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What Almost Losing My Leg Taught Me About Grit and Grace

Still riding the high that came with nailing a pre-marathon tempo run just an hour earlier, I was completely thrown by a sudden onset fever, torrential sweating, nausea, and searing pain in my left ankle. Considering I was attending back-to-school night for my two teenage daughters, Adair and Taylor, when the symptoms hit, not embarrassing them by vomiting or fainting in one of their classrooms was my primary concern. And, once I was home—and after a full-on internet searching session—I decided it was "simply" a stress fracture.

When I finally visited an orthopedic surgeon friend a couple days later, he was justifiably irritated with my flippant diagnosis and delayed treatment, but also confused. An X-ray and MRI showed no injuries, so he took fluid from my engorged ankle and cultured it over the weekend.

It was Labor Day weekend 2016, meaning I had plenty of time to writhe in pain—I birthed two babies and this was worse—and be frustrated that I didn’t have the energy to crew for friends in The Grand Traverse, an ultra trail race from Crested Butte to Aspen, Colorado. I was actually supposed to be running with them. Nothing made sense.

Tuesday morning dawned with a text from my doctor saying, “You need to come in today.” Denial was at an all-time high, so I tried to delay the visit using deadlines, my husband being out of town, and my kids as excuses. Yet my doctor’s insistence was raising a red flag (as if the pain, need for crutches, and listlessness weren’t enough), so I drove myself the hour to his office and hobbled into an exam room around noon. Things got serious quickly: My diagnosis was a staph infection in the ankle joint, and it was spreading up my leg towards my knee.

At this point, the doctor was fairly certain he could save my leg (WTF!) if he went in and flushed out the infection, and so I began massive doses of antibiotics and was admitted to the hospital that day for observation.

Yet I balked. My husband wouldn’t be back until Thursday. The kids were home alone and I had the car. I didn’t like taking medicine. He cut through my feverish haze by explaining that if I postponed treatment until Thursday, I would definitely lose my leg. And waiting until Friday would be the final nail in my coffin, literally. So at 3 pm, I entered surgery.

RELATED: I Lost My Leg in the Boston Marathon Bombing—and Then Trained to Run the Race

When I awoke, I immediately looked toward my foot. It was still there! But little did I know, surviving treatment and surgery was the easy part. Living again would be the real test.

Still not grasping the severity of my condition, I asked the good (I’m still here after all) but decidedly humorless infectious disease specialist how all the meds I was taking would affect my training for the New York City Marathon. I felt myself shrinking into the bed and falling into a black hole of hopelessness as she explained not only should I never expect to run or race again, it was time to find a new hobby.

As the infection began to subside, instead of relief, a smoldering anger took hold of me. Many people emerge from such events with a newfound joy and gratitude for life. I on the other hand was pissed. I threw myself into physical therapy, yoga, Pilates, weight training, relearning how to walk and swimming. Movement was my medicine and soul balm, and I was all in for two, three, sometimes upwards of five hours a day.

Feeling inspired, I decided my therapy would be training for and completing a 70.3 half Ironman triathlon (1.2 mile swim, 56-mile bike ride, and 13.1 mile run). I started biking, and by January 2017 even began alternating jogging with walking. Minutes turned into miles, but it wasn’t the same. The infection left me with limited mobility in my ankle, resulting in a rather awkward stride that caused new niggles in my knees and hips.

RELATED: I Lost a Leg After My Helicopter Crashed in Afghanistan. Sports Helped Me Get My Life Back

After finishing the Bolder Boulder 10K that May, my body began to rebel. Besides the aches, pains, and permanently creaky ankle, my endurance was now nonexistent. All the years of running and racing no longer mattered, and, as far as my body was concerned, “we” were starting over. I suffered repeated bouts of bronchitis by taxing my asthmatic lungs harder than they were ready to be pushed, caught colds on the regular and had a stomach ulcer kick in for good measure. Sleep was what I needed, yet I was still ‘sleeping’ with the light on from PTSD due to the entire experience.

By finding moderation and doing my best to let go of expectations, I was able to finish Ironman 70.3 Boulder 11 months after being told I would never run again. And my anger was finally replaced with wave after wave of tearful relief and appreciation as I collapsed into Adair’s arms at the finish line.

But my story doesn’t end with a finisher’s medal and a smile. Before I got sick, I was certain my fastest marathon was yet to come. Now, whether or not I’ll ever run another is uncertain, and, for the first time in years, I have no running-related goals.

Anger only got me so far, and it was exhausting. Grace is my new goal: grace in accepting where I am, in being kind to myself, in finding humor in the limp that comes when I’ve done “too much,” in deciding what’s next, and being joyful for the accomplishments of my more able-bodied friends. It’s hard, harder than any finish line I’ve crossed, because wanting more is my natural inclination. The ultimate lesson, I suppose, comes in wanting what you have. And as I look down at my two feet, I have 9.5 gnarly toenails from running thousands of miles, and I’m grateful.

