Ready for Chuckanut: Bellingham runner finds stride after severe injuries

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJuly 10, 2014 

0713 Chuckanut FootRace

April Eaton trains for the Chuckanut Foot Race by running two laps around Lake Padden on Thursday, July 10, 2014, in Bellingham.

NICK GONZALES — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

April Eaton's inability to run wasn't her biggest concern. Walking and standing were considered greater challenges at the time.

Built up scar tissue, a cyst pressuring her Achilles tendon and a shortened calf muscle in her right leg made menial tasks excruciatingly painful, she said. Surgery was a foregone conclusion if she ever hoped to walk pain-free again.

"I literally could not go to two stores in the same day. It would lay me up for two to three days afterward," Eaton, 51, said in a phone interview. "I had to go to work, but I was feeling pretty pessimistic and defeated about it."

She suffered for the better part of three years until having surgery in July of 2011, enduring six months of physical therapy afterward before returning to something resembling normalcy.

Long gone are those difficult days, Eaton now preparing to run in the 48th annual Chuckanut Foot Race on Saturday, July 12. The race begins at 9 a.m. at Marine Park in Fairhaven, with day-of registration beginning at 7:30 a.m for the seven-mile race. Day-of registration costs $35.

For more information, including course map and post-race festivities, go to http://www.gbrc.net/chuckanut_footrace.php.

It wasn't until a year ago that Eaton truly embraced her return to running. Admittedly, the injuries had taken a toll on her body, pushing her toward a fresh start at Carol Frazey's Fit School Inc.

She was apprehensive at first, conscious of her "lack of fitness" and always mindful of her previous injuries resurfacing.

"I felt like a fish out of water," said Eaton of the first few weeks returning to running. "I hadn't run in so long. Everybody was younger and faster and fitter. I just had to put that out of my brain and remember that my goal was to get my (butt) off the couch."

Eaton's fears went away quickly. Her self-consciousness did, too, with her group of fellow runners providing a support system she desperately needed at the time. Amongst the group was Pam Helberg, 51, whom like Eaton was returning from a series of injuries that kept her from running for a year.

And like Eaton, Helberg's injuries puzzled doctors, leaving her to wonder why pain surfaced in her lower body and abdomen without cause.

"It was sort of my whole lower body. ... I was having really bad calf pain and heal pain, and abdominal pain," she said in a phone interview.

Physical therapy, acupuncture, massage - she sought any possible treatment. In time the pain went away and she was able to return, pairing with Eaton now to run the Chuckanut Foot Race this weekend.

"It's nice to have somebody as motivated as I am and as dedicated," Helberg said.

For Eaton, running the Chuckanut Foot Race is a checking-off of sorts for something that once caught her interest several years ago. After vacationing in Bellingham while living in California, she would see flyers for the race at local running shops, always having a quick laugh over what she thought was "kind of a funny word."

And while the race isn't the longest she's run since her return - she ran a half marathon in Vancouver, B.C. in May - it is a barometer for how far she's come in a year.

"Seven miles on trails at that time was a little more than I could do," said Eaton, knowing now that at her own pace, that won't be a problem at all.

Reach Alex Bigelow at alex.bigelow@bellinghamherald.com or call 360-715-2238. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for other Whatcom County sports updates.

CHUCKANUT FOOT RACE

When: 9 a.m., Saturday, July 12

Where: Starts in Marine Park in Fairhaven

Registration: Day-of registration starts at 7:30 a.m., and costs $35

For more information, including course map and post-race festivities, go to http://www.gbrc.net/chuckanut_footrace.php

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