Sometimes the passions that drive our lives just sneak up on us like a happy accident. For Abby Bales, running started early. By the 5th grade she was running short track distances. One year later her long distance running career started on a whim. As Bales was preparing for volleyball tryouts the next morning, a friend called and asked if she’d be interested in trying out for cross country instead. That phone call directed Bales into the sport she still loves today. While starting was easy for this natural talent, continuing has presented its challenges. However, what most of us would call a challenge, Bales has made look like a walk in the park.
From the sixth grade cross country team all the way through high school, Bales has run competitively. She completed her first marathon, the 2003 New York City Marathon, as a way to stay fit after graduating from college. She continued to rack up marathon finishes over the years until her first real hurdle appeared in 2010, when a diagnosis for ulcerative colitis “quickly became very serious and debilitating.” Bales stated that her running suffered, even though she managed to complete two marathons during flare-ups of her condition.
Bales was not responding to medication and got very sick. By 2012 she had her colon removed and replaced with a temporary colostomy bag for five months. Despite this huge obstacle, training commenced.
“It was really, really hard to start training again because my muscles were so atrophied and depleted after the surgery. It was a major surgery and my organs leached amino acids from my muscles to heal, which meant I had zero muscles left. It had never been that hard for me to run ever in my life,” said Bales.
Bales had plenty of reasons to throw in the towel, but clearly that’s not her style. After regaining her strength, Bales ran even with a colostomy bag.
“It was hard in the beginning and it was a crazy-hot New York summer, but I felt like a million bucks because I wasn’t sick anymore. I wasn’t anemic anymore. I didn’t have to run to the bathroom every two-and-a-half minutes anymore. I wasn’t dying from the inside-out anymore. I would run any distance in the world with my colostomy bag because I could.”
Bales explained that prior to the surgery, there was a very real possibility that she would never run again, so to run even with bag “felt like waking up from a nightmare.”
She no longer has the temporary external bag and explains how running is an intricate part of her daily life, working now as a personal trainer and a student physical therapist. Since the first surgery she has run three half marathons, including a new personal record finish. She has a total of nine marathons under her belt and is ready to train for another full in the next year.
“Running is like a best friend I can vent to about anything, said Bales. “It’s not something I have to do, but something I just always do.”
Overcoming some huge roadblocks, Bales offers her advice to those who are timid or too overwhelmed to start running.
“Sport is not always about being the best at something. It’s about doing something that you like that makes you feel good and doing something good for your body in the process. Not everything appeals to everyone, so find something you like.”