Getting Her Stride Back After Cancer

road cyclistBy Kim O’Brien Root, Freelance Writer

Five years ago, Mary Anne Williams was diagnosed with breast cancer.

After completing treatment, the Chester resident, now 53, started running to help strengthen her body and relieve stress. Before long, she was an avid runner, and began training for the first of dozens of races she would take part in over the years, including several marathons.

It wasn’t long before Mary Anne realized that with running, injuries were inevitable. A hip injury from running on the beach in 2010 led her to Tidewater Physical Therapy’s Colonial Heights clinic and to physical therapist Matt Schultheis.

Schultheis, a runner himself, helped get Mary Anne back in shape, giving her exercises to strengthen her body and to especially give her strong legs and strong glutes – especially important for a runner.

“He knows exactly where I’m coming from, what I’m dealing with,” says Mary Anne. “He knows I want to get back out there as soon as I can.”

Getting back out there, unfortunately, has meant other injuries for Mary Anne. After completing her initial therapy, she’s returned to Tidewater twice more for rehabilitation after injuries – the second time after having her hamstring surgically reattached, and more recerace finish linently, for a tendon tear in her ankle.

But each time she returns, Mary Anne says she ends up in better shape for her efforts.

“It seems like each time I get injured and do therapy, I come back stronger,” she says.

To date, Mary Anne, who also bikes, has completed some 30 to 40 races, from 5Ks and 10Ks to half and full marathons. Her time running in Virginia Beach’s Shamrock Marathon in 2011qualified her to participate in the Boston Marathon last year, which she said was an amazing experience.

But after her hamstring injury in August 2012, her return to Tidewater Physical Therapy helped her achieve one of the items on her bucket list. She was able to qualify for the 2013 Duathlon World Age Group Championship, a biking-running event.

Mary Anne was one of more than 300 members of Team U.S.A. to participate in the Duathlon, which took place in August in Ottawa, Canada, and included a 10K run, a 40K bike ride and a 5K run.

She finished 11th in the 50-55 age group.

Her recent ankle injury has her back working with Schultheis, who applauds Mary Anne’s motivation and her willingness to do exercises outside the clinic as well as in therapy sessions.

“A lot of times, one of the unspoken things [in physical therapy] is how much has to be done outside the clinic,” Schultheis says. “Anything I give her to work on, she’s going to follow through on.”

That means a lot of time in the pool lately for Mary Anne, who spends five to six days a week at her gym. Undaunted by her latest injury, she says she hopes to one day again qualify for the Boston Marathon. She passed her five-year breast cancer survival mark in March.

Mary Anne says she wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Tidewater Physical Therapy to others, in large part because of the compassionate, knowledgeable approach the therapists all have.

“I keep telling him I don’t want to see him anymore,” she jokes of Schultheis. “But there’s no question, if something happens, I’ll go back.”