Circle back...

It's hard to think back and gauge when Effie started running...somehow she ended up running a mile in my hometown with my parents several years ago...and I think, won the 1-mile overall female that year… surprising us!  Later that year, the boys played football in the middle of Columbus, and around that collection of fields, was a fantastic running/walking track.  For anyone that knows me, you'd know I can't sit still for very long.  The practices were long, and I needed to exercise anyway.  I remember asking Effie if she wanted to run while they practiced, and she answered an emphatic "yes!".  It was sometime after that I devised a plan for the two of us to walk/run the track while the boys practiced.  Gradually we would work our way up to running longer distances.  There were definitely days that she'd rather not run...days that she may have cried a little, but most days, we managed to push through, and both of us always felt better for it after.  It's funny to me...on the days I really didn't feel like running, she was pushing me...and on the days that she wasn't as up to it, I pushed was a good team effort. 

Occasionally there was a 5k, and she did well for her age...I was proud of her for going that far.  Then, 2017, she started youth track in our county.  While trying to figure out what she would run best, the first unofficial meet, they had her in a sprint group...I think she cried the whole time...I thought “Oh Lord, what have we signed up for?”…it was distance from that point on...and you would never be able to convince her to do anything else.  She did pretty good for her first year, and again, we were proud of her attitude and what she was capable of at her age.  We continued to run some in off-season, and soon, it seemed like she was leaving me in the dust...and when I say "it seemed"...she WAS...and would laugh about it.  I would have to look for places to run where she could run ahead of me...if we ran on the road, she of course had to run slower to stay with me... and she hated the slower pace.

In the fall of 2017, she had her setback, and I just knew brain surgery would sideline her track season, but as she would work back to running, 2018 became her second year of youth track...she loved running and had seemed to find her niche.  Carson has always been the most athletic in the family...but soon, he even found out, that when it comes to running distance, he didn't stand a chance with Effie.  As much as track helped cement how much she loved running, she doesn't love running in circles...she would always rather run on a new track or a trail...she likes something different…new scenery.  She made it to state last year for her group, but missed placing in state by what I think was just a few seconds...she was devastated, but some failure is good for kids in my opinion, and her recovering from that to be successful now has done big things for her confidence level. 

We continued to run, and heading into the summer of 2018, I decided to sign her up for a Summer Series with a local running included five have to run at least four, one of which was a 5-miler,  to be qualified for awards at the end of the series.  I signed both of us up...I don't run to win anything...I'm really not that fast...I run because running with Effie is by far, one of my most favorite things in life at this season of life.  It also helps to hold me accountable to run with her through the week, and maintain a level of exercise in the midst of this crazy, busy life.  

We combined the Summer Series with many additional races, and in most of those, she placed in the top 3 for her age group.  Her most impressive finish to me was at the end of April, when she finished first in her age group in a 5K with a time of 23:36, but placed 18th out of 219 runners included.  When I look back at that statistic, it blows my mind. 

As many of you know, prior to that 2018 track season, a routine well visit turned into the perfect storm of chaos for us...three weeks after that visit, my husband and I would watch her roll into the OR to have brain surgery. Surgery to decompress a Chiari Malformation and relieve pressure that had built up in her spinal cord...something we had no idea of prior to that pediatrician visit.  Her success in running faced so many questions in my mind...would she be the same after surgery...would she run again...would she want to?  The doctors assured us, it was possible, but then, we also had to tackle scoliosis head-on after recovery from surgery.  She would be wearing a big brace 22 hours a well would she deal with this?  So many questions, and so few answers.  Recovery was H.A.R.D.   It's excruciating watching your child hurt, and being so unable to calm or sooth them.  Then one day, she turned a corner...I arrived home from work one afternoon, and she was up walking unassisted!  After surgery, she kept stepping over her feet...what I mean by that is that she kept crossing them over each other when she took steps...on the inside, I was internally terrified.  She certainly can't run THAT way.  Our orthopedic and neurosurgeon said to give it time.  We held the faith and just kept believing it would return to normal. And it did.

Just six weeks after brain surgery, we ran our first mile after surgery...she was slower than she had been, but she felt great and still beat the brakes off of my time!  It was a near freezing 42 degrees outside...her nose was red and cold...but SHE WAS RUNNING.  My heart could just explode.  I've probably told that story already on my blog someplace, but somehow it slips in here again.  It was a turning point for what those next thirteen months have held, and we couldn't be more thankful. 

