The Gift of Running

[We would like to introduce Paty.  Paty is a stroke victim who visits the AlterG office frequently to use the anti-gravity treadmill as a training tool to run again on her own.  She has been kind enough to share her story with us and will continue to update us on her progress throughout her goal advancements.]

I never used to think of running as a gift.  It was a way to get where I was going or one of the less desirable ways to get some exercise.  Overall, I didn’t enjoy running very much — until I couldn’t.  Only then did I realize what a feat it was for one’s body to execute such a complex series of flawless movements in order to propel itself forward.  I didn’t realize until four years ago that a simple jog is not even remotely simple when you break it down and try to recreate it step-by step. It is a lesson I’ve had to learn the hard way.

In May of 2006, I survived a hemorrhagic stroke that would leave me paralyzed on one side.  A blood vessel had ruptured in my Thalamus.  It was inoperable and would cause extensive damage to my left side.  If you drew a line down the middle of my body, everything on my left side was numb and lifeless.  My initial prognosis was not good and for 10-days, we waited in ICU to find out if I would live.  I was told I would likely never walk again and, if I did, it would take several years of extensive rehabilitation.   During the first few weeks in ICU after the stroke, the thought of lifting my fingers or wiggling my toes was daunting enough. The possibility of running never even entered the remaining functional synapses in my brain.

When we realized that I would live, I realized that I needed a plan if I was ever going to regain function on my left side.  I decided that I was going to have to approach my recovery as an athlete would approach training for the most important race of a lifetime.  Thus, I started on a journey of exhaustive physical therapy and conditioning that would consume four-to-five hours a day, and lead to an unending quest to find treatments and innovative tools that would help me to regain my mobility.    Slowly, I progressed from wheelchair to a walker and then to a cane.  After 8 months, I was stable enough to start walking on my own.  It was then that I started to dream that maybe one day I would run again.

The recovery process is painfully slow and I had no idea how long it would take to learn to run on my own again or if it was even an option.  Even if it were an option, how would I get there?

Enter the AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill.

The first day I was zipped in to the AlterG in May of 2009, I experienced the thrill of running.   I put on the comfortable neoprene shorts that zipped in to the AlterG and a few minutes later I began to run for the first time in over 3 years.  I ran for three minutes at 20% of my body weight.  It wasn’t pretty, but it was running!

I tried other ways to run during my therapy sessions by using my own treadmill, by training in water and by using some experimental robotic systems and harnesses, but nothing compared to the freedom and safety of the AlterG.  It had many innovative and practical features, – these folks thought of everything!

The Neoprene Shorts fit easily over my running shorts and were surprisingly snug and supportive but not so much so, that it was difficult to get them on – something that could be a problem for a person with a weak hand.  They zipped easily into the plastic shell that fits over the treadmill.  Once zipped in, there was no way I was going to fall down – in fact, as I reduced my weight load, the feeling was more like floating.  The machine started out by calibrating my body weight by blowing air into the plastic bag. It was a little unnerving as I felt the sensation of being slightly lifted off the treadmill, but that lasted only for a moment.  Soon, the calibration was finished and I was ready to walk or run at my leisure.

The control panel was very user friendly and I could tell that the designers went to great lengths to provide controls that worked like a standard treadmill.  When in use, it was a relief that the machine responded instantly to increase or decrease my weight load if I became fatigued.  Speed, incline and the timer were ergonomically positioned and they seemed to have left some room on the dashboard for additional or customized controls.  My mind was already racing with the possibilities of what kinds of functions to place in the available spaces.

I walked for a few minutes to get a feel for the machine and after about five minutes I felt comfortable enough to try out a short run at an easy pace.  I reduced my weight to 20% and slowly increased my speed to 5.0.  I was running and was  in awe and amazement at how easy it was.  There were no harnesses to contend with like some of the other weight-bearing tools I had tried at rehab facilities and I appreciated that I didn’t have to fight for balance or disentangle myself from a pulley system.

My first run was short and utterly exhilarating and it was from that very day that I knew that this machine would be a very important tool in my quest to run independently again.

Since that day I have worked my way up to four and five mile runs a few times a week at six-to-eight miles per hour.  I am experimenting with the weight ratios on the machine and am pleased that I have been able to consistently raise my weight load from 20% to 60% of my body weight.   It’s a real challenge to push myself to lower my weight ratio, because it’s so darned comfortable to run at lower weight.  The reduced impact on my joints makes for longer runs and shorter recovery.

This week’s Progress:

4/13/2010

Time: 41 mins

Distance: 3.21 miles

Weight: 50%

Speed: 6.5 mph

I was on vacation last week so I took it a little easy today by running at 6.5 to 7.0 mph for 42 minutes.  It was sure good to get back on the machine and test out my lungs after being away.

4/16/2010

Time: 44 mins

Distance: 3.2 miles

Weight: 50% – 60%

Speed: 6.0 – 7.2 mph

I’m trying out some new shorts that have an additional two inch leg inseam.  The material was initially a little stiff and made it difficult for me to clear my left leg.  This resulted in quite a few toe catches and stumbles during my run.  It feels better this week and my leg seems to be getting stronger as a result – unintended benefit perhaps?

Please feel free to share you experiences below or leave any comments or questions.  I will continue to post on future progress soon!

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