Still standing (and running!)

Words by Val Whistler

When surgeons said she’d never walk again without a stick, Val Whistler decided to run. So on 13 March, Val – part of our Philanthropy team – is doing the Inverness Half Marathon to raise funds for the Foundation. Yes – that sounds like Val!

You can’t miss Val in a gathering – she’s the sparkly one making people laugh and inspiring them with her excitement. Alongside that though, is the calm efficiency and determination that will take her to the start line in Inverness. This is her extraordinary story:

Valerie Whistler
Valerie Whistler

Hello,

Last year I had an epic plan to get 20 people to run/walk the upcoming Inverness Half Marathon on Sunday 13 March, to raise money for the Findhorn Foundation.

Quite a few people volunteered and started with the beginner running plans I had created. However, then came several outbreaks of Covid and one by one, my runners dropped out for a variety of reasons but mostly through illness that meant they couldn’t train.

Well, there is one runner still standing … Me!

Let me tell you about me and why I’m running for the Foundation on 13 March, no matter what!

Three years ago I had a very serious accident. I broke my back. Completely exploded my spine L1-L5.

It was a horse-riding accident or perhaps it would be more accurate to say a horse-falling accident! I had been a horse rider all my life and was very experienced but it just wasn’t my day. I fell, at speed, from a very large horse, landing on the frozen October ground.

Val leading horse

A life-changing injury

I was taken to the John Radcliffe Trauma Hospital in Oxford where, after many agonising hours of tests, two incredibly talented spinal surgeons got out of bed in the middle of the night and took eight hours to piece together what was left of the bottom of my spine.

I woke in a hospital bed, in a great deal of pain, relieved to be in one piece but unable to move my left leg! I could wiggle my toes but the leg refused to respond. I also realised pretty quickly that all the feeling had gone from my knee down to my toes – it was dead!

The surgeons came to see me, to explain everything, to tell me I was very lucky, to tell me that in all probability I would never walk unaided again. I would need a cane or a frame or a stick to help me walk and they were planning to transfer me to Stoke Mandeville Hospital to help me come to terms living with a life-changing injury.

Val in snow
Val, aiming for Ironman in Canada

I was baffled!

I couldn’t comprehend what they were saying. I explained (as if I were talking to a couple of five-year-old children) that I had entered Ironman Canada for the following July!

I’d paid to enter, I’d booked flights to Canada, I had to train for such a long distance race! I only had eight months to get in shape to swim the 1.2 miles, cycle the 56 miles and run the 13.1 miles needed to finish. I HAD to get better!

Now it was their turn to look baffled. Especially when I said to them, ‘Well, nobody ever got better lying in bed feeling sorry for themselves did they?’

The physio turned up next, tested my legs and took a long thoughtful breath. He told me my problem was neurological, that my brain wasn’t talking to the muscles or nerves in my left leg and that we needed to retrain my brain. So we began.

 

Wearing a fixed, rigid body cast from neck to groin, to help keep all the metal in my back in the right place, I’d shuffle along the corridor with a walking frame, again and again and again. Up two stairs, down two stairs, over and over and over. Leg exercises morning, noon and night.

But if the physio told me to do it twice, I did it 20 times. I WANTED to get better, and slowly, very slowly, I did. I walked (hobbled) miles everyday on my crutches, I tried hydrotherapy and if I thought any other treatment would help, I gave it a go.

I began to introduce swimming, cycling on a static bike and a stair climber into my daily routine.

After eight months of the hardest work I’ve ever done, I was standing on the starting line of Ironman Canada ready to swim, cycle and …WALK! Yes, walk. The surgeons wouldn’t allow me to run – I had to wait the minimum of a year before I was allowed to start the slow process of building up my running fitness again, due to the impact running has on the spine.

 

Inverness is it

After exactly one year I started running again and planned that my first race would be the Bath Half Marathon. But Covid came along and all events, races and fun were cancelled.

So, I’m still waiting to run the first race since my accident – and the Inverness Half Marathon will be it!

For the record, I still live with excruciating pain in the long nerve all the way across the front of my left thigh and I have never regained feeling in the lower half of my left leg – so if you want to kick me, that’s the place as I won’t feel it!

My left leg gets tired far more quickly than my right and on some days (if you look very carefully you can see) I walk with a bit of a limp and drag my foot. Oh and I trip over a lot! However, I consider myself pretty lucky. I can walk, I can run, I can race!

So, if you feel inclined, please sponsor my Inverness Half Marathon run to raise much-needed funds for the Findhorn Foundation. The Foundation’s charitable purpose is to help people transform themselves and the world through education, and I believe wholeheartedly in this mission.

You can sponsor me by going to my Just Giving account.

Please donate as generously as you are able, to help me, to help the Findhorn Foundation, to help others!

Good luck Val, you’re an inspiration!

Subscribe to our newsletter
Sign up