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Stroke Smart Magazine


Spring 2010
FEATURE

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Setting the Pace
Stroke Survivor and New York City Marathoner Runs for Those Who Can’t

She was going to lose a toenail — she knew that early on — and her hips were not at all happy about her 26.2 mile trek. But none of this deterred Lenice Hogan from her mission: to honor stroke survivors and raise money and awareness for an important cause. “Pain is weakness leaving your body,” her oldest son’s words echoed through her brain as she paced herself mile after mile, listening to a Stephen King book on her iPod and drawing strength from the people around her.

Crossing the finish line at the 2009 New York City Marathon in November, Hogan’s first thought was, “I DID IT!” Her second thought was, “This hurts!”

Hogan, a stroke survivor, was part of a team of 29 runners who collected about $108,000 for National Stroke Association. She ran with other stroke survivors, caregivers, friends and family of those affected by stroke, raising more than $4,000 for her individual effort.

Telling herself up front that she didn’t need to run the whole way, Hogan simply set her sights on finishing the difficult race that weaves through the streets, the suburbs and across the bridges of New York. But, taking the advice of teammates, Hogan ran a steady 12 mile-per-hour pace and found she was too motivated and too competitive to slow down. “I was halfway through and I realized, ‘I can do this! I can run the whole way!’ “

At the 17-mile marker Hogan was in disbelief. “It felt like I’d run 5 miles,” she says. At 22 miles, she picked up speed. “I felt like Rocky Balboa. The last four miles my pace was less than 9 minute miles.”

The Man on the Beach

Hogan believes that her decision to run the 2009 New York City Marathon wasn’t really up to her. She was vacationing, jogging along the beach, when she happened across another stroke survivor. “It was obvious he’d had a stroke,” she recalls. “He had a cane and a brace on one foot and I thought his stroke must have been recent.”

Sharing their experiences, she found out that wasn’t the case. “He said, ‘You’re lucky, my stroke was seven years ago.’ …That moment changed so many things for me.”

Hogan realized how truly fortunate she was to have made such progress in her stroke recovery. Try as she might, she could not stop thinking about the man on the beach, other survivors battling back from stroke and those who lost their battle completely.

And then she got the e-mail from NSA asking for volunteers to run the New York City Marathon.

“I looked up at heaven and said, ‘Dear God, don’t let this be my mission!’ “ Hogan says. “But the thought would not leave me. I told myself, ‘I’m just going to call — I’m sure the roster will be filled.’ “

It wasn’t. And three months later — after a grueling training regimen — Hogan fulfilled her mission. “I knew I was stubborn, but running the marathon proved just how stubborn I am,” she says. “I really felt that God was with me throughout the day, and it was a glorious feeling to be doing His work.”

The Stroke

It was April of 2005: Hogan, a 39-year-old mother of three, stood up from her chair and fell to the floor, her left leg unresponsive. She later realized this was not her first stroke, but rather her third. The first two went undiagnosed.

“I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to raise my kids in the way I wanted — to enjoy life with them and to watch them grow up and raise their own kids,” she recalls.

Dr. Pierre Fayad, neurologist at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, was finally able to determine that Hogan’s stroke was caused by a venous malformation, a dilated vein in the brain. The vascular malformation also causes migraines and loss of feeling in her left leg. She occasionally had foot drop. “Most migraines that I get have neurological symptoms that mimic stroke,” she explains.

Her stroke brought on challenges that include left leg weakness, atrophy and slowness. Hogan has had difficulty swallowing, difficulty with word recall and balance. She suffers from cramping, bowel and sexual issues — the later of which contributed to her divorce.

Setbacks to Success

Hogan has made great strides, but not without setbacks. She was hospitalized two weeks before the race. “My left leg completely quit, there was nothing from the knee down,” she says. “I was cursing God — this was probably the worst spot for me emotionally. I was completely unsure of what my body would do.”

Her tenacity prevailed; her body came through. Two weeks later, Hogan was on the plane to New York City with her boyfriend, Rick Grubaugh, excited to meet her teammates and hear their stories of stroke, strength and determination.

“I loved meeting everyone — each with their own story of how and why they came to be in that place,” she recalls. “I felt in awe of all of them. I got a lot of good advice from some of the experienced runners. They made me calm.”

NSA teammates shared words of wisdom: run your race, think positive, enjoy the moment, save yourself for the bridges. “Each of these people had been deeply touched by stroke, either themselves or a loved one, and it was great to connect with others who were willing to put themselves out there to support stroke research to help others.”

Fear, Family, Friends and Future

Hogan received her undergraduate degree from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and now makes Omaha her home. Prior to moving back to Nebraska to be a full-time mom eight years ago, she received her master’s degree in business from the University of Notre Dame, where she taught physical fitness and health.

After her stroke, anxiety took hold of Hogan. “Every time I would get in my car I’d drive myself crazy thinking, ‘What if I have another stroke? What if I kill my children? What if I kill myself?’ “ She realized she could not live her life and fear: She took control, strengthening her faith in God and taking charge of her future.

A welcome side to her success at the New York City Marathon has been not only the strength Hogan found in herself, but the confidence she’s given to the people who love her. “My children used to worry. The one thing I didn’t expect to get out of this marathon was to give them comfort,” she says. “They’ve seen me get stronger through this. I no longer need to use the handrails going up and down the stairs at Husker football games. My kids say, ‘You are so strong Mom!’

“I don’t feel as limited and I am not defined by my limitations.”

Hogan’s sons, Caleb, 14, Quincy, 7, and Carter, 5, followed her progress during the race through the marathon Web site. “They think it is pretty cool to have such an old mom that can still do neat tricks!” Caleb sent text messages to Hogan as the race progressed, giving words of strength and motivation. Her friends texted constantly throughout the race; her boyfriend gave her new batteries for her phone at the 17-mile mark and egged her on. Her dad, in Tampa, Fla., tracked her progress online, texting Hogan how far she’d come and what was directly up ahead. The phenomenal outpouring of support from friends and family and even the strangers she ran with — each of whom had their own story, their own mission — carried Hogan across the finish line — listening to the Huskers fight song — embattled and empowered.

Hogan lost a toenail but gained oh so much more in running the New York City Marathon with 43,000 others. “I learned that pain is the price for all that is worth having in life. God made life that way for a reason. The joy of reaching the finish line is made sweeter and meaningful by the pain that we endured to get there. That is what makes it special and worthwhile. Life, love and marathons - not pain free, but certainly worth every minute of suffering.” …And, yes, she plans to do it again.

First Steps

Lenice Hogan spent three months training for the New York City Marathon. To prepare, she:

  • Increased her mileage each week: 10 miles, then 12, then 14, etc.
  • Ran sprints, hills, through the sand and up and down stadium steps.
  • Focused on her mission to keep her motivated: She thought of her uncle, who had a stroke 12 years before; she thought of the man on the beach; she thought of the thousands of stroke survivors struggling with challenges day to day.

 

Although she did not hit the infamous “wall” during the marathon, there were times in her training that the wall seemed to fall upon her. “During my 20-mile training runs I’d have hallucinations, I’d have the dry heaves, but I’d think, ‘As hard as it is for me right now, it’s nothing compared to what these people go through.’ I am lucky!”


 

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National Stroke Association’s mission is to reduce the incidence and impact of stroke by developing compelling education and programs focused on prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and support for all impacted by stroke.

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