Dawn's Story: Overcoming Tragedy

My story begins in spring 2011.  I was training for my first Marathon at Sun Burst.  I was no spring chicken to attempt this at 39 years of age.  I also never ran in high school or college.  The Marathon is a bucket item list for me.  I trained for months and training was going well.  It was finally the week of my dream; to run the Marathon.  I thought I would go on another long run and that is when it happened.  I blew out my right knee days before the race.  My dreams of running the Marathon were over and I was devastated.  I completely over trained and injured myself. 

My doctor referred me to physical therapy, and that is where I met Kelley Penrose.  My assigned physical therapist, that has become my friend, and blessing God put in my life for a reason.  Kelley helped my knee get back to normal. After months, returning to running wasn’t out of the picture if I trained correctly and with Kelley’s help.  Slowly I was able to return to working out and running.  I had my mind set to be able to train and run by spring 2012.  But in fall 2012 my life stopped completely! 

I was on my way home from work on November 12, 2012.  I was one exit from home on this very frigid night in November.  There was a lot of traffic on the bypass that night and I was in the fast lane going 70mph when I thought I saw something in the road in front of me.  I had no time to hit my brakes.  I hit something and was knocked out cold while driving in the fast lane.  I drove unconscious for 300 yards.  The smoke from the air bag woke me up because it was so hard to breathe.  I was so disoriented and scared unsure of what just happened.  I stumbled out of the car trying to figure out what happened praying the cold air would help me figure it out.  I looked at my car the whole front end was smashed up to the windshield.  I know realized I was in a car accident and started to cry.  As an EMT I was trying to assess my injuries and mental status but it was difficult because the air bag went off so hard in my face.  I knew I had signs of concussion because of the nausea.  I also thought I most likely broke my left hand. 

I tried to flag down someone anyone to help me but not one person would stop.  I couldn’t find my cell phone but I had to find it to call 911 and my husband.  I started crying because my car was black and I was wearing black and was stranded in the fast lane on the highway all alone.  Through the tears and pain I prayed to God to help me find my phone.  Finally I found my phone and called for help and my husband.  It had to be only 30deg out and for safety for myself, I needed to get back in my car where it was warm and safer.  Help was coming so I just needed to stay calm.  My house was only 5min away and so was the fire station so help should be coming any minute.  I waited; no one was coming.  Why isn’t anyone coming?  I need help!  I want my husband here to hold me and tell me everything will ok!  It was so unsafe where I was.  My seatbelt didn’t work I just kept praying that my husband and fire department would come.  My head was pounding and my hand was killing me and now I started to notice other parts of my body were hurting as well.  I started to shake from adrenaline.  Three times, while sitting there alone, different cars almost hit me from behind.  I was seeing my life flash before my eyes.  I made peace with God because I wasn’t going to make it home or see my family again.  God protected me that night and kept me safe as I sat on the highway for an hour and a half before help finally arrived. 

I was glad that someone had arrived to help me.  They put me in the ambulance and assessed my injuries, vital signs and mental status.  My husband finally arrived I had him take me to the hospital.  I was in the ER for four hours or more and couldn’t stop shaking from the shock.  I don’t remember much more after that until the next morning. 

The pain was unbearable every inch of my body hurt especially my head and chest.  My husband had me propped up on pillows so my arms were even with my neck and shoulders.  He made calls to friends and family and told them about the accident.  My partner and paramedic on the ambulance we worked on came to visit and look me over because I hurt so badly.  I was a total mess and in so much pain and on so many pain killers and muscle relaxers and anxiety meds etc.  I really got worried when friends and family came to see me and started to cry. 

As the days went on and I felt worse every day my husband kept taking me in to the doctors for more x-rays and tests.  At two weeks work needed me to come in so I wouldn’t lose my job.  I crawled to work.  The stress from trying to be at work and function with a concussion and other injuries made me break out in hives.  Work sent me to the ER were I got a shot that should have cleared up the hives but only made them worse.  I was sent home.  Ultimately I ended up losing my job.  I spend days on end in bed sleeping from all the meds and just wasn’t getting better.  Between the concussion and all the meds I was out of it. 

Days turned into weeks.  At some point the doctor thought I should try to go back to physical therapy.  I said I wanted Kelley Penrose as my therapist and no one else.  I think my husband drove me to see Kelley to see if she could help me again.  Kelley walked into the room to give me an evaluation and tears filled her eyes.  She had to excuse herself for a period to step outside.  I thought wow I must be worse than I thought if my therapist was crying.  If anyone could possibly help me it was Kelley.  I saw Kelley every other day for months.  Then I started to suffer from PTSD.  I was screaming in my sleep but didn’t know I was doing it.  I had to start seeing a counselor about the PTSD.  The road to recovery was a very long and painful road.  I wasn’t pulling out of the concussion. 

