Healing from the Inside Out – TrailRunner Magazine

A story of devastation and comeback at the TransRockies

published in TrailRunner Magazine April 2, 2013

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Photo courtesy of Neways Shoreline Trail, Salt Lake City, Utah

 

In August 2011, I drove from my home in Salt Lake City, Utah, to race TransRockies Run6, a six-day, 120-mile stage race across the Colorado Rockies. Riding high from my fifth overall XTERRA Worlds finish, an age-group World Champion title in trail running and new road PRs in the 10K and half-marathon, I was excited for the challenge.

As a single mother working full time as a massage therapist, endurance coach and yoga teacher, I spent all my time, money and energy on either training for races or on taking care of my beautiful son, Canyon, age six at the time. I acted as my own coach.

Martin Gaffuri of Annecy, France, an accomplished runner and founder ofGoodPeopleRun, a social site connecting runners throughout the world, would be my partner at TransRockies. He had multiple years of experience in stage racing, and we felt our odds of winning the co-ed category were high.

 

Signs of Trouble

On Sunday, the first day of the race, 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, I experienced terrible bouts of diarrhea and vomiting.

A patient Martin and I finished the stage, only an hour behind the leaders, but I felt awful. I went to the event doctor—who diagnosed me with altitude sickness—and spent the remainder of the day on IVs laced with anti-nausea medication.

The next three stages were no better. Most critics would have told me to stop, but I kept going in hopes of a miracle, and because that is what I do—my will to persevere has been a lifelong blessing and curse.

On Thursday, the doctor weighed me. I’d gained 14 pounds since the start, despite being unable to keep any food down since Sunday. Each day, IVs with dextrose were the only calories my body could endure. Furthermore, I could not urinate and began passing blood. I knew then that staying in the race was not worth it, so I DNF’d. Having no health insurance, though, I was terrified. At 6 p.m., I started the long drive back to my Utah home.

Diagnosis and Healing

As I drove through the long night, I cried. Why had my body rebelled so harshly?

Upon meeting with my doctor, Dr. Harkins, the next morning, I learned I was suffering from an E. coli infection, most likely introduced from the salad I consumed the day before my race.

I was devastated. All of my hard work culminated in another crisis—a pattern that felt all too familiar. In my past, I had sustained everything from heavy abuse from my son’s father to a parasite infection to a traumatic brain injury caused by a freak accident in college. Each time, I found my way back to strength. Now I had fallen, yet again. Fortunately, help had a way of arriving when I needed it the most.

A true miracle worker, Dr. Harkins played a key role in my healing. He spent months helping me stabilize my body and heal my injured kidneys and liver. While kidney issues are common with E. coli infections, racing at high elevation while my body was already in a stressed state progressed kidney, liver and colon damage to even more extreme levels.

Several times a week, Dr. Harkins had me take ozone-infused oil and a constantly evolving mixture of herbs, tinctures and homeopathic remedies. During that time, I couldn’t run. It hurt to even walk. I practiced yoga and rode my bicycle to avoid impact on my organs, while still promoting circulation for healing. Massage therapy and chiropractic care also helped heal muscles and stabilize joints.

Each day I would blend up a green drink of garden kale or broccoli greens, mint, ginger, dandelions, grapes or apples and fresh water and Flora brand freeze-dried green-drink mix. I consumed chia seeds mixed with coconut water and Udo’s Oil. Twice a day, I took high-potency probiotics and enzymes to help rebuild my gut.

Although I was a long-time vegetarian, my body was so devastated by the E. coli that I added organic chicken, occasional grass-fed beef and raw kefir to my diet to boost my nutrient intake.

During a winter bicycle ride, I met Eric—an instant friend who later grew into far more. Initially, we traveled to a few bike races together. Then, last April, my son’s father—who had abused me for years—beat me very badly, leaving me with serious bruises near my pelvis. Over the next week, they became infected, growing into a hardened abscess the size of a racquetball. I had been afraid to tell anyone, but one morning, Eric came to pick me up and found me delirious with pain and a fever. He took me to the emergency room, where the doctors discovered the abscess was giving me blood poisoning; they said that had I not gone to the ER that morning and had the abscess drained, I would have been dead within a few 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. As a true soulmate, he continually supports Canyon and me while I heal. We now run together almost every day.

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Rachel and Canyon in the Red Desert Preserve, St. George, Utah. Photo by Eric Martin.

Reflection

I’ve crawled my way back from near death several times over. 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 toward life.

Since my son’s birth, I have dedicated every season to him. He has been my companion for many runs and races over the years. I run as a way to teach him how to live in the ways I know how, and as a way to inspire others.

Upon my devastating withdrawal from TransRockies Run in 2011, I knew someday I would return. I am thrilled to say that 2013 is the year, racing this time with Eric as my teammate, ready to finish what I left undone.