Posted by Rachel | April 7, 2013
Trail Runner Magazine recently wrote an article about my tragic experience with a deadly E-Coli infection in 2011 while racing TransRockies Run, which resulted in me having to DNF. It has taken much time to heal, as simultaneously I was doing all possible to survive a devastatingly domestic abusive situation of which I am finally free after 10 years. I am grateful to be on a journey to a happier horizon.
Trail Runner had to edit out much of the story from what was published due to spacing issues, etc. Below please find the unabridged version for a deeper understanding of what happened. I am posting this and all things forward with the intention of helping others to be brave and know that there is always the other side of the rainbow.
Have you ever fallen so hard either on the trail, or in life itself, that despite your own deep strength and tenacious spirit, you simply could not stand up? Lying in a pile on the ground, cold and pain creep into your body and heart, while your soul cries deep inside. Everything you endlessly worked towards, in a moment is gone. Dissolved into a panicked slippery dark, you forget who you are, and where you thought you were going. Your world tumbles with you into the mud. You finally surrender with a shattered heart. Sometimes there is no other choice but to let go.
Soon a kind hand reaches down and pulls you to your feet, just as slivers of sunlight escape through the clouds, back into your soul. In time you see how it took the entire united power of your body, mind and spirit to deliver you to the point that a hero could pick up your shattered pieces. It will take time, but the inner knowing of your mind sees that someday you will come back bright and strong. The shards will be buffed and instead shine as diamonds as you brilliantly come back to complete what, for a while was left undone.
Many versions of this story, or at least the feelings, are held close to many as we journey through life. Brilliant adventure highs intertwine with lows so deep we can’t find our way up from the crevices of a deep crack in parched soil. Stories are filled with failure and triumph, grief and happiness, fear and courage. All paint the mural of our journey through evolutionary lives. In the end, it is what we choose to do with what we are given that creates depth to our soul. This describes my life. My love of running is my guiding light.
My Race Story
In August 2011, I drove from Utah to race TransRockies Run6. TRR is a six-day, 120-mile trail running point-to-point stage race through the high Colorado Rockies. I’d recently accomplished road PR’s of 36 minutes for the 10k and a 1:17 half marathon. Riding high from a 5th overall XTERRA Worlds finish and an age group World Champion title I was fit, fast and thrilled for the challenge.
My incredible teammate was my amazingly talented friend Martin Gaffuri of Annecy, France. He is a very accomplished runner with multiple years of experience in stage racing. Not only is he a great runner, but a huge humanitarian in the trail running world as a founder of GoodPeopleRun, a social site connecting runners throughout the world. We knew our odds of winning the co-ed category were high. Passionate hearts and excitement for a week-long race in the high Colorado Rockies made months of training, recovery, micro managing of diet, and pure love of running trails well worth the sacrifice.
It took all the faith I had to make it to the event. As a single mother working full time as a massage therapist, endurance coach, and yoga teacher, I also coached myself. Literally all of my time, money, and energy was spent on my beautiful son Canyon who was 6 at the time, our Salt Lake City, Utah home, and training for and getting to races. For TransRockies Run, everything came together perfectly with care for Canyon while I was gone, enough money to cover rent, and amazing sponsors to get me to the race and ensure I had shoes and other race needs for success.
En-route to the Buena Vista, the first stage site, I stopped for lunch in a small town for lunch. There was something about the salad I consumed. I felt as though I shouldn’t eat it. I shrugged it off justifying my need for nutrients for the racing days ahead. I then continued on my journey.
Race morning I woke up feeling sick to my stomach. I did my best to ignore it, hoping it was just nerves. At the gun, Martin and I took off with the leaders planning on a fast day through the beautiful mountains. Unfortunately, my sick stomach turned into terrible bouts of diarrhea and vomiting, reminding me of when I’d contracted parasites several years before.
Somehow a patient Martin and I finished the stage, only an hour behind the leaders. I went to the event doctor in a mobile office literally out in the middle of nowhere it seemed, as soon as he arrived from finishing his duties at the famous Leadville 100 race held the weekend before. Upon learning my symptoms, the doctor diagnosed me with altitude sickness. I spent the remainder of the day on IV’s laced with anti-nausea medication.
The next three stages ended worse that the one before. Most critics would have me stop, but somehow my voice inside said go. So I kept trying. At this point instead of going for the win, Martin ran and walked slowly alongside my sickened body and broken heart. He earned the award that week as the best teammate ever. I kept going in hopes of a miracle and the fact that that is just what I do. My will to persevere has been a lifelong blessing and curse.
On Thursday, my final morning of the event, the doctor weighed me and found that I’d gained 14 pounds since the start, despite being unable to keep any food down since Sunday. Each day, IV’s with dextrose were the only calories my body could endure. Furthermore, I could not urinate and began passing blood. Staying in the race was not worth my quickly deteriorating health status; my doctor encouraged me to go to the hospital. I was terrified, as I had no health insurance. I DNF’d and assured him I would seek medical help upon arriving home. I was taken back to my vehicle in Buena Vista. At 6 PM, I started the long drive back to my Utah home.
