By Sarah Gooding • Photos by Mandy Edmonson
When Leigh Kelley discovered running, it felt like a missing piece was put in place.
She and her mom were long-time speed walkers, but Kelley got serious about running when she set her sights on the October 10, 2010, Mother Road event.
“That was my first, and I had no clue how to even begin to train for a half-marathon,” she said. “I went in thinking I knew all about it. I finished it and I hurt for four days.”
Shortly thereafter, she met a new friend, Kris Drake, who invited her to start training for a marathon with a group of women known as the “Yayas.”
“I didn’t realize how fanatic I would get on running, but I really enjoyed it,” Kelley said. “I may not be the fastest in my age group, but it makes me feel complete. I love meeting other runners.”
In the years that followed, Kelley completed 23 half marathons, two full marathons, a Rim to Rim hike in the Grand Canyon, two 14ers, two 100-mile bike rides and numerous other 5k, 10k and 15k events.
In 2016, she was on a roll, completing several half marathons early in the year, the “Hotter Than Hell” 100-mile bike ride in Texas and other half marathons and trail events in the fall, all while her husband trained for a marathon in Hawaii.
“I was having some major IT (iliotibial band) problems, and on November 19, while my husband was running his 23 miles, I was putting blankets on the shelf and basically went numb from the waist down.”
The numbness, combined with extreme pain, left Kelley struggling. Through a series of steroid shots, surgeries and other procedures, she eventually gained back use of her right leg, but a blocked nerve led to foot drop in her left leg.
“With foot drop, your foot drags if you don’t wear a brace on it,” Kelley said, adding it also leads to loss of muscle mass and strength.
She did rehab with Kendra Cochran and was pointed toward the TurboMed3000 brace, which stabilizes and supports the leg and foot without causing irritation. This allowed Kelley to slowly return to running.
But the journey wasn’t easy.
“It was frustrating,” Kelley said. “My husband and I came up with a plan, and I did an Excel sheet called ‘Let’s get Leigh healthy.’ It’s tough to be part of a running group when they’re all still powerful, so I started running 5ks on my own on the road and picking up speed on the treadmill.”
With perseverance, Kelley’s times have increased, and she has worked back toward setting new personal records on half-marathon runs. But the road has been long and painful, and it has just been in the past six months that she finally has caught up with her Yaya friends.
Additionally, running with a brace brings mixed reactions.
“At races, people will ask what the contraption is on my foot,” Kelley said. “I got to where I jokingly tell them, ‘It’s a bear trap and I got caught in it and can’t get out.’”
However, being able to run keeps Kelley’s foot and leg strong. It also has allowed her to be an ambassador and resource for others with foot drop who continue to live active lives.
“They’re out there doing, and they’re phenomenal people,” she said.