Wellness Warrior: Mary McManus

Mary McManus is a runner, author, motivational speaker, and blogger of Brookline, MA who inspiringly triumphed over disease and trauma.

At age 5, Mary was diagnosed with paralytic polio, a viral disease that attacks the nervous system. Fortunately enough, she was able to escape total paralysis and fatal sequelae for several years. However, sadly, her suffering was not limited to the tribulations of physical dysfunction. She grew up “in a household rife with substance abuse” and describes her childhood as traumatic and violent. But, despite these obstacles, she was able to stay motivated. She honed her intellect and excelled academically. She became a recognized social worker at the Department of Veterans Affairs and worked to give back by positively impacting the lives of others suffering from the consequences of mental and behavioral health issues. 

Then, to her dismay, she was diagnosed with post-polio syndrome (PPS) at the age of 53. PPS is a progressive neuromuscular disease which can onset 15-40 years after a poliomyelitis (polio) infection, and between 25-50% of those who survive polio will suffer with this condition1. This causes the polio survivor to experience a gradual re-weakening of muscles that were previously affected by polio.  Symptoms may include general fatigue, joint pain, and muscle atrophy. Though rarely life-threatening, post-polio syndrome can significantly impact an individual’s ability to function and maintain their desired quality of life. For Mary, the diagnosis was a wake up call. She was not the type to take anything sitting down. Despite having been told that she should prepare to spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair, Mary was determined to take charge of her own future. 

She quit her esteemed career to focus on her health. She managed her toe up leg brace, a cane at times, and a wheelchair for mobility. She worked tirelessly with a physical therapy team at Spaulding Rehab. After months of intensive outpatient rehabilitation, she was discharged and began working with a personal trainer. After 6 months of personal training, she “began to experience a transformation.” When Mary sat down with her trainer, Janine, to go over her progress and review her goals, Mary had several to discuss. But, one particular aspiration stood out. As Janine was wrapping up their appointment, Mary exclaimed, “Wait! I have one more goal…I want to run the Boston Marathon for Spaulding Rehab next year.”

Confident in her ability to optimize Mary’s physical performance and fuel her “fiery determination to set and achieve such an epic goal”, Janine sent Mary to buy her first pair of running shoes. When Mary’s husband and daughter became aware of this goal, they were determined to be involved, though neither of them had run a marathon before. Mary describes that time as a “grueling year of training, much of it through the New England bitter cold.” But, on April 20th, 2009, she had done it. Mary crossed the finish line of the Boston Marathon, completing the course in 7 hours and 47 minutes with her husband and daughter by her side. They raised $10,535 for Spaulding Rehab, where Mary took those first tentative steps on what she describes as her “journey back to life.” 

Prior to the diagnosis of PPS, Mary described herself as a “stranger to athletics.” Years later, she is an incredible example of what sheer determination and dedication to physical and mental health and wellness can achieve. Running has since become an integral part of Mary’s life. She has run several half marathons and numerous smaller road races, often with her loving husband. She lives her life by inspiring others and giving back to her community whenever she can.

In 2013, she happened to volunteer at a water stop for “L Street Running Club,” a South Boston-based running club, handing out refreshments for the runners along one of their long distance routes. My mother and I happened to volunteer for the same water stop, as my father was running that day. After knowing Mary for only one single morning, it was evident how special she was. Apart from experiencing her palpable, genuine, positively radiant attitude, I also came to learn about her unbelievable story. We remained in contact and, throughout the years, I have continued to watch her inspire others. Hers was a story I simply could not keep to myself. 

Mary is the author of her Trilogy of Transformation which “takes you on her journey from a traumatic childhood to the diagnosis of Post-Polio Syndrome to the finish line of the 2009 Boston Marathon and beyond.” She has put together an anthology of her poetry, which helped to fuel her healing journey, in ‘Feel the Heal: An Anthology of Poems to Heal Your Life.’ Her books are available on Amazon. She is also a motivational speaker and a guest on inspirational radio shows, including her feature on Magic 106.7’s Exceptional Women Show. In addition, her story is featured in the “10th Anniversary of How Your Mind Can Heal Your Body” published by Hay House and authored by David R. Hamilton, Ph.D.

Mary says, “I want you to remember that you are not your diagnosis. Thirteen years ago, I was told that I would experience a functional decline as I aged, needing a wheelchair, a feeding tube since the left side of my esophagus was sluggish causing aspiration of food, a sleep apnea machine at night, and that I would need a lot of care at a young age. Instead, at the age of 66, I run 2-3 times a week, swim, and do strength training workouts. When you harness the power of your mind and work to heal your body, anything is possible!” 

Mary truly sends a powerful message of healing, hope and possibility. I am fortunate to know her, and it’s people like her who fuel my passion for working in the field of healthcare. She inspires me, as I work to make strides for mental and physical health and wellness. When a patient like Mary is determined, physical and mental potential seems limitless. 

Visit Mary’s website at www.marymcmanus.com to learn more about this amazing woman!

Other Ways to Connect with Mary

Learn More About Polio, Post-Polio Syndrome, and How the Polio Epidemic Triggered Huge Developments in the Field of Physical Therapy

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