MANATEE -- Bradenton's Dana Pounds, who lost her right leg to cancer in 2010 but has not abandoned her dream to one day run a marathon, recently completed her first 5K using a running blade.
Pounds, whose story of battling Desmoids tumor cancer has inspired many, clocked 49 minutes, 22 seconds in The Team Gov Invitational at the July 19 race in Allenhurst, N.J.
Because of cancer and other setbacks, Pounds, has only been able to run three 5Ks over the past 15 years, including her personal best of 47:11 in the Bradenton Marauders' 5K last June in her standard walking leg.
"The reason I was slower in my blade is that I am really still learning how to run with it," Pounds said Sunday by phone from Oregon where she is vacationing with her husband, Jim. "The beauty of running with the blade was glorious. Each race I do feel more empowered."
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Founder of Bradenton's Nature Academy Inc., which in
troduces fifth-graders to marine life through field trips, Pounds was named one of eight Bradenton Marauder "All Stars Among Us" at the June 14 Florida State League All-Star Game at McKechnie Field. She received her new blade shortly after the All-Star game.
"She did a great job considering she really had less than a month to learn how to use the blade," her husband said Sunday. "I was thinking during the race, 'Oh my God, Dana, please don't fall. I was so proud of her. It was a monumental achievement."
The Team Gov Invitational 5K is hosted by "Seas It," a not-for-profit started in 2004 by Todd McGovern, who battled colon cancer for eight years before dying in January 2013.
Responding to a request from Seas It, Pounds wrote a passionate testimonial about her first experience with a blade and desire to run a marathon.
The Herald includes some of Pounds' testimonial below:
Rare cancer discovered
"Fifteen years ago, while training for my first marathon, I discovered a rare cancer in my leg," Pounds wrote. "I fought for nine years to hang onto my limb, but when given the choice between my life and my limb, well, I am still here and my leg isn't. It wasn't that hard to do once you put it in those terms. My mantra as I went through my amputation was focus on what you will be able to do, not what you won't be able to do. As funny as it sounds, I would regain more mobility once I had my leg amputated and the ability to resume my mission to run a marathon. I called it my liberation surgery. It took several years to recover from the surgery and then learn how to use my new walking leg. First I had to master walking, then running. Seriously, like a toddler, but the ground is a lot further away and as adults we are jaded with fear.
"I fell more than a few times and injured myself pretty severely along the way," Pounds continued. "When they came out with El Toro at Six Flags, I figured this was the best way to get my rush if I couldn't run and after riding the coaster several times realized what being asymmetrical means and ended up breaking my back during the ride due to the G forces. Have you ever seen an above the knee amputee in a Jewett Brace? Transformers in the flesh."
Pounds wrote it took six months to get over the back injury to where she was finally ready for a fitting for her first running leg.
"The first day I tried it on I tore my Achilles tendon (yes the only one I have)," Pounds wrote. "This landed me back in my wheelchair for several months to recover. I was feeling like maybe the universe was trying to tell me something."
Pounds wrote she kept working on strength training, but kept injuring herself due to falls.
"It was as if I was sliding backward and I could not understand why," Pounds wrote. "I was having a lot of trouble with my prosthetic leg fit and soon developed excruciating pain in my back and stump. I thought it was from an ill-fitting prosthesis. Then I thought it was from a injury. So I went to have an MRI for a supposed torn hamstring tendon on October 23, 2013. Just two weeks shy of my five-year anniversary of being cancer free I found out the reason behind why I had been struggling for over two years. It was back. And with a vengeance."
Due to the return of cancer, Pounds thought she would have to completely change her life again and give up hope for mobility, let alone running.
"The tumor is in my hip and pelvis exactly where I carry my weight on my amputated side," Pounds wrote. "Maybe 'running' a marathon was only a metaphor for my life. I didn't need to physically run one as clearly my life is exactly like one. Or perhaps I could get a hand cycle and complete my 26.2 (miles) that way. In the back of my mind I made a promise to myself that no matter what the playing field, I was going to finish that marathon."
Dream back on
Pounds found a life-saving clinical trial that reduced her tumor 20 percent in four months. Her dream was back on.
"I met an incredible team of prosthetic technicians who have introduced me to an entire world of athletic possibilities, including the charity 50 Legs and Steve Chamberlain, who just donated my state of the art running leg," Pounds wrote. "I only received this leg one month ago. I wasn't even sure if I would feel well enough to use it, let alone learn how to use it and then participate in a race. But I surrendered. I didn't care about the finish line or how long I could run or even if I could run at all. I am here. We are here. As I crossed the starting line in my shiny new blade I had already won. Looking around at the beautiful setting, the wonderful people, the inspiration behind it all I felt so lucky to be a part of this incredible celebration of life."
Pounds had a strategy for the 5K that ended up working.
"I was not ready to run the whole race because I am working on my endurance," Pounds said. "After all, I haven't run in 15 years and running with one little stump on one side takes a lot of work! So our plan was to run for two minutes and recover for three minutes throughout the race. Well once I got to the portion where I could run along the boardwalk on the Jersey shore I could not resist and pushed myself beyond my two-minute mark. I kept going even though I could feel the fatigue and then, crash, I was on the ground. I sprang back up, a little bloodied. Just get up and go. Never give up. So we did. And I started running again, but stayed within my limits for the rest of the race. Funny, I didn't fall anymore. It seems I needed a reminder that I am not in charge, this is not on my time schedule, and I need to embrace the challenge and be patient. I guess that's why I love running so much. There is no finer metaphor for life than the drive, endurance, passion and sheer grit it takes to complete a marathon. A few months ago, when I was first learning to run, I was crippled with fear. Someone told me, 'Girl -- you got a choice. You can either be afraid. Or you can run. You can't do both.' It was in that moment that I began to let go of my fear, surrender to the process and embrace the journey. For now, my cancer is responding to treatment and I am training for my next 5K on Sept 28 in Philadelphia where I hope to run the entire race! Who knows, maybe I will really run a marathon. If not, it really doesn't matter anymore because I've already won."
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @RichardDymond.