The last time I was running consistently was when I was training for a 10K with a friend. I was steadily increasing the length of time that I ran--it wasn't like I expected to be marathon (wo)man overnight. However, an old injury flared up and my running days were cut short.
Between my freshman and sophomore year of college, I interned on a horse farm in North Carolina for the summer. My jobs included socializing the weanlings, training the weanlings, working with yearlings, and farm chores like feeding/watering the horses, mucking stalls, moving hay, and assisting with the breeding lab. At the time I was not only majoring in zoology (a degree which I ended up completing), but I was also on the pre-veterinarian track, and this was my idea of gaining valuable large animal experience. Even after I decided against pursuing vet school, I ended up working on the farm again in the summer of my senior year in college because I loved it so much (and had made two wonderful friends there). The injury occurred in that first summer I was at the farm, and thankfully did not deter me from my love of horses.
On a cool morning, I was riding in the rickety golf cart around to all of the pastures, feed in buckets at my feet and hay stacked on the back of the cart. I had fed the first pasture and was now in the second pasture, gate closed behind me, and had pulled the cart up to the structure where I could scoop the feed and stuff the hay. It had rained endlessly the night before, and the red Carolina clay created a slippery slope of mud; it was hard enough not to get my boots sucked off or lose my balance while tossing hay.
One of the mares was notoriously aggressive, not just at feeding time (which is a behavior even in some domestic dogs and cats), but she was just plain nasty to the other horses at any hour of the day for no particular reason. All I know is that day she was on the warpath and I was unluckily in the way. While I was scooping the feed, she charged another mare. That other mare, in her attempt to get away and escape being bitten, slid in the mud and was scrambling on all four hooves as she knocked into my back. I fell forward and immediately flipped over to see what was going on. The poor mare, despite all attempts to try and step backward in the mud away and off of me (even though that would place her back toward devil mare), slipped and slid and stepped on my left calf.
At this point I should inform you, reader, that this mare was pregnant. A pregnant mare may weigh anywhere from 1,200 to 1,400 pounds, and sometimes more. After my calf was smashed and the horse was able to get off of me, I got up, stunned, gave the mare a pat (she was truly distraught from the episode), and fed the third pasture, completing the feeding for the morning. I sat on the golf cart for a long time, looking out over the third pasture, and, my clothes caked in mud and my lower left leg throbbing, decided I should probably go home.
I drove myself the 30 minutes back to my parents' house where I was staying for the weekend, and my mom drove me to the urgent care so they could assess the damage. By this time my lower left leg was swollen to almost twice its size, black with bruising, and extremely painful. The urgent care doctors were amazed that no bones were broken, but advised physical therapy. And what did my workaholic self do? Naturally, I went back to work.
Technically, I didn't go back to work at the farm for a week, and I rested my leg as much I could stand it. After a week, however, I was itching to get back to the farm, and I did, without doing any sort of physical therapy. Years later, it's a decision I have regretted. In addition to scar tissue that developed as a result of the injury, I have nerve damage in my lower left leg. I had run in 5Ks post-injury with no problem, but once I started training past 5 miles my left calf became painful again. Old memories came flooding in when I started to feel pain up and down my leg just with the touch of my razor when shaving in the shower.
My chiropractor started performing the Graston technique on my calf followed by an ice compression cuff around the lower leg. I started healing, and I also stopped running. It's been so long, and I've missed it, so I'm starting over again. I fully intend to start slowly, and progress slowly, only going at the pace that works for me and really listening to my body. I'm not training for any race, so there's no pressure on performing to a certain level by a certain date.
I currently volunteer at a therapeutic horse riding center. It's great to be around horses again, interacting with them and forming special bonds, and working with the children is a new and rewarding experience. I do miss the horse farm, the absolute physical nature of the job (oh how my 8-hour workdays have changed!), and the more solitary ability to reflect during the day while being around such amazing animals and in a rural setting. If you've never worked in a setting like that, I can't describe the beauty, simplicity, and integrity in it.
I can't have my horse farm, and my calf may never be completely normal again, but I'm taking back my running, and really looking forward to it.
Below: me with one of the studs at the time.
Below: Tyiezza, me, and Natula, two of my favorite colleagues of all time and wonderful friends.
Below: unfortunately this photograph was taken during the winter so it wasn't the most beautiful time of year, but the little ones were so cute I couldn't resist!
Below: the stud liked one of the barn cats and let her rub on his nose affectionately.
Below: some of my favorite photos I took of the barn cats, but unfortunately with a (very) old camera phone at the time. In the third photo, the orange cat (Garfield) is sitting in a bowl that would normally be used for horse feed, but that was one of his favorite resting places. In the fourth photo, the other barn cat (Elaine) is perched on a window in one of the stalls, and you can see a round pen that would be used for training and exercising the horses.