do know I spent the majority of it smiling and thanking runners and spectators who continuously encouraged me as they passed. One runner even joked early on that, “[I’d] wear [myself] out saying thank you to everyone.” However, I didn’t believe his message and continued to thank everyone who took the time out of their race to encourage me.
An astounding number of people told me I was inspiring, amazing, incredible or that I was motivating them to continue with their race. I still struggle to comprehend that other people think I am inspiring, because I’m just me. I was out there chasing my dream, just like most of my fellow marathoners. However, I won’t deny that it made me feel great to see so many strangers supporting my dream. Quite a few strangers took pictures or videos with me, and I hope they shared those far and wide to show their friends and family what humans can accomplish, disability or not.
The 2018 Chicago Marathon had many special moments for me, but only two of them made me cry. All happy tears this year.
The first tear shed was at mile 22. As some of you may remember, this was where my marathon dream ended in 2017. That year I fought for 8 hours in intense pain just make it to mile 22, but my body could not take it farther than 22 miles. Fast forward to this year and mile 22 quite often took up space in my mind during my training runs. It was daunting and the largest source of all my “what if” negative worries leading up to the race.
This year, I’m happy to report, I RAN past the mile 22 marker with a huge smile and tears in my eyes. Yes, you read that right. I was still completing my run/walk intervals at mile 22. Never in a million years did I imagine I’d run past mile 22 with a genuine smile on my face. An incredible 360 turnaround from last year and I honestly still can’t believe it really happened.
This race, although amazing, was not without pain for me. My guide, Anna, helped me remember to take my medications throughout the race, she frequently asked for the truth of how my body felt and helped determine the best approach to tackle the pain each time it increased. My spine was the biggest factor of pain throughout the race, as I knew it would be from last year. Between my permanent stress fractures and juvenile degenerative disc disease, gravity and my body just do not get along. My forearm crutches help compensate and relieve pressure on my joints, but they can’t do it all. However, with medication, topical pain gels and stretching, my pain managed to stay at a tolerable level throughout the race. This accomplishment alone was a miracle and one I owe all to my amazing guide and best friend, Anna.
Thanks to everything Anna, my coaches, and my MDA Team Momentum mangers did for me during training and on race day, I was granted the privilege of a second round of happy tears.
Towards the end of the race, my pain was increasing and my pace was slowing down, but I kept getting to run with various MDA teammates for short bursts of time that continued to buoy my spirits. It meant the world to me that my teammates would slow down their pace to join me for a few minutes of our race. I’ve never felt such immense love flowing from teammates and strangers alike throughout my race.
The last few miles approached and while my body was tired, excitement was starting to buzz within me. I felt quite a bit of pain, but I knew that if I maintained that current pain level – I would finish! This excitement buoyed my spirits and I swear I could feel my heart smiling beneath my ribs.
Using this energy as fuel, my guide helped me monitor my pain levels closely and before I knew it, we were crossing the “1 Mile To Go” sign, and I was still running. We had altered my run/walk intervals slightly during the race to accommodate my increasing pain, but I never missed a run interval the entire race. That alone was some incredible race day magic beyond my wildest dreams right there.
We entered the final mile and my heart was pounding so hard from the excitement. I knew I was going to do it. I just needed to continue following my motto of “relentless forward progress” to make it happen. One. More. Mile.
Turning the final corner of the race, I got my first glimpse of the finish line and it was incredible. My face was so numb from smiling for almost 7 hours, but somehow my smile got bigger. Running down into the final chute, I looked over at my guide, Anna, and just couldn’t believe where we were. Tears sat in the corner of my eyes as we approached the finish.
Finally, the moment I’d been waiting for since I starting training for Chicago Marathon back in 2017 was in sight. The moment my foot touched the finish line, my heart soared and tears came down over my huge smile. I did it. On October 7th, 2018 – I, Abbey Hauser, defied the odds and finished the Chicago Marathon.
In the end, it’s my hope that by being out there on the course, running with my forearm crutches, I help show others that different is never less. Yes, I run differently than others, but my finish is not somehow “less” than theirs because I had assistance. I hope anyone who sees me run sees a world of capabilities the next time they see a person with a disability. Everyone has the right to chase their dreams, no matter the size or how it’s accomplished. All it takes is some relentless forward progress and the guts to dare greatly.