I discovered Fleet Feet Knoxville for the first time at the Run for the Deaf race in 2010. I was at the finish line after my husband Ken finished the race, and we were cheering on the last people. Several ladies wearing white shirts that said “Running Changes Everything” started up the hill towards the finish, and running alongside them was a guy wearing a shirt that said “Coach.” He was running up and down the hill, with each and every one of the runners and walkers, cheering them on and telling them they could do it. I didn’t meet Shahin, Cheryl, or those ladies that day, but I never forgot the first thirty seconds I saw Shahin Hadian in action. It was very moving to see those women who looked like me run up that big hill when at the time I was unable to even walk that distance. A few weeks later Ken was running in the Whitestone 18 miler, and while waiting for him to finish I met Kristen Lewis while she was waiting for her husband David. Kristen told me that she ran too and explained about the training programs at Fleet Feet. I had never heard of such a thing, but I mentioned the group I saw on the big hill at the Run for the Deaf. Kristen said that was their graduation race and they all finished. Everyone who finishes the class finishes the race. She told me they have different classes for different levels of abilities, so I worked up my courage, and at 230 pounds I signed up for my first Fleet Feet training program. I was scared to death, and I never thought that I would be able to run. I just wanted to get in shape enough to be able to keep up with my family.
Right after I signed up I met Cheryl and she fit me for my first pair of Brooks DYAD running shoes. I have a very unusual size: a size 7, double e extra wide, and extremely high arches (so I needed inserts too), plus I had several neuromas on each foot and high blood pressure that caused my feet and ankles to swell. They had to special order my shoes and when I put them on a week later I could not believe it. No Pinching. No squeezing. No extra pain in any form aside from the constant ache I always felt. I could even wiggle my toes. There are very few shoes that I can get my feet into, and I am still in awe that she got it right on the first try. I’ve tried many other shoes but I have not found any that fit as well as that first pair of DYADs.
When I started No Boundaries I could only stand for about an hour at a time before my feet would swell and hurt so badly I would have to put them up until the pain was bearable again. I had to choose every day: Am I going to cook my family a home cooked meal tonight and not wash the dishes? Or am I going to cook my family a quick dinner and so I will have time to load the dishwasher before my feet would give out? The pain had been constant for so many years that I hardly noticed it until I couldn’t stand anymore.
In my first No Boundaries class Cheryl was the coach. I can’t imagine a better coach for a real coach potato like me. I knew nothing about exercising and could barely walk the first quarter of a mile. Cheryl and the whole class still stuck with me. They encouraged me, and when I fell behind they walked back, doubling their distance. The first time I graduated from the class I ran the Run for the Deaf race. I was wearing that white “Running Changes Everything” shirt and Cheryl ran our whole class through the race and came back for me. She stayed with me the whole time. When Ken ran back to encourage me to take longer steps she told him to “Shut up” because she was my coach and I was to take shorter steps. I’m still smiling over that one all these years later! I was the last one from our class to cross the finish line but I was not alone. Shahin met me on that hill and encouraged me, pushed me, told me “You can do this, one last push! You are at the finish line! You can do this!” And I did it! I crossed the finish line. I did not faint, even though I was pretty sure I was going to. I went the whole three point one miles. Running has now changed everything in my life. I took Cheryl’s No Boundaries class eight times, and I crossed the finish line seven times with a coach beside me every single time. I have run many other 5K races but the first one is the one I remember the most.