Effie has had anxiety for years, and she used to cry and get super anxious when we would be preparing to line up to run a 5K...almost into anxiety attack mode.  Then in April for that run, a friend joined us...not even 1/2 mile into that run, I could no longer see her.  From that day forward, there's been no real anxiety before races...we usually go for a slow warm up run, then when they call the runners to the line, she grabs me, kisses me and says "I'll see you at the end!"...and her tiny little body will often put herself in the front area of the group of runners...and she can certainly hold her own in that spot.  Each race, I think builds her confidence even more, and this past weekend, we ran a half-marathon…something she had been contemplating in her mind, although until recently, she really doubted she could go that far. She finished fourth in her age group at 2 hours and 5 minutes…she’s ten years old and weighs 55 pounds. The running community in Columbus is so strong, and again we are able to see that Effie is right where God would have her be right now…surrounded by a great group of folks that love running as well…and so many of them are so supportive to Effie…cheering her along the way when I can’t keep up (which is every time by the way;)) We’ve added youth training workouts this fall at a great locally owned business, Impact Performance. She’s fun to watch in those groups and with their wonderful coaches. I hope she can realize how taking care of her body is helping her bent little body so much. And for this year, our plan is to continue to run as many races as we can, and her eyes are on trying out for our cross-country team for their next season.

Each week when we go out for runs, we usually end up somewhere, at least once, that she has to stay more with me, rather than set her own pace.  So many times running, she will do her normal what we call "circle back" to's a saying we came up with when she would get far enough ahead of me, that I thought she needed to come back and run with me...usually on the highway or a trail...I'm not comfortable with her being too far out of sight.  She does it instinctively now...and I always think, “what a great heart that girl has!”.  She continues to work hard...and she knows I'm working hard, but even though I am a little (or a lot) slower than she is...she's willing to run back to me, then start again.  This happens many times on our runs, but a few months ago, it just hit my heart differently.

I think God works like this so often...He's ahead of us...all-knowing...all-powerful...we try and keep our eye on Him, but even when we lose sight of Him, and we fall a little behind or need His encouragement, He "circles back" to pick us carry us further. 

I’ve had a good deal of bitterness in the wake of all of Effie’s troubles…not towards God at all, but towards medical mistakes that were made in the couple of years before we found out…I’m working on that in my heart, and trusting in God to see that through to complete peace for me, but that’s a different blog for a different day.

This week, I’m looking up and asking God to stay by our side. We go back on Friday for our routine, every six month, x-rays to evaluate Effie’s spine curvatures. She continues to wear her brace when she’s not active, up to the 22 hours per day, but it’s not a cure…it’s more of a “let’s try and slow this curve down” kind of tool. So far, she hasn’t increased that curvature, but every time we go for one of these appointments, I’m anxious. I know as she grows, her risks increase for that number to rise, so at some point, we’ll face that. Every time, I ask for it not to be “this time”. And again, I find myself asking God for more time, and more good news…news that this curve hasn’t changed, that what we are doing is working for now, and that all of Effie’s hard work in compliance in bracing is paying off for her…I’m asking for more time to run, more time to build confidence and love for something that has been a saving grace for us both, and more time for her to see that even after surgery one day, running will be worth fighting her way back to.

She is a warrior I will always want in my corner...and just like God, I pray she always "circles back" for me.

Nine miles+ in and she was still smiling!

Nine miles+ in and she was still smiling!

It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
— Nelson Mandela

Storms make trees take deeper roots....

Friday night, May 4 - I sat with some of our family in Commerce, GA at the GRPA State Track Meet for 2018.  Just the week before, Effie qualified at the District meet to run the 1600m event at state.  We couldn't be more proud!  I had hoped for her that she didn't finish last, but the competition was tough, and she did finish last in her age group with a time of 7:05 for the mile event.  A great time, but with competition running in the 6:30-ish mark, she couldn't make it out in front.  All season long, I've tried to push her to get out in front, but she's more content to start near the back, and try and catch up and pass whatever competition she could.  It worked ok for her most of the season, but that doesn't work at all in state competition.  She wanted to win...or even place, but it wasn't meant to be this time.  I'd like for her to have that attitude, but she's not built that way.  When we run longer distances, she's more in her element, and I pray that when she's at the eligible age, that she have a good future in cross country running...time will tell:)  I held her and wiped her tears away, and reassured her that I was so very proud of her...she was so worried I would be mad.  I am a tough mama...and if you don't give 100%, I'm way tough, but she did give it her all, and I am overjoyed...and thankful.

