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No Brace, 26 Miles

Fighting post-polio syndrome, Mary McManus is a marathoner

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In the slide show above, Johannes Hirn (COM’10) guides us through Mary McManus’ journeys, from being infected with polio in kindergarten to grappling with post-polio syndrome decades later to running the Boston Marathon.

Inspiration at the city’s most famous athletic event, the Boston Marathon, takes many forms.

Heads down and teeth clenched, the wheelchair wonders come first. The pros are next, often led by a Kenyan, as they breeze by throngs of fans. Then come the amateur, but chiseled, competitive athletic types.

And then things get really interesting.

A middle-aged man carrying an extra 30 pounds wheezes by. A teenage boy, wearing cargo shorts and a Jimmy Fund T-shirt, walks beside his mother. A grandmother drenched in sweat perseveres up Heartbreak Hill. Many of the real heroes of the Boston Marathon don’t cross the finish line until the crowds disperse.

In the 2009 race, Mary McManus (COM’76) clocked in at 7 hours and 25 minutes. Having been paralyzed by polio as a child, grappling with post-polio syndrome, and given no hope of being able to run again, she was more than pleased with the time. She has triumphed over more than one kind of adversity; post-polio syndrome is not well recognized by the medical establishment, and pioneering treatment at places like Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital was hard for McManus to find. Indeed, she ran the 2009 Marathon against medical advice. “If I have to crawl, I’ll finish,” she said before the start.

It didn’t come to that.

Johannes Hirn first produced a radio version of this piece for the Advanced Radio Reporting class of Anne Donohue, a College of Communication associate professor of journalism. The images in the slide show were shot by Hirn for the Advanced Photojournalism class of Peter Southwick, a COM associate professor. Both audio and images were edited by Edward A. Brown.

Edward A. Brown can be reached at ebrown@bu.edu.

2 Comments

2 Comments on No Brace, 26 Miles

  • Anonymous on 08.03.2009 at 2:54 pm

    Great Story!

    What a great story! I love hearing stories about what people can achieve when they start making those baby steps towards being as healthy as they can possibly be, no matter what challenges they have. …and when it snowballs into something like this! Just fantastic! So great to have her daughter & her husband’s support & participation too!

    I hope Mary’s appointment with her doc goes well. Even if this ends up being a one-time thing for her – What an accomplishment! GO MARY!

  • Elle on 11.16.2009 at 10:26 pm

    inspirational story! getting

    inspirational story!
    getting and staying fit and healthy is tough for most people, but when done as part of such a big group one cannot ask for a bigger motivator

    thanks for sharing this story

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