One Thursday after class everyone was stretching and rolling out with the foam rollers. I found myself looking at a foot roller and trying to figure out how it worked. Shahin showed me how to use it on my foot and explained that this thing would help relax my cramped muscles. It hurt really badly, but he said it would help so we worked on both feet. Later that night I was watching TV and I could feel that something was off. It took me a while to realize that for the first time in about eight years my feet did not hurt at all. Not that they were at a bearable pain level which had been the goal for the last three years, but they did not hurt at all. Before that day, my foot pain had been constant. When I would get up in the morning before my feet hit the floor they would hurt. Even sitting with my feet up, they would still hurt. They had hurt at all times for so long that I could not believe that they did not hurt. I was afraid to move. I was afraid to wiggle my toes. I just sat there looking at my feet and thinking about Shahin. I was not in his class but of course he knew me as I had been coming to his store for a class for a couple of years. He has a ton of people in the store on Thursday nights but he took the time, maybe three minutes per foot to show me how to roll my feet, and because of it I was sitting there for the first time in years with no foot pain at all. That small act changed my life forever, and I will forever be grateful to Shahin. I never would have done it myself because it hurt! I am a little bit irritated that I have spent several hundreds of dollars on podiatrists shots for the neuromas and 300 dollar inserts and no doctor has ever helped me anywhere near as much as Cheryl and Shahin.
After I learned how to roll out my feet I was able to do more than just walk and trying to run 20 seconds every few minutes. Soon I was even doing extra workouts with my new training buddy, Corry Kiffer, who I met in the program. Corry and I have become great friends since then, and that summer she helped me get in extra exercise by going on one and two mile walks with me several times a week outside of class. I eventually moved up to the No Boundaries II training program, and with the support of Corry, her sister Christy, and my coaches, my speed and endurance improved dramatically.
In addition to Corry and Christy, I have met many new people and made great friends through the training programs. I was at Fleet Feet on a Thursday night open run and Christy was not there, so one of the other coaches Connie Quimbey and her friend Eva Broadaway Freer invited me to run with them and their small group. I ran five miles that night and could hardly keep up at all. I was positive they were regretting ever having asked me along, but they kept inviting me to run, and I kept improving.
I ran with Eva and Connie all Summer and Fall and this past Winter on January 25, 2015 I stood in New Orleans Marathon and Half Marathon Gate 15 with Ann, Doreen, Dana, Eva, Jackie and me, Pam Moore 4 foot 11 inches tall 165 pounds of jello shaking so hard I could hardly stand. As we moved up closer and closer to the starting line it was like the whole race was just for me. Everyone was gathered around me encouraging me congratulating me on getting there and assuring me it was just another long run. I was really worried I would lose Eva in all the people but she said she would stay with me and she did. I was so nervous even saying I was running a half marathon. Eva suggested we run the race by breaking it up into individual segments and we celebrated each one. I was no longer nervous by the time we finished our first 5K. I started to look around and enjoy the race. Then we high fived our 10 K and so on. We passed the faster people coming back in the other direction and Shahin ran across the grassy median in the middle of his own race to high five us and encourage me and to tell me I could do this! I was ready! There were thousands of people there and he was on another street and running his own race and still he took the time to look for us and to do this. I miscalculated and did not bring enough nutrition or endurance tablets for the race, but thankfully Eva had brought enough for both of us and made sure I stayed on track. We met some interesting people and talked to everyone around us and we had a really enjoyable race. We ran a minute and walked a minute for about eleven miles before I had to slow down. We changed our intervals to running about a minute walking a minute and a half and sometime longer. Looking at the city and talking to the people around us helped make the distance pass in a more pleasant way. Coming upon the split at the end for the marathoners and the half marathoners was very exciting as we could see people yelling at us and waving to us and cheering! We had done it! We were across the finish line! I had done it. I had just run a half Marathon. Now I am sitting here getting my knees, ankles, and feet iced while my daughter takes pictures of me grinning like a fool and am I thinking I look ridiculous? Nope. I’m thinking “To think I just wanted to be able to cook a decent dinner and wash the dishes in the same day and do some activities with my family and not be left behind. I don’t think I will ever be left behind again.” The fear is still there. But I’m working on it. And Shahin says he can teach me how to swim and ride a bike. It might take me awhile but I’ve got time. Smiling and loving you all.
Fleet Feet’s Number One Cheerleader,