Name: Kelly Gibbons
Aka: Gibby (coined by no other than our Gills), Gibbz, Kellz, Hot mess
Occupation: Perioperative (operating room) and Dermatological registered nurse
Family: Colum (mountain bike dude), McKenna: 7 years old (mini-me, completed her first 5k this year!) and Braden (5)
We have been reading these incredible spotlight stories for a little while now and the one thing I found amazing was how a handful of stories from the women of this group found so much courage, strength, camaraderie , and healing through their love of running after dealing with complications from pregnancy, birth and the hardships that come after too. My journey resonates along these lines too, it’s been a crazy journey up until this point. Life in motion is a ride we need to embrace.
So many of our common stories start off the quintessential “I was never an athlete growing up”, and yes, I definitely fit into this category. I grew up the eldest of three sisters, and from an early age I was labeled the “smart” one (ok, ok, stop right there, I know what you are all thinking, but yes, yes its true, at one time I was smart). I dreaded the yearly “physical fitness test”, you know the one where they made you run the track, count how many sit-ups you can do, and hold yourself up on the chin- up bar? I failed it every year and in good ol’ middle school when you are just coming into adolescence , everyone is impressionable, and self conscious, some less than bright educator made the decision that those who failed this such “test” would be placed in what they called “special gym” (you can imagine the other names fellow classmates had for said “special” gym!) This most likely did nothing for any of the poor kids labeled “gym-challenged”, and for my mind at that age I figured that was my destiny, I was a good student, where my middle sister was the athletic one, excelling as a dancer and a star softball player while I devoured books, ran for student government and while I could dance and was a cheerleader, back in the late 90’s cheerleading wasn’t anything like the sport it is today. I couldn’t even do a cartwheel and somehow made it onto the team. It must have been my large yelling capacity and vocality in getting crowds riled up. Something I still excel at today! The funny thing is back then I would sometimes have actual dreams in which I was running fast through trails, I guess maybe dreams do come true!
Fast forward a few years through my college years at Binghamton University where I gained the usual freshman 400 pounds, I would dabble in the occasional gym outings with my friends, but that would last about two days, and I even attempted to play club lacrosse until my long lost fear of being hit in the face with balls reared its ugly head again (there was an earlier childhood volleyball in the face incident). Lacrosse lasted about a week. I had left college thinner then I started somehow, but not in shape by any means. My first foray into running also lasted about a week when after I graduated and lived on the upper east side of NYC, I tried running on the great path up the East River but ended up with some type allergic histamine reaction with severe itching and hives, in which I decided that yes, I was allergic to running. So dumb.
The next few years were pretty typical 20-something year old experiences: eat out a lot, go out late, eat some more, drink some more, then eat some more again. Get married, eat more, get pregnant, don’t sleep, eat more, and learn about the 5th food group: wine, and more wine, which then leads to you guessed it…more eating (and then buy a minivan, which gets you more depressed, and then pray you can fit the damn van through a taco bell drive thru so you can eat 47 tacos). Yep, I was out of shape, post partum, no sleep, and I felt awful, and I resented my husband who still had energy to run, go to the gym, and mountain bike for 48 hours at a time. It was after my seemingly normal second pregnancy that everything was about to change, for the worst and for the best.
