Athlete Spotlight: Shelby on Running with Drop Foot

Meet Shelby, a resilient runner working her way from not only learning how to navigate new motherhood but also navigating that first postpartum year with no feeling suddenly in her left leg.  She could have tossed her ambitions aside and given up but instead, she continues to do the work necessary to inch her closer to her goals of not only getting back to her fastest self but also crossing 50 states off her bucket list. Her resolve to get back up and keep running is incredibly inspiring. Read her story below and be encouraged. If your life has taken a turn off the beaten path to the unexpected, Shelby’s story offers us all hope.

‘Resilience is accepting your new reality, even if it’s less good than the one you had before. You can fight it, you can do nothing but scream about what you’ve lost, or you can accept that and try to put together something that’s good.’
-Elizabeth Edwards

In her words:

“My name is Shelby, and I am 27 years old. Little did I know this would be the best and the worst year of my life. At 27 years old, I gave birth to my daughter, Oakley Rae. She is quite the blessing, a blessing that caused me an injury I never knew was a possibility. After delivering Oakley, I was in awe of her and really did not pay much attention to myself or my health, but at 4 am when I went to use the restroom for the first time after delivering her, I realized that I could not feel or move my leg from the knee down on the left side. I am asked constantly if I was scared or angry, but honestly, I was not scared or upset at that moment because I was so consumed by the birth of my daughter. I do not know if it was the birthing of Oakley that caused the nerve damage or if it was the epidural, and I probably will never know. What I do know is that I was not scared at that moment, but boy did the overwhelming fear come later. I was going home with a newborn and was unable to walk. It was a road I had to learn to navigate.”

From All-American collegiate to Motherhood to Drop Foot

A little background information to put things in perspective: I was an All-American collegiate runner. My specialty and love was the 5k. My personal best in the 5k was 18:44 (5:59 minute per mile!). This was a time I never expected to reach but continued to work for. When I graduated, I continued running, and that is how I met my husband. We fell in love rapidly and raced together weekly. We competed in 5k’s, 10k’s, and half marathons. We had a goal to run a race in every state. You could imagine when this injury happened, I had no idea how I was going to accomplish this.

What is foot drop exactly?

“Foot drop, sometimes called drop foot, is a general term for difficulty lifting the front part of the foot. If you have foot drop, the front of your foot might drag on the ground when you walk. Sometimes foot drop is temporary, but it can be permanent. If you have foot drop, you might need to wear a brace on your ankle and foot to hold your foot in a normal position.” Sourced from Mayo Clinic

How do you run with foot drop?

Despite drop foot, I was going to run again and complete this goal. 7 months postpartum, I am back running in races weekly.  It’s different now but so much more rewarding. I run with foot drop, while pushing my 7-month-old baby girl in her stroller. I want to inspire, but ultimately, I want people to LIVE no matter their circumstances. As my dad says, ‘There’s no crying in baseball,’ so when I found out I had sciatic nerve damage, I made a plan, I pushed myself, and now I am back competing. When I feel like I can’t, I just remember this quote:

I see you’ve been running since school years! What got you started in the very beginning as a runner?

I began running my junior year of high school when I got injured. Since I was struggling with my softball career I wanted a change. I had always ran to stay in shape but had never run to compete. My junior and senior year of high school I committed myself to running and decided I was going to make sure I was going to run fast enough to be able to run in college. I knew I wanted to be a collegiate athlete, I just always thought it would be for softball, boy was I wrong.

Do you run with a stroller often? 

I train 5 days a week with the stroller.  As a stay-at-home mom I have the luxury of training when it’s best for Oakley. Training with the stroller does not always go as planned though, often I go out for longer mileage runs and need to cut it short because of a toddler tantrum.

My husband and I switch off who races with Oakley. It typically depends on competition and who’s feeling a personal record or who needs a recovery run.

“Try to schedule your runs around the child’s schedule. Yes, this may not always work for you, or be your ideal time to run, but if you want an enjoyable run with your child, make them as comfortable and happy as possible.”

If so, any stroller tips for parents? 

“Let go of what you HAVE to do and enjoy what you GET to do.”

Try to schedule your runs around the child’s schedule. Yes, this may not always work for you, or be your ideal time to run, but if you want an enjoyable run with your child, make them as comfortable and happy as possible.

Also, expect toys and snacks to be thrown out of the stroller. Expect long runs to become short runs, expect recovery runs to become sprints just to get it over with because your child is crying. Let go of what you HAVE to do and enjoy what you GET to do.

Do you ever get frustrated out on a run and how do you get past that if so?

“What keeps me going is I know that I will feel better at the end, I will feel ACCOMPLISHED!”

I get frustrated often on runs. I train with the stroller but also I run with an AFO (ankle foot orthotic) because I have paralysis from the knee down. My ankle has zero dorsiflexion which makes running a little difficult. I have practiced enough that it feels natural again, but I still have days that my leg is really tired and my baby is screaming and I just want to quit. What keeps me going is I know that I will feel better at the end, I will feel ACCOMPLISHED!

What are you most excited about for the rest of 2022? Any fun races coming up? 🙂

My husband and I run a race every weekend, and sometimes find mid week races. Each weekend is fun for us because we race and then celebrate with a good brunch and likely a good beer. It’s our date morning plus Oakley. My step son also has started running more with us, so sometimes it’s a family affair which is awesome. My family means the world to me.

Speaking of races, which iDaph event has been your favorite to date and what made it so special? 

The Running of the Goats 5K. I raced this run without the stroller and knew the beginning would be difficult with the stroller. My husband had the luxury of racing with the stroller at this 5K. I loved the course, it was an honest course, and also loved the family feel of the race. The awards were unique and awesome. I love a race that has good medals and awards as memorabilia.

What advice would you give to anyone struggling to get back into running after a surgery or new physical limitation? 

BE RESILIENT! As much as I hate being paralyzed, when I race, especially if I win, I get to say “I did that, and I did that paralyzed” like come on! How many people get to say that!

Stick with your goal, as little or as big as it may be.

Music or no music when running? 

Music during training for Oakley and also when I race with Oakley, but as racing without a Oakley, NO MUSIC, it’s the collegiate runner in me.

Favorite running shoe?

Saucony Speed Endorphins (they fit my AFO the best and have the best support for my leg I have to compensate on)

Shelby is a source of inspiration for all of us. If there is one thing for certain in this world it’s that change is a guarantee in our lives.  It’s not what happens to us but rather how we respond to the changes.  Thank you Shelby for showing us all that we can still achieve great things in spite of some not-so-great things being thrown our way. We are cheering you on!