Her license plate frame says “I’d rather be running,” but for eight years, doctors told Kimberly McCann not to.
McCann – now the Bethel High School girls cross country coach and guidance counselor – had run competitively at West Valley High School in Yakima, and for recreation since then. One morning in 2003, she woke up with a numb left leg and intense back pain.
“My doctors said, ‘Your running days are over,’ ” she said. “But I wasn’t ready to give up. When something’s part of your personality, it’s hard to close that door.
“Runners tend to run through pain. You just have to.”
Pain remained a part of McCann’s life until January 2011, when she finally found relief after seeing Dan Swinscoe, of Peak Sports and Spine Physical Therapy in Issaquah. After about three months, McCann was running again and never looked back.
“It was tangible evidence that I could get better,” McCann said.
Just 28 at the time of the first injury, she ignored the pain as long as she could but eventually conceded to chiropractic therapy. After five months of diligent therapy produced no relief, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) revealed a herniated (bulging) disk in her back.
In June 2004, she decided to have a microdiscectomy, a surgery to shave off the bulging part of the disk.
McCann said the recovery process was difficult.
“It feels weird being 28 and having to ask for help with the laundry,” said McCann, whom doctors told could not pick up her 2-year-old son, Cameron, while she recovered. “It seems minor, but it’s not.”
Recurring symptoms saw McCann back on the operating table three years later, but this time there were complications. The outer sheathing of the sciatic nerve had been severed, exposing the nerve endings.
McCann’s husband, Lonnie, was warned at the time that McCann could be left with a permanent limp or no feeling at all in that leg. “For three days we didn’t know what was going to happen.”
Eventually, McCann was able to reach a manageable level of pain. The couple bought an elliptical trainer in the hopes that McCann could exercise, but it couldn’t replace running.
Complicating matters was that McCann’s daughter, Jordan, began running about the same time as McCann’s first injury.
“It was a passion and a love for both of us, and we couldn’t share it,” said McCann, whose daughter was too young to run when McCann was healthy. “That was always sad for me.”
In 2010, all it took was a bear hug from a friend, and the pain returned, even worse than before.
“She would wake up, screaming, grabbing my arm, ‘I can’t move! Don’t touch me!’ ” Lonnie McCann said. “It was the most helpless I’ve ever been.”
When they went back to the doctor’s office, they found even more bulging in McCann’s spine.
“My quality of life from Halloween to Christmas was unacceptable,” McCann said.
She wanted to avoid another surgery.
“I was open to anything at that point,” she said.
Through friends and family, McCann connected with Swinscoe, who pinpointed the problem.
“The pain was because her movement was dysfunctional, not because of one tissue or the other,” said Swinscoe, who earned his master’s in physical therapy from the University of Puget Sound.
He could tell McCann was frustrated but also highly motivated.
“There was never a doubt she was going to work hard, she just needed to be pointed in the right direction,” Swinscoe said.
McCann began a therapy regimen designed to reteach her body how to move properly. After only a few sessions, McCann was able to go from bending over and barely touching her thighs to nearly touching her toes.
Swinscoe said strengthening muscles is a mistake many people with back pain make.
“People in back pain think they’re weak, and need to get stronger,” Swinscoe said. “They need to find someone who will talk about motor control rather than just strength.”
For McCann, the progress was a dream come true after eight years of chronic pain.
“Running has gotten me through a lot of good times and a lot of tough times,” McCann said. “I look forward to passing on this passion to the next generation of runners.”
She started coaching junior high cross country five years ago, and won two girls championships at Cougar Mountain Junior High in Graham in 2004 and 2005.
She hopes to continue her success at Bethel, where she started coaching this year and is running along with her athletes.
The Braves are one of many schools entered in this weekend’s Westside Classic – the Class 4A West Central/Southwest District championships at American Lake Golf Course in Lakewood.
McCann, her husband and two children now share her love for running. This past summer, McCann placed third in the 12-kilometer Sound to Narrows race.
McCann has even been able to compete with her daughter. The whole family ran together in the “Run for the Sun” in Spokane.
“The only female to beat my wife,” Lonnie said, “was my daughter.”
“I’m OK with that,” McCann said, with a smile. “For now.”Leah Traxel: 253-597-8680