My pregnancy with Brady, my second, was typical; he was scheduled for a repeat c-section since McKenna was a c-section. I was prepared for a nice scheduled day, where I can circle it on my cute calendar with hearts, pack my little suitcase, secure McKenna with the grandparents and be on my way peacefully to becoming a family of four. I was 37 weeks pregnant and going for my regular check up when the doctor informed me I was already 6 cm. I wasn’t contracting so he sent me on my way with STRICT instructions that the minute I feel anything to get to the hospital (McKenna was almost born on the LIE, another fun moment in the Gibby timeline). I went to bed that night with a couple of what I thought was possible contractions but I was in denial being that morning was McKenna’s second birthday and I couldn’t miss that! (We had got her first bike, we were so excited!). By five am, I couldn’t bare it anymore; I knew I was in labor. Off to the hospital we went. **Now ladies, I would like to insert a public service announcement in at this time. If you are in your child bearing years, seriously consider purchasing your first home near the hospital where you wish to deliver , although it is not a huge distance from Holtsville to Smithtown, when a small alien is trying to rip your godly fruits in half, it might as well feel like you are traveling to Alaska. And then when you have to make a pit stop because you want to claw your husband’s eyeballs out of his totally non- pregnant face for stopping at every single stop sign for 30 minutes…well that just makes the journey even longer… especially when you get to the hospital and you are 10 cm dilated… Ok…back to the story….**
They began to prep me for my c-section, and I knew right then and there something just didn’t feel right to me. Something was off, I still remember that feeling, I can’t quiet explain it. I remember so much of the details of the next week there, but don’t remember much of the year after that. Now this is where I have the unfortunate experience of having been both a labor and delivery and operating room nurse. I could tell by the instruments they were asking for that the doctors were struggling. I tried to calm my mind but it was hard when I was wondering why on earth they needed that type of retractor etc. for what should be a seamless repeat c-section. The baby was out after what seemed like a lifetime. They informed me that he was struggling a little with his breaths, but nothing too out of the ordinary for a 37 week (a little early) c-section. They would take him to the NICU to observe him, and having the background that I did, was comfortable with this explanation because I had seen it so many times before. So they took him and my husband followed while my doctors continued to work on me. Again, I could tell they were struggling. One of my doctors leans over drapes during the surgery and says to me, “Kelly you don’t plan on having any more children are you?” Holy shit, I think to myself, is she really saying this to me NOW?????? As I am laying helpless on an OR table, husband gone with baby in NICU. How do I answer? I have no idea! I mumble totally honestly, helplessly, “I don’t know”. I knew right then that the decision was already made for me. I was then advised my child bearing was over. It was near impossible to get to my uterus to even get Brady out. I had an over abundance of scar tissue from my first c-section, that they had to make a vertical incision on my uterus instead of the usual horizontal. My uterus was now unstable from the t-shape scar that now ordained it. The uterus was not going to be strong enough to hold another baby, and the probability it would be covered in scar tissue in that much abundance again was inevitable. I knew that most likely we were set with having two kids, but having that decision made for me was a little emotional and something I still wonder daily if we would have had a third, especially when you are constantly asked when you are popping out the next. So while I was settling into this already made decision in my hospital bed, the next shocking piece of news came delivered that was about to turn my world upside down in ways I never knew possible. “Mrs. Gibbons, your son had a stroke.”
To say I was stunned was an understatement. I am a nurse. I deal with this for a living, but never in a million years could I comprehend that this neonatologist was trying to tell me that yes indeed, my newborn baby had a stroke. Strokes happened to old people were my first thought, not innocent babies. Brady had suffered two seizures in the NICU that were amazingly witnessed by both a NICU nurse then the neonatologist. (Babies are very jerky by nature so I was blessed by their acute skills to even pick this up) and lo and behold after they worked him up by CAT scan and MRI, there it was as light as day: a left frontal lobe stroke which would affect his right motor abilities. I couldn’t breathe and tears flew into puddles that could fill a lifetime of seas. Seizure medication was started. Brady stayed while I was discharged days later. Going home from the hospital without your new child is a bizarre feeling I wish upon no one. From this point on, I remember very little. The next year, especially the first six months were literally a blur. I went to more doctor appoints than one would fill in a lifetime. More tubes of blood were drawn on both Brady and me than you could even imagine. No answers surfaced as to how this occurred. My ob-gyn became elusive and offered no support, since my c section was so difficult I know on my end suspicions arose to the possibility of inflicted birth trauma on their part, something that still haunts me today especially in the way they behaved after. I ended up being diagnosed with an indirect clotting disorder (too involved to explain here, you will kill me!) called MTHFR which could have led me to throw a clot that traveled through to the placenta, but again no definitive answers. We were told that Brady had a possible clotting disorder that would lead to a lifetime of strokes and heart attacks that left me literally gasping for air. Luckily, the top notch pediatric hematologist at Stony Brook we flew to for second opinions confirmed through another set of tests that he did not have a clotting disorder, thank god.
Over a year later, marked with depression after dealing with everything that occured, lead to more weight gain. My youngest sister was getting married, and I had to partake in the dreaded bridesmaid dress shopping. I guess I was in some sort of denial about my weight, but I knew I did not feel good. The crazy lady with the measuring tape came and yelled out my size to order. .. That was it, right there in the dreaded fitting room, I vowed enough was enough. I had been through hell. I was out of shape, depressed, and unhealthy. That week I walked into weight watchers and my life changed forever.
