It was an opportunity to say, ‘Here is a chick with one leg; she’s on crutches. There are no excuses. If I can do it, you can do it. —Sabrina Garman
Sabrina Garman worried that losing her leg meant losing a lifestyle she loved.
“I’ve played sports since I was 5,” said the 33-year-old Ohio woman. “I got into running because of softball. It was cathartic; it releases all of your stress. I could just get lost in my running.”
But cancer and the subsequent treatments proved to be too much for her body, and she was forced to make a decision she’d avoided for years after being diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in her tibia in June 2007.
“There was talk about losing my leg through the whole thing,” said Garman. “There was the risk of infection, and really in the beginning, there were two options: 'We can hit you with a bunch of chemo, or we can amputate your leg.' I said, ‘No, I want my leg. I’m an athlete.’”
So she endured the most intense chemotherapy possible, suffered through the tumor’s removal and the insertion of metal rods, and then navigated eight months of radiation treatment.
“They had to remove the tumor, which hollowed out my entire tibia and left me bedridden for six months,” she said. She endured the pain so she could reclaim her life.
Then in February 2012 she noticed her leg was bright-red.
“It was the worst pain I’d ever felt,” she said. “I went to the hospital and they put me on antibiotics.”
The following July, her biopsy site ruptured, oozing massive amounts of yellowish fluid.
“They said my leg was dying, and that fluid was all the fat cells and muscle dying,” she said. “They told me I had three hours to make a decision. I could spend two years on antibiotics straight and still have an 80 percent chance of losing my leg, and have the possibility of dying, or lose the leg now and begin the healing process.”
Garman said the decision was excruciating.
“It was difficult,” she said. “I didn’t want to lose it the first time. I needed other people to tell me, ‘This is what you need to do.’ I knew how different my life would be if I didn’t have my leg. I was afraid I would just be sedentary.”
It was enduring chemo and radiation that reminded her just how tough she was.
“I’d fought so hard, all those years before, that I was definitely not going to let this trip me up,” she said. “No matter what I had to do, I was going to get my life back.”
Three weeks after losing her leg, Garman was back at work. Five months after the amputation, she was bowling. When a friend approached her about running the Color Run in Columbus, Ohio, last month, she knew it was another opportunity to prove losing her leg didn’t end the life she’d loved.
Still, she had concerns about running with thousands of people.
“I was worried,” Garman said. “It’s still very painful. I have an issue that if I sweat too much, my leg will fall off.” She giggles as she contemplates what it would have been like to tell crowded runners, “Excuse me, I just have to pick up my leg.”
“You have to have fun,” she said. “That’s what makes it better.”
The potential for fun outweighed her concerns. She said the decision to participate was easier because of the type of event the Color Run is. About 60 percent of the participants have never run a 5,000-meter race before, according to Jessica Nixon, public relations representative for the Color Run.
It is an event that allows runners who may be intimidated by timed races to leave their watches at home and enjoy a morning of exercise and socializing with family and friends, Nixon said.
Saturday, the Color Run comes to Utah with a 5k in downtown Salt Lake City. Since it launched in January 2012, the “Happiest 5k on the Planet” has grown from 50 events and 600,000 participants to 100 events and more than a million participants.
For Garman, it was a chance to celebrate her new life.
“I knew it wasn’t a race,” she said. “I knew people were taking their time because everyone wants to play in the color zones. And I knew I wouldn’t beat myself up if I took forever to finish. I didn’t have to be so concerned that it was a timed thing and what I might look like to other people.”
It was simply a celebration of her victory over cancer, chronic pain and the loss of her leg.
“It gave me a chance to celebrate with my mom and dad and my best friend,” Garman said. “It was an opportunity to say, ‘Here is a chick with one leg; she’s on crutches. There are no excuses. If I can do it, you can do it.’” She has learned since losing her leg that her life doesn’t have to be devoid of athletics, as she had feared.
“I will definitely do more 5Ks,” she said, adding that she’s already trying to figure out how to ride a bike with her prosthetic. “I don’t think there is anything I can’t do. It’s just going to take me longer, and I have to be more creative.”