Post TRR Healing Time
As I drove home through the long night, I cried. Why had my body rebelled so harshly? I arrived home at 4AM and slept deeply until my alarm announced the dawn. Upon meeting with my doctor that morning, I learned I was suffering from an E-coli infection, most likely introduced from the salad I consumed the day before my race. Dr. Harkins is a hero in my mind. I could never repay him for his care and kindness in assisting me to earn my health again. He spent months helping me stabilize my body and heal my injured kidneys and liver from racing under such extreme circumstances. To do this, I couldn’t run. It hurt to even walk. Instead I practiced yoga and rode my bicycle to avoid impact on my organs, but still allow circulation for healing. Massage therapy and chiropractic care also helped to heal muscles and stabilize joints.
I was devastated. All of my hard work ended in another crisis, which felt all too familiar. In my past I also sustained a traumatic brain injury, a parasite infestation, heavy abuse from my son’s father, among other tragedies. Each time I found my way back to strength. I had fallen, yet again. Fortunately help arrived when I needed it the most.
To complete my path to healing, instead of one kind stranger giving me a hand to stand up again, this time many heroes stepped forward. Paul from a company called Flora taught me how to utilize their amazing products such as Udo’s Oil. Each day I would make a green drink in my high-powered blender of garden kale or broccoli greens, mint, ginger, dandelions, and grapes or apples and fresh water and Flora brand freeze dried green drink mix. I also consumed chia seeds mixed with coconut water and the Udo’s oil at a different part of the day. In addition I took high potency probiotics and enzymes twice a day to help rebuild my gut. This along with true nutrition, which for me is a whole food diet and an open mind were the next steps. I say open mind as I was a long time vegetarian but was so devastated by the E-coli that organic chicken, occasional grass fed beef and raw kefir were added to my diet as well to ensure all essential nutrients were available. This healed my body from the inside out as perfect complement to Dr. Harkin’s protocols.
Dr. Harkins is a natural doctor. Several times a week he would have me take ozone infused oil, and a constantly evolving mixture of many herbs, tinctures and homeopathic remedies common in his practice. He is a true miracle worker and several times over now is the key reason I have come back to race strong.
In addition, I often went to my good friend Greg’s Beehive bicycle shop to say hello. More than once, on difficult days, he hugged me tight while I sobbed, while his browsing customers pretended not to notice. My massage and training and yoga clients to this day ask me often how I am doing. They continue to utilize my services as often as possible despite a crazy schedule and a recent big move.
And then I met Eric. I met him during a winter training bicycle ride a few months after contracting E-coli. He started out as an instant friend, but over the last year has become the biggest reason I am training and racing strong again. Initially we traveled to a few bike races together. And then last April my son’s father whom has abused me for years beat me very badly. Eric is the one who noticed I needed help. I had been afraid to tell anyone and too sick to help myself. He took me to the emergency room for treatment of a serious abscess caused by my son’s dad. It had become infected and was giving me blood poisoning. I could hardly walk, had a fever and was delirious. The doctors told me if I had not gone to the hospital, I would have passed away within 2-5 hours
Not only did Eric help me stand up and move forward when I couldn’t, he has been my greatest guide in turning my life back into brightness. He helped me heal from a brown recluse bite sustained last summer and rescued me from an extremely abusive situation with my son’s father by helping me move to a new town He continually supports Canyon and me, as a true soul mate while I heal and regrow my wings so I can fly. Eric has also become my training partner. We run together almost every day. We work so well together that he is going to race 2013 TransRockies Run6 at my teammate!
In various forms, extreme falls have played an immense role in my life. I’ve literally crawled my way back from near death several times over. Many critics, including the voice in my head challenge me to stop. Why on earth would I keep running at my edge, just to risk another fall? While there are many reasons swirling through my mind, the real answer is, for the love of it.
The other side of the equation is the most incredible experiences of my life have occurred in the world of running. I’ve seen places I otherwise may have never been via my feet. I’ve won and lost races, both with a full and empty heart. I know what it means to run away from life. I’ve also learned how it feels to run towards life. I run to inspire others. I run to fly free.
Since my son’s birth, I have dedicated every season to him. Canyon allows me to dream big as I aspire to reach my own potential. I run as a way to teach him how to live in the ways I know how. He has been my companion for many runs and races over the years. What I love the most is now Canyon runs with me and loves it.
Completing the Circle
Upon my devastating return home from TransRockies Run in 2011, I knew someday I would return. I have to. I am thrilled to know 2013 is the year. I am on a confident climb back up to the top, ready to finish what I left undone. This time Eric is racing as my teammate. It is time for me to fly high at this incredible event to complete the circle of this journey.