You might be able to relate to Angela Van Buskirk’s early years. She describes her fitness regimen as one full of excuses, stating she always had a reason why she couldn’t participate in gym class, or explaining how she found ways to weave her way into the back of the line to avoid any physical activity. Angela even recalls being the reason the whole class had to do an extra lap, simply because she wouldn’t “go!” when the teacher called out the command. This was the theme of her active life for many years. But a tragic turn of events would change all of that, leave her with one leg, and four marathon finisher medals.
After doing nothing more than bowling as exercise, Angela found herself a 5’6” woman weighing in at 272 pounds by the year 2000. This number stirred her to a first step toward fitness. She hired a trainer and lost a lot of weight, using the elliptical and treadmill for cardio. The activity and weight loss made her feel incredible.
With the success of winning the battle of her weight fresh, Angela’s life took a tremendous turn when she and her family were involved in a terrible car accident in the summer of 2001. Her entire family was rushed to the hospital, her husband was airlifted in fact. They all suffered pretty awful injuries, but remarkably Angela refers to this tragedy as a turning point in her life.
Angela’s injuries required x-rays that revealed what the doctors said were, “some sort of lesion.” Upon further testing, it was discovered that Angela’s entire left femur was filled with an aggressive desmoplastic fibroma. Her entire left femur had been eaten by the “lesion” and was extending into her hip. Amazingly, this aggressive force was benign and Angela found a doctor who was able to save her leg, replacing the bone with a rod. While the car accident was horrible, Angela calls it a good thing.
“I had no idea what was in [my leg], or that it was even in there, and I had no idea how that set of x-rays would change my life and how something so horrible would turn into the best thing that ever happened to me,” she recalls.
Her left leg is now bionic and the road to recovery was long. She was in a wheelchair, a walker, and unable to bear weight for six full months. During recovery, Angela put on 100 pounds, putting her at 285 pounds, heavier than she’d ever been. The small amount of exercise she’d done before was impossible, she couldn’t walk a block in her condition. “I was so heavy and dejected…I felt absolutely defeated,” she remembers.
Defeated, but alive. There was a fighter inside her still trying to get out. While the weight had come on, Angela knew there was still muscle under the layers that she’d worked hard to build before the accident. Despite tremendous pain, she started walking. Calling her pace slow was an understatement, but on every walk she went just a little further. With growing determination, Angela and her “little leg that could” made the decision to do a race.
Angela Van Buskirk completed her first 5K in November 2009. It took her more than an hour, but with that finish, came the quest that still drives this survivor today.
Since her first 5K, Angela has completed an impressive four half marathons, a 10K, and numerous 5ks. Furthermore, she’s lost 90 pounds and says the running keeps her making good food choices, as good food equals good fuel. She describes running as an “activity that feels like air to me.” She says she craves it.
Angela is a grandmother now. She’s staying fit and healthy so they can run together one day.
Overweight, debilitating car wreck, tumors that ate her bones, major surgery, and extra weight once more – these were several good reasons not to run. Thankfully Angela didn’t listen to any of them and she ran, long and hard, instead.
What does she say to those who are scared to start?
“My mantra, and what I revolve everything in my life around: ‘She believed she could, so she did.’ It truly is that easy. Believe you can, and take a step. Lace up your shoes. Walk outside and breathe in that air. Now just go. “
Photos by Angela Van Buskirk