By LAURA STRODA
The Eisenhower Marathon
In May 2011, Pooja Parikh ran the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon – a first for the University of Central Oklahoma student. A year later, she was in a hospital bed, unable to even sit up on her own after having surgery on her legs due to a rare skin disease.
“That day, in the hospital bed, was my hardest experience as a marathon runner. I felt so handicapped as I remembered what I had accomplished exactly a year before that day,” Parikh said.
“My mom repeatedly reassured me that I would be running another marathon in a year’s time, but I did not have the energy to believe her. I felt helpless, hopeless and ashamed of the deteriorated state of my body.”
Parikh’s mother was right. On April 13, the 24-year-old runner will take off from the starting line of Abilene’s Eisenhower Marathon, wearing runner bib No. 5, proving that adversity didn’t destroy this young woman – it strengthened her.
Parikh suffers from a disease called Hidradenitis Suppurativa, a chronic skin inflammation. She said she’s had it since about 2004 and went through roughly a dozen surgical procedures before being correctly diagnosed with the disease in 2010. That same year, a close friend ran her first marathon – inspiring Parikh to test her own limits.
“I had been battling illness for years and I wanted to prove to myself that I was still capable of accomplishing great things,” she said.
Parikh signed up for the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon in May 2011 and accomplished her goal of finishing the race. But shortly afterward, her condition began to significantly worsen. She had to withdraw from college for the third time in fall 2011 and moved back home to Edmond, Okla. By January 2012, infection was rampant throughout her body. Doctors told Parikh she was at risk of becoming septic and needed multiple major surgeries.
In March 2012, she was in a wheelchair and 100 percent dependent on others. The first major surgery was at the end of that month and doctors operated a second time at the end of April. When the anniversary of the Oklahoma City marathon rolled around, Parikh attempted to walk.
“Four nurses tried to help me out of bed that day, but then it was later determined that I needed to spend another week in bed before I would be ready to walk again,” she said.
Though the road hasn’t been easy for Parikh, training for the Eisenhower Marathon has actually bolstered her recovery. She felt constantly tired following the surgeries and, until recently, required naps each day – regardless of how much she slept the night before. She is following a 16-week training regimen that has her running anywhere from 15 to 38 miles each week – and up to 20 in one day.
“It has been incredibly encouraging to see how quickly my body has been responding to training and recovering from each run,” she said. “I went from not being able to run a single mile, to running a full marathon, to being in a wheelchair an unable to sit up on my own or feed myself, to training for my next full marathon – all in two short years.”
While some may see the disease as debilitating, Parikh uses it as motivation – and she wouldn’t change a thing.
“I have fought hard to be where I am and my history, although painful, fuels my passion and gives me a reason to continue to fight,” she said.
“The days that I don’t feel like running, I think of that girl who was in a wheelchair six months ago, doubting whether she’d ever be able to run again. That’s all I need.”
The Eisenhower Marathon starts at 7 a.m. April 13 at the Eisenhower Presidential Center in Abilene. For more information, visit www.eisenhowermarathon.com.