During recovery I had two other injuries that were found.  One was a lump on my chest from impact and the other was the same knee I injured training for my Marathon that I never ran.  It took a lot of hard work and a year and a half to recover from the concussion.  I was worried about my knee because I was in constant pain and couldn’t even stand for long periods of time without it swelling and hurting.  I refused to settle for my knee to not heal and spent years going to every sports doctor and orthopedics specialist we could find to get an answer, have surgery, or do something.  Fix me please.  Every single doctor told me that my running and skiing days were over!  I can’t even tell you how many tears I shed over this news. 

No one could tell me what was really wrong with my knee.  They kept telling me that it was just arthritis.  I didn’t believe that for one minute; I was too young.  I went through countless painful procedures to try and fix my knee with no success.  They all kept telling me to accept it.  Really!  No way, I had to keep trying.  I finally went back to the very first orthopedic I saw a few years ago in a last ditch effort to do surgery to just see what was going on.  This doctor was the first to touch my knee and make me in real pain.  He said I know exactly what to do.  He wanted to give me a cortisone shot.  Here we go again; I have had lots of these over the years and none had worked.  He insisted, so I agreed to go ahead with the cortisone shot.  This time was different I had immediate relief from pain.  For the first time in years my knee didn’t hurt!  I was finally pain free!  I couldn’t believe it.  The doctor encouraged me to start working out about a week after my shot and to start slow.  I was able to slowly work up to running for the first time since my accident in 2012. 

I signed up for my first 5k run since my accident and after all the doctors telling me I would never run again I was so happy to be running again.  I completed my first 5k since 2011!  I still wanted to run my dream of one half Marathon and one full Marathon.  One morning scrolling through my Facebook, the Chicago half marathon popped up for sign-ups.  Problem was the half Marathon was in a month and I haven’t been working out at all.  But without thinking or over thinking I signed up for the Chicago half.  I needed this for me!  I needed to prove to myself and every doctor that told me I would never run again that I could and I would. 

I contacted Kelley so she could keep an eye on my knee and give me a training program so I wouldn’t over train and get hurt again.  I kept thinking about other runners stories, running Marathons with a prosthetic leg or both legs, if they could do it I can too!  I believe in myself!  I not only wanted to run the half but I wanted to cross the finish line in three and a half hours and medal.  Four weeks to train from couch to half Marathon, I could do this, I want this, I am going for it.  Training was going well with no issues.  As a matter of fact, I’m six years older and feeling stronger, better than I ever had. 

As I got closer to the race I did start to panic and worry that I wouldn’t finish or possibly get hurt.  I was on the phone with Kelley while working out, crying, and freaking out that I wouldn’t make it.  What was I thinking!  Kelley calmed me down and said most people train for half Marathons for months and years.  She said I know you want that medal but you haven’t had a lot of time to train.  Just focus on finishing no matter how long it takes just finish.  I was adamant I was going to cross the finish line before three hours and thirty minutes, I am going to get my medal!  My whole family gets up at 4am to come with me to Chicago.  My husband had T-Shirts made for us to support me. 

Dawn at the finish line of the Chicago half-Marathon, finished in 3 hours and 14 minutes!

Dawn at the finish line of the Chicago half-Marathon, finished in 3 hours and 14 minutes!

So this is the moment of truth.  Can I really do this?  I was moved to tears when the gun went off for us to start.  I waited my whole life for this day.  Throughout the race I thanked God for all he has given me and even the car accident.  As I rounded the second to last turn I could see the finish line.  My kids ran with me to the finish.  I cried tears of joy because I did it.  I crossed the finish line in three hours and fourteen minutes and got my medal.  Truly one of the proudest moments of my life.  I thanked God again for this day and helping me complete one of my life long goals. 

Always believe in yourself no matter what anyone tells you.  I’m living proof that you can do anything you want if you just believe in yourself and trust in God.  I am running my second half in Chicago this fall.  I’m also doing my first sprint triathlon with Kelley.  I got my life back and proved to myself that I can do anything I set my mind to.  I want to thank my family for believing in me.  I also want to thank Kelley for believing in me and helping me through an extremely difficult time in my life.  We eventually found out I hit a six point 200 pound buck on November 12, 2012 and I had less than 20 percent chance of survival!  I have learned if goals were easy to achieve that they wouldn’t mean nearly as much as they do.  I proved them all wrong on May 22, 2016.  Always believe in yourself and never give up!


Dawn Elm


Kelley PenroseComment