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A fairy tale for all aging gals turned athlete - part 1

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On May 21, 2014 the San Antonio Fitness Examiner shared the incredible essay of Mary Shahan and how she was a runner up in 2014 More Magazine/Fitness Magazine Women’s inaugural essay contest. Her inspiring story goes beyond her submitted essay. As a winner she traveled to New York City and ran in the largest all women’s half marathon in the United States. She has so much more to share. She hopes to inspire others to use physical activity as the corner stone to find a healthier happier life. This is the first of a three part series that Mary believes is a fairy tale for aging gals turned athlete.

This is Mary’s story of her magnificent New York adventure

For three years, this now, 62 year old woman,” aging athlete want-to-be”, has been engaged in improving her health while being her husband’s care giver through serious illness and his eventual death. She took responsibility of her health on her 59th birthday, 2010. I did this by entering into a healthy eating program coupled with a personal training regimen with facilitator and trainer Dane Boyle who was also the Community Wellness Director of the Guadalupe Regional Wellness Center.

In 13 months I lost significant weight, and gained control over many of my health issues related to age and a sedentary lifestyle, including diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol. I trained for and participate in several local 5K races, then a 10K and eventually completed a Rock ‘N’ Roll Half Marathon in San Antonio Texas. This is all my small hometown of Seguin, Texas.
However, in the tenth month of training I was hit with a devastating blow when my husband was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and began treatments even before I had reached my goal of the completing a half marathon. The seriousness of his illness threatened my personal goals and dreams of being able to complete the half I had trained for, as well the secret, fairy tale desire of feeling like I had accomplished my far-fetched dream of becoming an “athlete”, albeit an aged athlete. Suddenly my dreams and fairy tale athletic life became all about the real fight, life and living.

I could “move” but with little desire, purpose, or joy.

This is my story, my name is Mary Shahan. I want to tell you about my “Magnificent New York Adventure” and how I have found my way through a roller coaster life of regaining my health first to living the nightmare that leukemia creates, inspiring my husband into a remission and good health again, only to have the eventual return of the cancer, losing him, becoming a widow, and now being selected as a contest winner and going on a New York City adventure.

Sounds a bit unbelievable doesn't it? I assure it is true; it unfolds this way.

In January of this year my husband died from complications due to chemotherapy treatments, having been diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS). He struggled for good health for about 9 months before losing his life to the MDS. At this point my efforts to continue my late life athletic onset dreams seemed very unimportant and almost lost. I was plunged into widowhood and was struggling to remain active on a level that would allow me to maintain my health much less enter races. I had spent 28 days in the hospital sleeping on the floor and being my husband’s personal care giver, unable to get any quality physical exercise for myself. My dreams were dim and lost to his care. I celebrated however that my improved health had prepared me to do the demanding work that a care giver preforms with little sleep, proper eating or attention to self needs. A late life goal for both of us had been to support each other in our senior years, and that goal had been primary to both of us. Despite his poor health he supported me in my athletic goals and I took on his cancer and carried it for him as best I could.

After his death I immediately began “making plans” for my grief management, applying what my personal trainer had taught me about my physicality which was to “make a plan for your movement.” Those skills served me well to get through the first days and weeks and handle efficiently the many details that come with losing your husband. I attacked everything I could to include my return to being physical, along with reading about grief management and applying practices that would facilitate my getting through the overwhelming emotional stress that faces a new widow.

My trainer read about an essay contest and he suggested to me to enter, knowing that writing was something I often did to express both my challenges and accomplishments as well as knowing writing is healthy for those going through emotional stress.
The contest was called “How I Run the World” and was sponsored by a nationally distributed magazine, More Magazine/Fitness Magazine. They were sponsoring the largest all women only half marathon in New York City’s Central Park. This was the inaugural essay contest, designed to encourage women to write stories about how they had used running to overcome adversities and had continued to triumph, was being offered with prizes.

My trainer sent me the information and I read the rules. As we all know the devil is always in the details and boy did the details contain a shock. You had to be entered in the actual race to write and enter the essay, a half marathon race in New York City of all things and places. My first reaction was the man was crazy! Then I actually told him that and that I had not lost a thing in New York City. While touched and humbled that he would care enough to encourage me yet again I just could not even conceive of such a thing.

I am so newly widowed that my confidence was shattered, and my husband’s illness had drug on so long I “thought” I was terribly out of shape. While I had run 5 half marathons in past and even a full marathon to inspire my husband back in November 2013, his illness worsened so quickly that after my Full I just stopped regular running or exercise. My exercise consisted of caring for my husband.

The New York half marathon wouldn't be until April 2014 and I might have time to train, but I had not ever planned a trip out of state requiring a plane reservation or made hotel reservations. My main supporter and life mate did all those things for me as I lived a very privileged life with a loving husband that just took great care of me. With him gone I was just lost, with no focus to plan goals, or dream dreams. I could “move” but with little desire, purpose, or joy.

Wait just a minute, I haven’t written a thing yet, I am not entered, what am I even worried about? It’s a given I can’t go to New York City and I would not win the essay contest. I mean really. Come on, how many young and talented “pretty “girls, with real athletic abilities, would enter with magnificent writing skills and great stories of triumph. So there, it is settled. It was a sweet thought of my trainer to challenge me but no, I definitely could never do anything this far out. Besides, I am not the picture of what one thinks of as a “fit” woman when you page through a fitness magazine, and I would only embarrass myself attempting an entry.
So with sadness in my heart that I would disappoint my mentor, my trainer, and dear friend, I struggled to find a way to flatly say no to him. Something I had not really ever done during our time working together. He had never steered me wrong, or “set me up for failure” but this was clearly a “nutty” idea! I laid it aside as pure folly.

Have you ever had something just stick with you and you cannot put it out of your mind no matter what? Have you ever just oddly been reminded over and over about the same thing? New York would come up constantly in conversations of those who knew nothing of the contest, yet I would immediately relate.

I just could not stop thinking about my story, and how hard I had worked to be healthier only to have my husband become terminally ill. I thought of the many people that knew our story, and had seen it play out here in our little town and how touched and encouraged they were. They supported us during his illness to make our lives better. I would remember how hard my husband would work to be well enough to help me and cheer on me at my races and how it kept us going when I would plan another race. We seemed to inspire our friends and even strangers with my fitness adventures. Something was just pushing me to write my story, our story. I kept reading and re-reading the rules and thinking about how to have the faith to just write and give it life and let it become real for others, people that did not know our story.

Determined that I could enter the race, and write the essay in accordance with the rules. I would never have to really worry about going to New York City. You know I probably won’t be selected as a top five winner anyway. Then I would never have to go. Just stay safely tucked away here in my home.

How will this humble small town Texas woman experience the Big Apple? How will it change her life forever? There is no way Mary will stay safely tucked away in her home.

Follow Mary's magnificent adventure in this three part series.

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