FORT WORTH, Texas — When you look around a marathon corral, the place people gather before running the challenging race, everyone you see has a story.
A path to how they got there.
A reason why they want to run 26.2 miles.
On Sunday, March 1, 2020, as Rhonda Foulds stood inside a corral at the Cowtown Marathon in Fort Worth, she could hardly believe her own reason, her path, her story.
“Looking back on it all,” she said, choking back tears, “it's been extraordinary.”
Running wasn’t supposed to have a starring role in Rhonda’s life story. She had been a casual runner, and in 1998, she decided on a whim to run a marathon. She was preparing for the race when she noticed something wasn’t right.
“I was running a lot, so I thought I was overtraining,” she said. “I had a bad tremor in my jaw and my pinky, and so I went to the neurologist.”
A PET scan confirmed: she had Parkinson’s disease.
“There’s no way, you know, I thought there’s got to be a mistake.”
She was 34.
“I thought well, this is it,” Rhonda said.
Her marathon never happened, and it wasn’t long before the young mother of three from Justin was in a wheelchair.
“I couldn’t walk. And I couldn’t eat things like peas because I’d throw them across the room. I had a very bad tremor,” she said. “In the beginning, I thought I was just going to wait to die.”
After years in that dark place, a surgery finally brought some light. In Deep Brain Stimulation, or ‘DBS,’ doctors implant a pacemaker under the skin, then connect it to electrodes they put in the brain. That procedure can curtail the debilitating symptoms of Parkinson’s.
“It's made my life totally worth living again,” Rhonda said.
It had been six long years, but Rhonda was mobile again. However, running still seemed scary, after all that time living in an unstable body. Eventually, enough gentle urging from one of her sons just to try it worked.
“It's like turned something on in my brain and made me feel so much better,” she said. “It was the first time in years I felt joy and happiness.”
With every mile, running revealed Rhonda’s strength and breathed life back into her limbs. Not only did she finally run her first marathon, she never stopped. She ran marathon after marathon, from Boston (numerous times) to Disney to Philadelphia to Dallas.
Eventually, she had more than 12,000 miles under her feet, all leading to Sunday, March 1, 2020: her 100th marathon.
And, it was her hometown race: The Cowtown.
“Having Parkinson’s has made it very tough to even get up and walk so, knowing this is 100 marathons I've run when I never even thought I could run one, it's a big deal. It's a big deal for me,” Rhonda said before the race started.
With her family cheering her on, Rhonda ran for hours, full of strength and emotion, and crossed the finish line for the 100th time.
The minute she finished, she was rushed by overjoyed family and friends, who showered her with hugs and adoration. The tears streaming down Rhonda’s face reflected decades of overcoming challenges.
“Do you feel like running is saving your life?” we asked her.
“Yes. Yeah. For sure.”
We all have our stories, our reasons, our paths. But stories like Rhonda’s show it’s the steps we take to get there that count.