Running is not just a fun activity for some athletes; it’s a way of life.
Justine Galloway was only 7 years old when her father, an avid runner who passed down his love of the sport to his daughter, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Over the next few years, she watched as the disease robbed him of the thing he loved most, and she vowed to never let anything keep her from running.
“I ran through high school,” said Justine. “He lived vicariously through me. I would tell him about my runs.”
Her father passed away in 2010, and Justine kept running in his honor. She completed nine marathons, but as she was running the Boston Marathon, something felt wrong in her body. She was in such pain, she had to quit the race without finishing.
The pain got worse over the next few days. Soon, she could barely walk.
“I didn’t think that would be me at that age,” she said. “I had always hoped that I’d run till I couldn’t run anymore. And I thought that would be 80, not 31.”
Justine sought help from doctors, and after two years she learned she has focal dystonia, a rare neurological movement disorder similar to Parkinson’s. Like Parkinson’s, this disorder is brought on by activity and often targets the victim’s favorite activities.
“Writers can get it who all of a sudden can’t write,” she explained. “Musicians, pianists who can’t play a song they’ve always played their whole life will get it.”
Justine launched herself into physical therapy, which is where she learned something odd — she could still run backwards.
“For some reason, the backwards and the sideways (running) seemed fine, but when I would run forward on the treadmill, I (would) almost start to cry,” she explained. “It just seemed so much more difficult than it ever was before.”
When someone suggested she could get a world record for running marathons backwards, it was off to the races for Justine. Literally!
Justine loves a challenge, so she started running half marathons backwards. After completing a few, she decided to go for the world record. On her second attempt, she earned a Guinness World Record for fastest backwards half marathon runner ever! She has since broken her own record and set the record twice.
Now Justine runs full marathons again, just in a different way. She has completed the New York City Marathon and the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s marathon, which she ran in honor of her dad. Fox even came out to give her a hug in the middle of the race!
Justine no longer feels sad about not being able to run forward. Instead, she looks at her capabilities as what she used to be able to do versus what she can do now.
“It’s funny — I’ve compared running forward to a relationship,” she said. “The relationship I have with running forward is so great. I kind of just want to remember running forward as a great experience and now I’m running backwards.”
Most importantly, she hopes her story proves that no obstacle is insurmountable. There’s always a way to keep doing what we love if we’re brave and strong enough to find it.
“Keep moving forward and keep moving,” she said. “Don’t let anything stop you, and nothing is impossible.”
Nothing is impossible! We love that attitude, and Justine has the world records to back that sentiment up. We will think of her next time something feels too hard to do. When there’s a will, there’s a way!
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