Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Running for the First Time: A Guest Blog by Sarah Mueller

You know how I tell you all regularly that blogging has brought some great people into my life? Well, allow me to introduce you to Sarah, who  I have actually met in real life...but who first contacted me via email because she thought like-minded wheelchair chicks should flock together. In addition to being a cool gal, she is a talented author, who has put out the book Elf Help: Ability Therapy. Her Ability Therapy Facebook page is always spilling over with interesting disability articles, if that is your thing. Also, she is only 27! [Tangent: Way to make this 31 year-old feel super unaccomplished!]

Enough shameless plugs, what am I getting at? Well, yesterday I noticed she had posted a video of herself trying out a zero-gravity treadmill  allowing her basically to be able to run for the first time ever. [Tangent: She is the Sandra Bullock of Spina Bifida. Get it...Gravity...anyone?!?] 

As you can see, for a 45 second video, the joy on her face was intense and contagious. It made me happy. Of course, immediately I wanted her to get on paper what it was like.[Tangent: Sarah is much more eloquent, less snarky and uses less four letter words. Enjoy something classy for a change!] 

Take it away Sarah...

At around 3:05 pm this afternoon, I experienced the most amazing, significant, positive (OK I get it, that’s probably sufficient!) and life-changing event to-date. Before I tell you what happened, let me provide you with a little backstory on who I am:

 I’m 27 years old, and I was born with a neural tube birth defect called spina bifida myelomeningocele. It’s the most common, permanent disabling birth defect known to medical science, but too few seem to know about it. There are several different kinds of spina bifida, as well as levels, but I won’t proceed to overwhelm you with all the details. If you’d like to learn more, please visit: (The National Spina Bifida Association)

For now, all you need to know is that spina bifida is a very fancy way of saying that a person’s spinal cord did not fully develop during fetal growth. Myelomeningocele happens to be the most severe form of spina bifida, but my level is one of the most mild levels—L5-S1, meaning my 5th Lumbar and 1st Sacral vertebrae are incompletely formed and therefore my neurological function is hindered at that level. The lower the “defect” (I am not really a fan of that word!) on your spine, the more function you are able to retain after birth.

While spina bifida is often referred to as a “snowflake” condition (meaning every single case is unique and different) there can be many similarities between cases—but these similarities typically do not affect each person in the same way. For me, this means that I am able to get around with the aid of a cane for short distances, and a wheelchair for longer ones. I cannot run or jump, and walking very short distances causes physical pain for me. So…that brings you right up to the magical moment I experienced this

 How did I accomplish this, you ask? 

I tried out an anti-gravity treadmill! [To be precise: The AlterG Anti Gravity Treadmill]  While the logistics of this machine are still a bit over my head, I’ll try to explain what I do understand.
per the AlterG site
First, you put on some really silly looking shorts that are a lot like scuba diving pants. Then, you step onto the treadmill into a tiny opening. Once you’re securely in the open spot, physical therapists will pull up what looks like a giant bag all around your body, up to about right under the chest line, and then proceed to zip it up all around you.

At this point (if you aren’t completely freaked out by the experience yet—just wait!) this giant bag around you then fills with air until you are lifted slightly above the running strip on the treadmill. It’s like you’re floating on air! Then, the device lowers you back down until your feet are again touching it.

From this point on you get to decide how much support the machine provides you—all based upon your individual needs as it relates to your muscle mass and overall strength. Once you have that plugged in, you can begin going as fast or as slow as you would like. The goal is to feel comfortable, and to feel absolutely no pain as you get an amazing cardio workout! It also happens to have a TV screen attached to it, so you can be entertained while you work out, or even have a camera directly on your feet and legs so you can see if you are running straight, or having any difficulties you may otherwise be unable to feel. In other words, this machine is amazing.

 My results:
 I went in with some serious lower back, shoulder, clavicle and knee pain (…let’s just say that everything hurt when I went in). And afterward? I had Zero pain, soreness, aching.

Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. 

It took everything in me to keep from bawling my eyes out! There didn’t seem to be a dry eye in the room as all the physical therapists stopped what they were doing to watch me. Apparently, I was the first person to come in and ask to try the machine out, so they were mesmerized by the fact I was experiencing something so monumental --for the very first time--, in their clinic, on this machine that they were barely even used to using yet.

I managed to keep my emotions in check while there, but I’m not afraid to say once I was in the privacy of my own vehicle, I spent a good 10-15 minutes crying hysterically with joy. have spent my entire life dreaming of what it would feel like to go for a run. To be honest, I would have happily settled for knowing what it felt like to walk more than a few minutes without feeling excruciating lower back pain. But instead of “just” one wish, today I was granted two.

As I sat in my car reflecting on what had just taken place, all I could think of were two things:
  1. I am filled with so much gratitude, elation and awe I think I might burst.
  2. I would go through every bit of physical and emotional pain in life all over again if I knew it would bring me back to this moment in time 

Additionally, I couldn’t help but wonder

"What are all the doctors who have told me and my family that I would never be able to do anything with my life up to right now?"

 "How about the bullies and other various tormentors who colored the past nearly three decades of my existence?"

 But in the end, those final questions are so unimportant in the grand scheme of things. I just had the most spectacular, memorable day…and my soul is overflowing with gratitude and happiness! When all is said and done, I can do some very incredible things, and my life is more fulfilling than words could ever convey. In short…my life is a never ending gift, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.

I feel like the luckiest person on Earth.


  1. Yeah I had seriously never heard of such a thing so I was intrigued

  2. Amazing! And, having been introduced to you via Mary Evelyn of What Do You Do Dear, I have to thank you for now introducing me to Sarah!

  3. I have seen one of these in my local physical therapy office. I didn't quite understand what it was and I am that person that is afraid of trying new things such as this, but I would give it a go if I got the opportunity. Awesome post Sarah!


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