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Partially paralyzed LDS runner completes Boston Marathon, preparing for New York City Marathon

SHARE Partially paralyzed LDS runner completes Boston Marathon, preparing for New York City Marathon
My accomplishments have taught me that with God, anything is possible. When my life was on hold, I knew it was for a reason and I’d learn something from it. Even if I’ve inspired one person, it makes it all worth it. – Wendy Garrett

Wendy Garrett lives by one mantra: “Life is tough, but I am tougher.”

And if anyone knows how to be tough, it’s Garrett.

Garrett practiced endurance at a young age when she started taking gymnastics at 6 years old.

When she turned 23, she gained a passion for running.

“Running gave me a goal,” said Garrett, who is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “I was used to having a goal in gymnastics and having an outlet. It was my therapy.”

Garrett started small, but eventually worked up to running marathons, competing in Los Angeles and Austin, Texas. She eventually relocated to Bermuda, where she was a gymnastics coach for three years.

One day, on her way to work, her life shifted 180 degrees.

“Everyone drives motorized scooters in Bermuda, and one day I was heading to work and a car pulled in front of me,” Garrett said. “I hit it, and the bike came down and landed on me. We weren't going fast, so it didn't seem like anything major. But immediately I couldn't move my left foot at all and I had back and neck pain.”

The accident landed her in a walking boot and sent her home to Portland, Oregon, to live with her parents and focus on getting well. Two and a half years, 25 specialists and zero marathons later, Garrett still didn’t have any answers for her health ailments. In addition to major back and neck pain, she had no movement in her lower left leg and remained in a walking boot.

“I went from doctor to doctor and everyone seemed to have a different opinion,” Garrett said. “I tried neurologists, the top research hospital in Portland, massage therapy, chiropractors, acupuncture and a little of everything. My whole life was on hold.”

It was around that time that Garrett’s aunt and uncle were called on a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to Nauvoo, Illinois.

Aware of Garrett’s circumstances, the couple asked her to housesit at their Orem home for the 18 months they would be serving. A relocation to Utah turned out to be the best medicine.

“I was at the point where I said I’d find one more doctor and then I’d be done and try to figure a way to adapt to (the circumstance),” Garrett said. “I finally found the doctor I needed in Provo.”

Her new doctor performed the same tests the other doctors had but was the first to discover an injury to her spinal cord caused from whiplash.

“He was the first person who told me I could be fitted for an orthotic so I could wear shoes and be active again,” Garrett said. “No doctor for two and a half years had mentioned that.”

On March 28, 2013, Garrett ran her first steps in more than three years.

Her passion for running was once again ignited, but she knew the orthotic would be expensive. So she designed and sold bracelets that sported the words of her mantra.

“Everybody has a story, whether they're fighting cancer or trying to quit smoking, and a lot of people told me my story helped them,” Garrett said. “I paid for my first orthotic by selling those bracelets all over the world, and a lot of cool people with different stories bought them.”

The month after her first run, Garrett ran her first post-accident 5K at her cousin’s school. She yearned to run another marathon but knew she had to build up endurance. So she added a half-mile to her running routine every week.

In June 2013, she ran the Utah Valley half marathon, earning first place in the mobility-impaired category.

But her dream remained: running the Boston Marathon. It was a dream so big she didn’t dare verbalize it.

As summer turned to autumn, Garrett decided to move back to Oregon so she could start training for the Portland marathon and assist in caring for her sister, who was battling cancer.

In October 2013, she crossed the Portland finish line and watched people much faster than her say the words she longed to be able to say: “I qualified for Boston.”

“It was such a big deal, so that night I thought, ‘I wonder if the Boston Marathon has a separate qualifying time for a mobility-impaired category,’ and they did, and I had qualified,” Garrett said.

The registration for the mobility-impaired category was set to begin the next morning, and Garrett quickly applied.

“I had to wait about three weeks to find out if I got in, and the day I got the acceptance email, my sister had taken the turn for the worse and we were in the process of taking her to the hospital,” Garrett said. “It was a bittersweet moment because my biggest dream had come true and my sister was slowly dying of cancer.”

One month later, Garrett’s sister passed away.

As grief took over her spirit, she didn’t know if she’d be able to run the Boston Marathon. She had lost all motivation. Eventually, she realized running was actually her best coping mechanism.

Then, three weeks before the Boston Marathon, Garrett ended up in the emergency room with a knee injury. It ended up being minor, but she wasn’t allowed to walk or run until the marathon.

“So it was the biggest race of my life and I had no idea if I would even make it halfway,” Garrett said. “My knee started hurting at mile two, and my left leg was in extreme pain. I didn’t know if I could finish as I saw all the medical tents along the way, but then when I saw the sign that said one mile left, I realized I was 10 minutes away from accomplishing my biggest dream, and I'd crawl if I had to.”

One year after the Boston Marathon bombing tragedy, Wendy Garrett crossed the finish line.

“My cousin told me, ‘You deserve to be there this year, because you've been through so much and had to rebuild, and they've done the same thing,’ ” Garrett said.

Garrett is still immobile from her knee down on her left leg, but she plans to apply for next year’s Boston Marathon.

Although her life changed permanently in her accident, her faith has pulled her through and led her to accomplish great things.

“My accomplishments have taught me that with God, anything is possible,” Garrett said. “When my life was on hold, I knew it was for a reason and I’d learn something from it. Even if I’ve inspired one person, it makes it all worth it.”

Currently, Garrett is training for the New York Marathon in November. In August, she received an email regarding a contest for the event. It encouraged contestants to write the story of what led them to run the marathon.

One man and one woman can win the contest, and the winners receive a photo shoot to be featured in Runner’s World Magazine and a billboard in Times Square. Garrett is listed in second place on the leaderboard, though community voting has closed.

Garrett said participating in the contest has helped her through a period of depression.

“People are sharing my story with other people, and I figured at that point that I wasn't all that bad if people were willing to do this for me and say all these nice words to their friends,” Garrett said. “It was just an answer to prayers.”

Megan Marsden Christensen writes for the Faith and Family sections. She recently graduated from BYU-Idaho with a bachelor's degree in communication.