When I was 15, I was diagnosed with epilepsy, a neurological disorder in which nerve cell activity in the brain is disturbed and causes seizures.
No doctor can pinpoint the cause of my condition or cure it. My Salvadoran family thought they could pray it away. However, I've come to treat it in two ways: I take my medication (Depakote and Topamax) and I practice self-care to prevent grand mal seizures. These seizures are the kind that cause me to lose control, and they happen without warning. I blackout, my body shakes, I bite my tongue, and my eyes roll around like a set of dice behind my eyelids.
The worst part is that afterward, I wake up confused, embarrassed and with a severe headache. Epilepsy is more common than people think, but many are do not know enough about this condition because there is not enough awareness about it.
In my 20s and 30s I was frustrated—I didn’t want to be an epileptic, I mean, who would? I dealt with my diagnosis by partying and drinking heavily. I knew this was detrimental to my health, but at the time I did not care. I wanted to have fun and be “normal” like everybody else. Looking back at my reckless behavior, I see that drinking was a temporary fix to help numb the pain.
Fast forward to March 2014, when I had a seizure at work. My coworkers panicked—they’d never seen me like this—and rushed me to the emergency room. As a result of the visit, my doctor told me I had to lose weight because my medication was not metabolizing properly. The scale read: 240 pounds. I was offended by the doctor’s orders because I was ordinarily never self-conscious about my weight. At the same time my unhealthy food choices and inactive lifestyle caught up with me because I never had associated weight gain with seizures. At any rate, it took me four months to get my 31-year-old booty in gear!
That Time I Had a Seizure on The Street
I started slowly with a powerwalk in my neighborhood with my son snuggled in his stroller. It took an hour to knock out one mile when suddenly I had a seizure in the middle of the street. Naturally, my family was concerned, but I was okay, and I was back at it the following week. I found Zumba classes on YouTube and joined the YMCA. I felt inspired to document my journey on Instagram but a lot of people mocked me.
One Sunday while having lunch, I saw a group of students who’d finished the 2015 LA Marathon. Seeing them was the motivation I needed to sign up for that race. The LA marathon happened on Valentine’s Day 2016, which was wonderful because I felt loved. Throughout the race, friends, and family, even some from El Salvador, checked in via text. I finished my first marathon in 10 hours, and my three children placed the medal around my neck.
Last year, I ran four races: The LA Marathon (in 6 hours), the OC Marathon (in 7 hours) and the Chicago Marathon (in 8 hours) I was the last person to complete the OC, but I finished with a huge sense of pride. I ran 26 miles in a thunderstorm. That was no easy feat! I didn’t complete the 50k Ultra Marathon, but I did take home a 25k medal.
Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop
People told me to drop out because I wasn’t good enough, I wasn't prepared, and because I hadn't finished a race in four hours. Going into the Ultra Marathon, I knew it would be tough to run 32 miles up a mountain in the heat, but I wanted to challenge myself. My 25k medal represents courage and resilience. It’s okay to challenge yourself to be fast, but it’s also okay to enjoy the journey. My children are proud of how far I have come, and that is better than any medal or status. The toughest part is coping with the side effects of my medications, which make me tired, nauseous, and dizzy.
I run marathons in my hoops with my Salvadoran flag. I love to represent my country everywhere I go. El Salvador is beautiful; our people are humble and hardworking. My country is small, but we dream big. My running crew is a bunch of fierce Latinas of all shapes and sizes, and we balance homeschool, family, and marathons with a determined smile.
My goal is to keep running and keep pushing myself, and of course, to stay healthy and strong. This body has shown up for me in amazing ways in the last three years, and it’s not perfect, but it’s mine—excess skin, cellulite, stretch marks, scars, and all. I’ve learned to celebrate and love myself. I run because there might be a 15-year-old girl with epilepsy who’s following me on Instagram and watching my journey.
This year, I’ll participate in the LA Marathon—the first race I ran in 2016—as a Coach/Ambassador for Student Run LA. And I’m proud to represent Christy Turlington’s Every Mother Counts in the Chicago Marathon in October. Every Mother Counts uses running and fitness events to raise funds and awareness and improve access to safe maternity care. Before the Chicago marathon, I'll conquer one of my biggest fears—swimming in the ocean. On September 16, I’ll compete in my first Nautica Malibu Triathlon. It’s time to deal with those scary blue waters the only way that I know how - head on.
Running has given me the gift of good health. I lost 60 pounds, and I haven’t had a seizure in 20 months! People who doubt me have said that I’m too sick, too slow, too loud, but none of that matters. I’ll run as far and as fast as this beautiful, determined, strong body will take me.