2 months ago
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This Fitness Blogger Clapped Back at People Who Called Her a ‘Bad Mom’ for Working Out

Sia Cooper, the blogger behind diaryofafitmommy.com, posts regular (and sometimes hilarious) updates on how she stays committed to fitness while raising young kids.

While Cooper has a devoted following, she also has critics who call out the way she mixes gym time with kid time. Fed up with the negativity, she took to Instagram to address the haters who claim she’s not doing motherhood “correctly.”

RELATED: A Model Needed to Breastfeed Her Son in the Middle of a Shoot—and Now It's a Gap Ad

In her post, she listed the many reasons she’s been deemed a “bad mom," including working out during pregnancy, working out while having kids, caring about her looks and health, working out in Target, and taking time...

2 months ago
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Anna Victoria Started Posting 'Honest' Photos of Her Body on Instagram for 'Transparency'

Fitness influencer Anna Victoria used to only post “perfectly posed” photos of herself on Instagram, with her stomach sucked in and muscles popping. But she realized that it could be negatively impacting her followers.

Victoria, 29, came to realize that she wasn’t accurately depicting her life.

“Through sharing my own posed photos over the last few years, I noticed a trend of young girls and women of all ages leaving a variety of comments from ‘#goals’ to ‘I hope I can one day look like that,’ to ‘I will never look like that.’ It began to weigh on me,” she wrote in an essay for Today.

Victoria laments that as much as she loves and relies on social media, it “tends to remove the human...

2 months ago
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This Gym Introduced a 'Selfie Room'—and the Internet Is Not Having It

While scrolling through the social media accounts for The Edge Fitness Club, a gym franchise in Connecticut, one thing is very clear: their members love a good sweaty, workout selfie. You’d be hard-pressed to find an image in the gym’s IG feed that does not depict someone weight lifting or showcasing their post-workout abs for the camera. Basically, it's the ultimate fit-spiration.

While some people would die of embarrassment from flexing their newly-defined triceps in a selfie, there are many others who don’t think twice about snapping pictures of their booty in front of a mirror at the gym. Plenty of people want to document —with clear, visual evidence—their fitness progress, and who are we to judge?

After...

2 months ago
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This At-Home Pilates Routine Will Tighten and Tone Your Entire Body

There's a common misconception that every single workout should be done lightning-fast—the harder and more grueling, the better. The truth: You can increase your strength by lowering your intensity. “Just because you slow down doesn’t mean your workout isn’t effective,” explains Dani Busko, senior Pilates instructor at Equinox SoHo in New York City. Which is why this Pilates series from Busko is so amazing. It forces you to hit the brakes and be more intentional with how you move, “helping you to zero in on underused muscles, for better tone and definition,” she says. Ready, set, slooow.

1. Half Roll-Down

“This warms up the body, giving it a road map of what you expect out of it for the rest of the series, from...

2 months ago
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The Workout Move That Helps Give Taylor Swift Her Strong, Lean Legs

Chrissy Teigen. Taylor Swift. Jennifer Garner. What do these gorgeous-gammed gals have in common? They’ve worked with celebrity trainer Simone De La Rue, creator of the Body by Simone Method. One of De La Rue’s go-to client toners: the Froggy. "It targets the back, hips, butt, hamstrings, and inner thighs," she says.

How to do the Froggy

Lie facedown with legs extended behind you, squeezing a soft ball between heels with feet flexed and shins lifted off floor. Cross arms in front of you, propping torso up slightly on elbows (A). Squeezing heels into ball, lift knees off floor as high as possible (B); slowly lower back down. Do 3 sets of 10 to 15 reps, 2 or 3 times a week, combined with your current cardio routine, for results in 3 to 4 weeks.

...

2 months ago
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I Tried This Class Taught by Hot Australian Men—and the Way I Exercise Will Never Be the Same

Last month, Health talked to Lucy Hale about all things self-care. When she needs to sweat, Hale told us that she heads to Training Mate.

"It's high-intensity circuit training but taught by Australians and they're really funny—they all tell jokes," she said. "It's more like the experience but it's also a really challenging workout, too."

RELATED: This No-Gym, HIIT Workout Gets the Job Done in 10 Minutes

When I checked out the website, my jaw dropped. What Hale failed to mention was what the homepage advertised: These “funny guys” were ripped Australian men with NSFW torsos. So next time I was visiting my family in Southern California, I felt a journalistic obligation to see what was happening over at Training Mate,...

2 months ago
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