Rekindling an old passion or hobby can promote the emotional healing process following a spinal cord injury. For Jane Delahunty, running was that passion. When she participates in fun runs now, she feels as though she is “flying without wings”.
“When I was 12 years old, I was chosen for the cross-country team at my school,” Delahunty recalls. “That is when the running bug bit. I loved it, particularly long-distance running. I could run for kilometres with boundless energy.”
Running was one of her favourite pastimes. She spent much of her time and energy participating in trail runs and would often run 20-odd kilometres on a regular basis as part of her training.
“Running was a big part of my life. It taught me some valuable lessons and showed me how far your body could be pushed,” says Delahunty.
Life would later teach her even more about how far she could be pushed mentally and emotionally. In her early 30s, she suffered an SCI and amputation – something she choses not to dwell on, yet it’s undeniable that it had a massive impact on her life.
“It took five years to recover physically and emotionally from the 10 major surgeries following my injury. I was heartbroken, but I survived and fought back with the help and support of my parents. They were my rock throughout,” she says.
“I don’t focus on my wheelchair, I focus on being the best version of myself. The experience taught me how to take on challenges. It took strength, hope and courage to live a fully independent life.”
Delahunty is now able to drive herself and no longer needs the assistance of a caregiver with transfers, for example. This is greatly thanks to regaining her physical strength by rekindling her love of running. Five years after her injury, Delahunty decided to start “running” again.
She was partly inspired by her former teammates who dedicated their 160-km trail run to her. Delahunty and the team were training together at the time of her injury and finished a 135-km trail run together.
Although she now has an entire box filled with medals, it had not been an easy start. After years of rehabilitation, Delahunty had to regain her strength slowly. She began training on a hill close to her home and went on regular strolls with her then caregiver. For her first race, Delahunty says, she told herself she would do a kilometre and see how it goes. “Yet the more my muscles burned, the more I wanted to do.”
She participated in the Zoo Trot, held by the Johannesburg Zoo. She finished her first five-kilometre fun run in the running fold, which made her feel like she was getting back a little of the life she once knew.
“My fun runs began again in a different style. I was on a roll!” she says. “I laughed without realising it. Life was fun again. The dark days were long gone. I had less anxiety and a new zest for life. I began to feel more confident. I was accepted in the group and respected among the other runners. I was ‘me’ – in mind, body and spirit.”
Today Delahunty trains five times a week and has completed a 21 km race in her wheelchair. This is very close to the 26 km she was able to run as a young trail runner.
Her advice to other people with disabilities? “Nothing was going to stop me from living my life once I got the courage to go out there and mingle. It is important to know that, even with a disability, life goes on. Keep a fighting spirit and positive attitude. Never give up hope – no matter what!”