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From Boston Strong to Nancy Strong

04/04/2017 | Remarkable! People

Nancy Heydinger is the executive director of Girls on the Run Vermont. This year, Hyland’s Leg Cramps offered Girls on the Run International three bibs for the 2017 Boston Marathon. Nancy, a longtime GOTR supporter, submitted her story of what running the Boston Marathon would mean to her and was selected to receive a bib to represent Girls on the Run at this year’s marathon. While preparing for the marathon, Nancy is fundraising for Girls on the Run Vermont and sharing her training updates as a member of the Hyland’s all-women team.

In 2013, I registered to run the Boston Marathon with my youngest daughter, Caroline - my 25th marathon! I was thrilled when we both qualified and counted down the days. 

On the morning of April 13, 2013, as every runner personally prepared for the race ahead, I kept an eye on Caroline in the corral just in front of me, sending her positive energy. I knew our paths would not cross again until we both reached the finish line - then we were off! 

I ran with no expectations, enjoying every second. I looked forward to seeing the Girls on the Run tent around Heartbreak Hill and made a plan to rest, visit, and hydrate for a few minutes, but by the time I reached the tent’s location, I looked at my watch and discovered that if I could keep running, even a little faster, I might qualify for next year’s Boston Marathon!

Was I really running this fast? I remember turning on to Hereford Street, the crowd was roaring, my body was tingling from the excitement, and I sprinted with everything I had left in me, crossing the finish line in 3:59:38. What a feeling! With adrenaline still coursing through my body, a medal around my neck, and a smile on my face, I wrapped myself in aluminum and set off to find Caroline. 

Then, deafening noise and a huge cloud of white smoke. Were there cannons going off? Another blast, another cloud of smoke. It was then that I knew something terrible had happened, and I ran. I ran with desperation to find my daughter. For many around me, it hadn’t sunk in. A few minutes later, full chaos hit. I had to get to our meeting spot quickly and once there, couldn’t believe my eyes when I spotted Caroline waiting for me, serenely, Starbucks drink in hand. She knew I had finished, my husband had texted her, but she didn’t yet know about the bombs. Spectators and runners in the area saw police cars and heard sirens, but were not fully aware of what had happened. 

The rest of the day was a blur. Trying to catch a bus that would never come; it had gone to rescue people off the course. Wandering around in fear. Running out of cell battery, unable to send or receive messages. 

Caroline and I shared an unspeakable sadness for those who lost their lives and limbs that day – and an overwhelming gratitude for the thousands of people who put their lives on the line to rescue others. Because of them, we made it home safely that night. 
 

I did not qualify for the 2014 Boston Marathon, or the 2015 – and vowed to keep training so I could register again someday. I was determined to go back to Boston to support the city that took amazing care of the runners and spectators during such a turbulent time. 

So, I trained. I ate right, ran fast, and worked hard until the string of injuries started. I’d heal, only to suffer another. It wasn’t just physical damage, either. My balance was off, my memory lacking.

What was happening to me? Why was one lap around the track suddenly leaving me breathless? Why couldn’t I remember certain things? I made appointments with doctors who couldn’t find anything wrong. Menopause, they said. Possibly an iron deficiency. 

So, I kept training. I signed up for an April half marathon in Charlottesville, Virginia with my daughter Caroline, who was running the full marathon. In preparation of my first half-marathon in two years, I signed up for another one in March. I’d run slowly, give myself plenty of rest and hydration. 

I was beaming by the time I approached the finish line. I did it! Then, I collapsed. Confused, but still full of adrenaline, I picked myself up and walked it off. The next week, while running with friends, I fell again. This time, I went to the hospital and had an MRI. Two hours later I was making plans for surgery. A large tumor had been discovered in my cerebellum. 

On March 30, 2016, I woke up at Brigham and Women’s Hospital after having surgery on my brain. Everything went as planned and the tumor was gone. How lucky was I? And I was so glad to be in Boston again, being cared for in the city who opened its arms overwhelmingly to save so many lives during the marathon crisis. I had many conversations with the nurses and doctors about that day – one the city and world will never forget. My time recuperating at BWH was made extra special by my two daughters, Caroline and Katy, who ran the Charlottesville Marathon in honor of me. Katy was able to run in my place and the two of them texted me photos all day. What did I text them back? Me in the hospital wearing my Girls on the Run cape, of course! 

Since then, I have been running joyfully, living healthfully, and training confidently and will be fulfilling my dream to run the Boston Marathon in 2017, the one year anniversary after my brain surgery. I feel strong inside and out and am honored to represent Girls on the Run and be a part of the Hyland’s team!

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