When Lonnie Conley got into a motorcycle accident, she didn't panic. She sat down, held her barely there foot in her lap and waited for the ambulance.
“It's my foot,” she told the paramedics. “And it's not attached.”
It was, though, technically. Her Achilles tendon and a flap of skin held on. But the bone above Conley's ankle snapped, and her left foot dangled, limp, pulling away from her leg.
The accident happened in the summer of 2007. She was riding in a parking lot, learning how to handle her new bike, when she came too close to a van. The motorcycle pinched her foot to the parked vehicle, then continued to move forward, scraping her foot against the van's back end.
“It was almost like I was having an out-of-body experience,” Conley, now 57, said. “I knew, looking at it, that it wasn't good, but I sensed I was going to be OK.”
Doctors performed five surgeries on her leg over the next three weeks. Eight months later she could put weight on the foot. It was another four months before she could walk comfortably. And then, two years ago, she took up running. Last year, she finished her first race, the Omaha Corporate Cup, a 10K.
“Even if I have to walk, all I want to do is finish,” she told herself.
“When I crossed the finish line, I just started bawling,” Conley said. “I was like, 'Wow, I actually did it.' I accomplished something I didn't think I would ever be able to do.”
She wasn't much of a runner before the accident — she played tennis. But there's a rod in her leg now, and quick, lateral movements are difficult. Sometimes it feels stiff, she said, like a “sock is on too tight and I want to take it off.” But she can stand, walk and run without help. She can move.
Physical therapy helped.
“They always encouraged me and never let me doubt myself,” Conley said. “They pushed me to keep going.”
During physical therapy, she met Stacey Centarri, who taught Pilates classes to patients. She continues to take Pilates with Centarri at the YMCA in downtown Omaha and also joined the gym's running group.
Centarri said Conley was determined to succeed through therapy.
“They put her through a lot, and she never gave up because she wanted to be better. She wanted to be better than she was before,” she said.
Conley, who lives in Omaha, finished her first half marathon in May in Fargo, N.D. She got a tattoo on her shoulder a few months later to mark the achievement. It says, “Dream big. Success is a journey.”
Her journey will continue in January when she runs the Disneyland Half Marathon.
“When you think about all the things that could have been, I am really, very lucky,” she said.
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