The morning of the 21st of December 2010 was supposed to dawn with me crossing the Kenya-Uganda border on a bus headed to Uganda on a one-week sight-seeing road trip. I had never been to Uganda and I was looking forward to bungee jumping, taking a boat up the River Nile, and experiencing the infamous Kampala nightlife, among other things. It was going to be an exciting week! Instead of all this, I woke up groggy on a hospital bed after a 4-hour surgery on my legs.

The previous evening as we went through the security checks to board the bus, the guy behind me dropped a grenade at my feet, which on exploding had shattered my right leg into many pieces just above the ankle, and left my left leg with terrible tissue injury, burns, and grenade shrapnel embedded deep into the muscles. Right after the explosion, I knew I was badly injured and would probably lose my right leg, since the bones were visible, and only a tiny piece of flesh was holding the lower part of the leg together. My last memory before going into surgery was of my doctor saying “Let’s skip radiology, wheel her into the theatre. We’ll try and save this leg.”

KellieFeatureKellie: Finding My Running Feet

Waking up the next morning, I looked down and both legs were there. The left one heavily bandaged  and the right trussed up in some sort of cast that had metal parts sticking out.

An x-ray of my right leg with the metal support on.

When the surgeon came around, my first question to him was “Will I be able to walk?” He said yes, the legs were badly injured, but I would recover in a year or so. “Will I be able to run?” was my second question. ” “I would advise against running, be grateful you will be able to walk,” was his answer. I did not care about running before so I have no idea why his response bothered me so much. Over the next couple of months of surgeries on my right leg and rehabilitation for my left leg, I kept thinking about it.

I hated the trauma of the grenade attack, but I also hated that the terrorists were going to rob me of my ability to run.

January 28th after the metal truss came off

About seven months later when the cast came off and as we studied the x-ray with the surgeon, I once more asked him if I would be able to run. His response; “Knowing how far you have come, you should be grateful that you can walk on crutches. Do not even try to run or you will be back here,” he said, speaking of being back on the operating table.  I couldn’t bear any weight on my right leg, and my left leg still had shrapnel embedded in it that made it painful to walk even a kilometer.

But I then knew I had to run some day.

I stubbornly refused to go for physical therapy and would learn how to walk by myself: taking one step, then reaching back for the crutch when I couldn’t make a second step.

First day back to work in a full cast and crutches

In a month, I could walk to the bathroom at work without crutches. The 50-meter walk took over 20 minutes but I knew it could only get easier with time. Eight months after the accident, I walked home from work with one crutch. The 1km walk took me one and a half hours and left me in tears of pain, but I was getting there. My doctor had told me that as long as I can learn how to walk by myself, he wouldn’t compel me to undergo physiotherapy.  Ten months after the accident, I went on a 6-hour hike up Mt Longonot, and thereafter had to use crutches for about two weeks because my legs became swollen and painful, but I was elated.

If I could hike, then I could run.

Hiking Mt Longonot: A Challenging 1 Day Hike

In January 2012 I attempted my first “run,” which was a 400-meter hobble that left my knees badly swollen. A sports doctor told me that I would need more leg muscles to be able to run, so I joined a Muay Thai class at the gym for the next six months to build leg muscle. This culminated with a 2.95km run, my first Runkeeper run, which I did in 24 minutes (I walked most of the way!). This was on Tuesday the 29th of June 2012, almost one and a half years after the accident. I kept at it, running an average of 2.9km two to three days a week. On September 6th, I did a 6.4km run and I ran all the way! I remember going for my quarterly appointment with the surgeon, and he was surprised at how much muscle my legs had developed over such a short time.  I told him I had been going to the gym for strength training, no mention of running.

On the 28th of October 2012, I crossed the half marathon finish line at the Nairobi Marathon in tears of both excitement and pain. I had finished my first ever half marathon, and for a great cause. The terrorists did not take away my ability to run after all. I did a brief interview with our local news station KTN right after the half marathon, you can watch it here (from:30).

Since then, I have kept running. I cannot train as aggressively as I would wish to because my legs still hurt when I run, but I am glad for the far I run. I started running to prove a point, but today I run because I love it [tweet this]. While running, I can be free to let my mind wander. I can meditate, I can solve work problems, but mostly I just love feeling my legs move underneath me, and my body moving in sync.

My doctor finally found out that I run. He always asks about my next half marathon.

Most people get discouraged from running by the muscle or joint pain they experience, but you will be surprised at the wonderful things our bodies can accomplish when our minds are set on them.