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Overcoming Adversity Through Running – Maria Papalia-Meier

Overcoming Adversity Through Running I Am Fortunate Maria Papalia-Meier Toeless Runner Septic Shock Run Tri Bike Magazine
Maria Papalia-Meier
Year started: 1996
Next race: May 22, 2022
Favorite gear:

Topo Running Sneakers / OOFOS Recovery Shoes

I started running years ago while living in Savannah, as a way to manage stress and anxiety to reduce IBS symptoms. Getting started helped me with overcoming adversity through running. Dealing with IBS was just the start.

What Kept You Going?

Our move up North tabled my running for a while. I found it hard to get motivated as I don’t enjoy running in the cold weather. I also wasn’t feeling like myself and I knew not running was a part of that. My neighbor and I started running together and slowly formed a neighborhood running group. I started feeling like myself again. We did some 5K’s together and then decided to sign up for the ZOOMA Half Marathon in Cape Cod.

I would never run this race in 2014. In June of 2014, just a few weeks after my 40th birthday, I went into septic shock from a strep infection I didn’t know I had. I spent a little over 7 weeks in the hospital/rehab two of those weeks were in a medically induced coma. In October of 2014, I had to have my toes amputated due to the presser medication given to keep blood flow to my organs, which took it away from my extremities causing my feet to turn black.

Prior to making the decision to have a metatarsal amputation we sought to have a second opinion. This led us to the Wound Clinic in Boston where I would go over several weeks to have my feet debrided. This allowed my feet to heal, and I was able to keep my foot and just lose my toes. Over time I would have a few more surgeries on my left foot.

Running Wouldn’t Be In The Cards For Me?

I was told at one point running wasn’t going to be in the cards for me. This didn’t sit well with me because I knew I would run again and needed to figure out how.

I decided the first thing I needed to do was get my strength back, so I decided to start working out with a personal trainer in August of 2016. I also started doing “hot yoga” which over time was key to me getting my balance back.

The final piece to the puzzle was getting into the Spaulding National Running Center in Cambridge. I started PT there in July of 2017. My trainer was the one who got me strong enough that I could start running again. My PT is the reason I am running. They are my dream team!!

I ran my first 5K on May 13, 2018, at an 11:05 pace and finished in a time of 34:28. This result was amazing and I was ecstatic. Running the ZOOMA Cape Cod half marathon in September of 2018 was a reality. This was the race I was going to run in 2014 prior to getting sick and I finished in a time of 2:23:33. My next half marathon was in October of 2019 and my finish time was 2:15:35! My fastest 5K to date was the Irish 5K in March of 2020 with a finish of 28:14 and 9:05 pace.

Why Do I Continue On This Path?

I continue my path because I remind myself how long it took me to run again, I worked hard to get where I am, and I prayed daily God would help me get here. My goal is to have my story help others realize they can reach their goals. Conversely, I gain strength through helping others as well. Having the belief that we all have the drive within us to reach our goals, but we must believe in ourselves and remove the obstacles (excuses) we tell ourselves we have, or we allow others to tell us we have.

As a runner, being told that running wasn’t going to happen for me, that I should find a different sport, devastated me. As runners know, once a runner, always a runner. I didn’t know at the time how I would get there but I knew one day I would make it happen. I have a goal to run a marathon this year. To help keep me focused I have partnered with the “Who Says I Can’t Foundation”. The foundation was created to help those struck down with a disability get back into the activities they enjoyed prior to their disability. Not all insurance companies cover what someone would need in order to get back into the sport/activity they love.

I will never forget my first real run after my amputations. Being me again was amazing and I want to help others get that “feeling” back. Whether they are a runner, biker, skier, swimmer, hiker or any other physical activity they once enjoyed.

What Are The Hard Days Like, And How Do You Overcome Them?

There have been so many ups and downs it took me years to get where I am now, and I had several setbacks along the way. It is hard mentally sometimes to keep going. I really struggle on the days where my body could do more, but my feet just can’t. On these down days, I call them “pity parties,” I look at the big picture and what I have been able to accomplish, and I keep going. Saying to myself, I am fortunate to be where I am allows me to realize there are so many out there who want to be where I am. This provides me the opportunity to tell myself that I have no excuse not to keep going.

What Does The Future Look Like?

I have a goal to run a marathon by the end of the year. We were hoping to get into Chicago, and we didn’t get in the lottery. The next choice was the Savannah Rock n’ Roll Marathon, but that has now been canceled. We are currently looking for another marathon to run. For me it will more than likely be my only marathon. I am trying to set myself up for success by giving myself plenty of time to train. I am also looking for the ”perfect” course for me. A flat course is preferred, although I don’t have a big issue running up hills, it is the coming down that can cause me to get blisters due to friction from my feet sliding in my shoes.  Cooler weather is also preferred by my feet, not by me. Ha!. The heat makes my feet swell to the point it is uncomfortable to have shoes on.

We have a list of places we are looking at and will decide in the next few weeks.

After that I would like to try a triathlon and do more biking. Before I could run, I did a 40-mile bike ride through the boroughs of NY and enjoyed that.

Staying active is key. I have been told many times that had I not been in such good condition prior to getting sick, my outcome may have been different. It aided in my recovery. My husband and I put health and wellness as a high priority. He made a lifestyle change a few years back and lost 100 pounds on his own fitness journey! Overcoming adversity through running seems like an easy thing to say, but it is what happened.