You see, when she ran that night, I watched her with a different eye than anyone else in that stadium.  She was 2 days away from the 6-month anniversary of her brain surgery...BRAIN SURGERY.  Holy cow! And to see her out there a state track's almost too much to process.  

In the day or two after her surgery, we helped her get up and "walk" to the bathroom...she was very wobbly, and when I watched her feet take steps, it was as though they were stepping almost on top of each other, sort of "pigeon-toed".  I remember asking the surgeon about that...his response was "it's should get better".  I had watched Effie over the couple of years before this whole thing started run...and run well...and grow to like it.  I tell her all the time that God can give us talent, but it's up to us to nurture that talent, work at it, and make it grow.  The worry "what-if" she couldn't overcome this and be able to run again was enough to bring me to my knees.  She's had to deal with enough already, why her?  Why should she have to face this?  Eventually the steps became straighter and straighter, and finally we could see the light.

Six weeks after surgery, we had clearance to go for a light run was 42 degrees outside, I bundled her up, bundled me up, and we went to run laps in her school parking lot...I think her time that evening for a mile was about 8:00/mile.  I was blown away...6 weeks without running and she came out and ran almost like she had never missed a day.  She wasn't tired...she wasn't complaining about being cold...she just wanted to run.  My heart healed some after that run.  

Obviously,  Effie is doing well, but she still has obstacles to face, and she still has some really rough days.  We go back to Atlanta in July for follow up x-rays with her orthopedic physician, and then we see her neurosurgeon on that same day.  From what I understand, if there is any change in the curve in her spine, we may be looking at an earlier MRI.  If that curve is stable, she wouldn't have another MRI until 1 year after surgery, which would be November.  Waiting is hard.  There's a large part of me that wants to know today if that curve has increased or not.  There are days filled with tears, back pain, and discouragement.  22 hours a day she wears her's a part of her life now.  I know facing summer temperatures, there may be more complaining about heat, but just over a week ago, she helped plant the garden...while she wore her brace.  When we were all done, she had some pain, but a shower and a meal later, she was back to herself.

We still have a running plan, and we are getting signed up and registered to run about 6-7 races over the summer.  If anyone is close by over the summer, and wants to wait for her at the finish line to cheer for her, I'm sure she would absolutely LOVE it!  

In the 3 week span that we learned of the scoliosis, then the Chiari, then facing brain surgery...I would just stand in the shower alone and just cry...and pray.  It was a quiet place to let all of the fear not have to hide just how terrified I really was.  There is a song by Casting Crowns "Praise You In This Storm".  The first few lines read "I was sure by now, God you would have reached down and wiped our tears away.  Stepped in and saved the day.   But once again, I say Amen, and it's still raining."  At times, it felt like the storm wouldn't end, and we know there are more storms in her future...but Effie has continued to have an unwavering faith throughout this time in her life...the storm has made her have deeper roots, and for that I am so very thankful.  Praising God in the midst of a storm is tough...I am so often in awe of parents facing true devastation and their steadfast faith and praise.  I've failed at this on so many levels, but it truly was prayer and feeling the love and prayer from our family and friends that helped hold us up in the trenches.

Today, we capped off her track season with their end of year party...when it came time for her name, her coach asked if it was okay to share Effie's story.  Of course, I was totally happy to share where she was six months ago...I didn't expect to cry, but as I spoke, my voice cracked and the tears were flowing.  I'm an ugly's pretty pitiful really, but in that moment I couldn't even begin to express how proud we are of her perseverance, her attitude, and yes, her success in something that she has found she loves.  Tomorrow is Mother's Day...I told the kids all I wanted was a clean house, kids that didn't fight for the day, and to go for a run with my family...I sure am going to enjoy that run:)


2018 State Meet

We are so thankful for this girl's health and her hard work...running with her is my very favorite thing to do in this season of life.  A special thanks to her coaches, who understood that we had two other children playing sports...and on days when I couldn't get her to organized practice, they would share with me their running plan for the day.  When the boys got to where they needed to be, Effie and I would run whatever the team's plan had been...that truly helped us!