by Stefanie Harper

The more races I entered, the more I developed an affinity for everything about the act of racing. I continued my habit of putting in miles at Grays Lake, desperate to turn myself from a walker into a runner. I never imagined that physical therapy would soon become an integral part of my life.

You know how some runners look like the sport comes effortlessly to them, and they look like a beautiful gazelle out on the course? Not me:  I was not fast, and I was not graceful. My “run” was slower than many people’s power walks, and I have an awkward, lumbering gait. Despite my lack of speed and my poor form, I did my best; I loved training, and I loved racing.

A few years (and a few dozen races and many miles under my belt), my gait was getting more awkward, and, despite a lot of effort, I was getting slower rather than faster.  A worsening bunion turned shoe shopping into a multi-hour, many-month ordeal of trial and error.

The bunion made it more difficult to walk, and the result was limping that aggravated the osteoarthritis in my knee. I continued to battle the bunion and arthritis until I reached the point where I could not wear shoes due to the pain in my foot. I made an appointment with a podiatrist, and he and I were both a bit surprised to discover the bunion had become so severe that it dislocated 2 of my toes. Foot reconstruction surgery was scheduled as quickly as possible. Dr. Raatz warned me that it would be a long recovery, but I naively dismissed his recovery estimate, and I thought that I’d be fine in 4 weeks at most. Post-surgery, I discovered that my surgeon was correct. The recovery was slow and difficult. I was non-weight bearing for 8 weeks, with external fixation holding the toes in their repaired position and wearing a protective shoe.

After the pins were removed from my toes, it became apparent that I was going to have to learn how to walk properly again. Neither my foot nor my knee seemed to be cooperating; it felt as though my body had forgotten how to make the simple motion of walking.

“Well, you start to believe
You don’t have what it takes
‘Cause it’s all you can do
Just to move, much less finish the race.”

If I couldn’t even walk, how could I jump back on the path towards my dream of becoming a runner? I thought my foot was the problem, so I contacted Grant Jacobson at Elevate Physical Therapy. I explained my situation and asked if he could help. I was nervous, so I tried to postpone my first appointment by making every excuse imaginable. I mean, I made the phone call to inquire about an appointment; that was the important thing, right? Grant was able to convince me that the sooner I came in, the sooner I could start the process of healing. He ended up having an afternoon patient rescheduled, so he offered an appointment for when I got off work that day. I went in, not knowing what to expect or if he would be able to help me.

At the first appointment, Grant spent a lot of time analyzing my gait and asking, figuring out where the problem stemmed from to strengthen the areas that were causing the issue. He even used the iPad to take a video of me walking so he could play it back for me, and I could see for myself where the problem was. Taking such a comprehensive approach to diagnosing the movement was fascinating and definitely helped me to see that I had more work to do than simply saying, “my foot is weak, and my knee hurts.”

Grant and I worked on a lot of functional movement and pain management techniques. With his help, I learned how to walk again. As I continued physical therapy, I could feel myself starting to gain back the confidence I had lost from the foot and knee problems.

I appreciate the progress I am making by utilizing physical therapy. Just like the weight loss journey I am on; physical therapy is also a journey. I know that even when I am in the maintenance phase of recovery, where I’m working on my own with the homecare plan I have from Grant, I’m not really on my own; he is supporting me on this journey and providing the tools I need for this step in the process.

You might be wondering how I have been able to continue racing, even when my body is not fully cooperating……I can’t wait until the next blog, where I will be sharing that part of my story with you!

“So take joy in the journey
Even when it feels long
Sister, run wild, run free
Hold up your head
Keep pressing on.”
> Song lyrics from “Almost Home” by Mercy Me.