I slowly added exercise classes into controlling portion size and I felt new overnight. Weight flew off and the experience I felt from working out put me into a high that I couldn’t believe. I felt strong, both mentally and physically. I started to run around the block. It was torture. Pure torture. But my new mental strength pushed me on and then the next thing I knew I was signed up to do the last race of the Sayville series. I have no recollection of how I came to pick that exact race or how I even signed up! Maybe it was divine intervention, I don’t know! I do remember not realizing until 2 weeks before that it was not actually a 5 k I signed up for but 4 miles instead, and freaked out not knowing if I was ever going to reach four miles! During this time, my next door neighbor and brother from another mother, Todd Metro, was going through a similar health revelation with his cholesterol levels on the rise etc, and saw how I was enjoying running…so I told him get on your shoes and join me. We were our own running support team for the longest time since we had no idea that this “running world” existed. I finished my 4 mile race and that high lasted weeks. I kept on running, Todd kept on running. We signed up for a handful of 5ks together. We found our “thing”, and we became more excited the stronger we got. I remember both of us always looking at Rick Secor. We were in awe of him. “Look there is that guy again!” “I think he is in a band”, “look at his flowing locks” … One day I remember saying to Todd, “hey wait you know what , that rocker guy always wears that race shirt with the letters GLIRC on it, I think he might be a really good runner!!!” and we were right!!!! (And happy to call him a friend now!) As we continued to get stronger, we said let’s try to do a half marathon! We did both Entenmanns, finishing our first under two hours, then of course, that lead to Todd saying “ I think I might do the Long Island Marathon” so I said ok, why not! (I never made it that marathon because of my first foray into running injuries, but succeed in Philly 26.2 the following fall!) So things progressed from there … half marathons, marathons, triathlons, PRs, age group medals, it’s been an amazing ride!!!
I had first heard about the famous Selden Hills over two years ago during the first brewery training run. Back post run at Five Points Burgers, I met a lady who was fairly new to the running scene as well. We sat talking, enjoying our post run beers and found out we were both nurses. It was no other then our Yvonne Lieppert! She told me to check these hills out, she had just started running them and were making her stronger (stronger being an understatement!!!!) I found a course map online, printed it out, and headed there on my own. I was hooked after one time! I kept running them by myself because back then it wasn’t like it was today with multiple times, and groups etc…it was Wednesday nights and I worked, so I just went by myself when I could. I remember the first time I met “Hiney”. I stood trying to communicate with him in my broken Spanish; I thought he was asking me out on a date, I was so confused!!, in retrospect he was trying to communicate that I should run on Wednesday afternoons!! I remember the first time I actually ran them with a group and it was soooo much easier having someone else to curse with! Something magical then happened in a short amount of time, in what felt like overnight, the more I ran , the more people I met, word of mouth began spreading about this course called “the hills” . I met more people in a short amount of time then most would meet in a life time. People who all have the common bond of the pursuit of health, and happiness through physical fitness. People who have helped push us to our highest limits and support us through our lowest. Just a couple of weeks ago, I had an amazing time at the beach with my children and husband. I was watching my children play so happily with the other children. I looked to my left and felt blessed at my friends who I was there with, Anne and Eileen, who I would have never known if it wasn’t for running, and here we were with our families all together. Or travelling to Florida to go run a half marathon with my best friend, someone who has become like a sister to me, April, who if it wasn’t for running would have never met! Or it taking running the Selden Hills to know that one of my favorite girls, Colleen, has been my neighbor all these years and we didn’t even know it!! It has brought me back to life, and refocused our family to getting out into nature and moving our bodies – bringing us closer together. I now truly understand my husband’s need all these years to have to make time for his mountain biking, and it’s been wonderful being blessed with someone who I can balance it all out with, and who I know is there cheering me on through my races and triathlons. Running has also led to these amazing experiences for me, being a featured interview for a health and wellness website Fit-journey.com, or being chosen out of thousands of applicants for a chance to work with Women’s Health Magazine….it’s been an AMAZING journey and running did ALL of this!! I know this journey will continue, and knowing we have a support system in place such as the Selden Hills makes it all the more magical!!!
Addendum: for those wondering, Brady is doing great, he is ready to start kindergarten this fall, and although he is responsible for every gray hair in my head, physically he is a miracle. He had physical therapy as a toddler, and evaluated as needed. He, although left handed which could be stroke related, is able to move his right side of his body without any problems! Luckily at birth, the brain is still developing, so the area of the infarct healed to a degree by the brain still forming around it. Unfortunately this can also mean it helped heal from taking other parts of the brain to compensate, which although it affected a motor part of the brain could result in some cognitive issues in the future…its always just a reevaluation process that we stay on top of. He is truly a miracle (most kids with cerebral palsy are victims of neonatal strokes) . He has a wicked sense of humor, and can dance and play the drums like nobody’s business!!