Earlier this year, Will Garner, 9, a student at Braelinn Elementary School with cerebral palsy, had to undergo major hip and foot reconstruction surgery. The recovery was long, nearly six months, and painful. Will’s physical therapists needed to set goals for him, both short ones to get him through each day’s therapy sessions, and a long one to work towards. The long term goal would show Will, and his family, just how far he had come in a short period of time. On Nov. 6, Will would walk the Strong Legs Run in Atlanta, a 2K race, in his walker.
“It was tough,” Will’s mother Holly said. “Especially the first half of the race because it was uphill.”
Will’s team, Iron Will, which consisted of his family and physical therapist among others, knew that he could make it through the race though because of everything he had endured since his surgery on Mar. 1. In addition to resetting his hips and feet, which had pulled out over time, Will also had his leg muscles lengthened, which required numerous small cuts. After the surgery, Will was home for a month and unable to put any kind of weight on his legs during that time. Once April rolled around, he went to Scottish Rite for a month of inpatient rehabilitation.
“He had to learn to bear weight again and was basically starting back at square one,” Holly said. “There was a lot of screaming that first day.”
But Will got stronger with the help of a lot of different exercises.
“I did things on an exercise ball, rode a bicycle and activities in the gym,” Will said. There was also a lot of time on a treadmill, sometimes as much as 25-30 minutes. The staff did a good job of keeping Will motivated, pulling out some video games after a hard day’s work or taking him down to The Zone, a place in the hospital that featured different activities, music, movies and video games.
The Strong Legs Run started at Turner Field, went up the hill towards the Torch and then back down to the stadium. Will got to start first and once the starter pistol went off, he started going very fast.
“When I got tired, I just kept going,” Will said, adding that when he saw the finish line he felt happy. “I said ‘Mommy, I did it.’”
The Strong Legs Run is a fundraiser for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Team Iron Will raised $2,005, good enough for fifth place. The money raised goes to offset costs for families unable to pay for care.
After the race, like many champions, Will said he wanted to go to Disney World. The family went to The Varsity instead. Back at school the next week, Will was able to show his friends and teachers his race number and a blue ribbon.
“They said, ‘Wow, that’s really good,’” Will said.
He plans on making the Strong Legs Run an annual event and thinks there may be even more events in his future. After all, he’s come a long way already. Why stop now?