Why I Run: Ursula Gorham Oscilowski

Ursula, post-race, with her precious kids.

I generally tell people I run because it clears my head. While true, that’s not the whole story: I also run as a quiet tribute to two people who have had an enormous impact on my life.

The first person is Dr. Rick Montz, an amazing gyn-oncologist who treated me when I was diagnosed with a very slow growing form of ovarian cancer. At my first follow-up, when I was whining about the insanity of early menopause, he simply said, “You will probably never go back to feeling like you used to. Your body has been through a lot, and you have to accept that. It may take time but you will find a new ‘normal.’” During visits over the next couple of years, I learned about Dr. Montz’s love of running and how it helped him get away from the incredible stresses that he faced at work. In November 2002, I was shocked to learn Dr. Montz had died of a heart attack while out for an evening run.

Two years later, I gave birth to boy-girl twins at 29 weeks, under chaotic circumstances. Our daughter was stillborn. We had learned a few weeks before that she had passed but there are no words to describe the experience of saying goodbye to the daughter I never really had the chance to know while, at the same time, welcoming a tiny son, who was fighting to stay in this world. I am happy to say we won that fight, and our son is now a healthy and happy 8-year-old. During that time, I struggled with a number of problems related to my previous surgeries, ranging from scar tissue to pelvic congestion. I dealt with chronic pain on a daily basis and, as anyone who has been in the situation can attest, the emotional toll it takes is gut-wrenching. Eventually, I opted to have a hysterectomy. Six weeks post-surgery, I jumped (okay, hobbled) onto the treadmill and began what has been one of the most remarkable journeys of my life.

I am not a speedy runner. My unproven theory, with absolutely no supporting evidence, is that my body is simply devoid of fast-twitch fibers. But, over the past two years, I have used running to challenge myself and to chip away at the insecurity (and, at times, self-loathing), that I felt while living with chronic pain. Recently, I ran a 5K in just over 30 minutes, something that I have never. ever. done. I have completed two half-marathons, and I am currently eyeing a fall marathon. Ultimately, running has allowed me to come to terms with my body in a profound way: After years of focusing on what my body couldn’t do, I am continually amazed at what it can do when I give it the chance.

When I run, I often think about what Dr. Montz said about accepting the body I have now. I wish I could tell him how I have reached a level of acceptance I didn’t think possible that day in his office, when all I could think about was everything that had been taken from me. I think it would have made him happy to know that running has become my outlet and, depending on the day, the only thing that keeps me sane.

But, more than anything when I start faltering during a run, I think of my daughter. I never once had the chance to see her run, yet somehow when I’m running, I feel closer to her than ever.


14 responses to “Why I Run: Ursula Gorham Oscilowski

  1. Ursula, I was moved by your story. I met Dr Rick Monz in 1996 when I was interviewing for ob-gyn residency programs and I was struck by his sense of humor and his untraditional attitude (at that time he was wearing a ponytail and I think he had an earring). I am now a general ob-gyn and a mother of three and the worst part of my job is when someone loses a pregnancy. Like you, I am a slow runner, but I’ve decided that my goal is to finish! I am hoping to run my first marathon in Nov 2013.

  2. Oh my goodness, an afternoon cry. I’m so sorry for the loss of your daughter and friend. I can’t imagine that pain. We do have something in common – I, too, am devoid of fast-twitch fibers. 🙂

  3. Ursula… you just rocked my socks off. Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us! I too am considering a full marathon this fall… we can do it!! Good luck! 😉

  4. Thank you for your story. It is so inspiring to me that, faced with adversity, your choose to live a life filled with health and gratitude. Blessings and happy running to you!

  5. After the birth of my 3rd child, my girl parts began failing me. After living in constant pain and having “hemorrhage like” periods that lasted monthly, I finally had a (partial) hysterectomy this past May, 4 days after I ran my first full marathon. Sadly I am still in the recovery process, so I have been benched from running until further notice. On one other note, my eldest child (son) passed away 14 yrs ago. He was 7 months old. When I am out running, I always feel close to him. My other children (6, 4) have been bitten by the running bug as well. 🙂 Happy Running to you.

  6. I, too, have experienced loss and I felt so betrayed by a body that was supposed to nurture and protect and did not. Running reminds me of the things my body actually CAN do and I have learned peace through the daily paces. Whenever I’m in turmoil, I run. Thank you for sharing your heart wrenching and truly touching story.

  7. Go Ursula! I, too experienced a loss and felt that my body had failed me and my son (born at 25 weeks–too early to survive). Running is so physical and so affirming. I think motherhood, in general begins in such a physical way–pregnancy changes our bodies in ways we can’t predict or control. I feel reconnected to my body when I run, and somehow, that transfers to feeling stronger as a mother, too. Thank you for sharing your story!

  8. I got goosebumps reading your story, Ursula. I love the outlook of focusing on what your body CAN do, not what it cannot…That is very inspirational. Thank you for putting your story down for us to read.

  9. Thank you so much for sharing you story, Ursula! I completely understand you statement “After years of focusing on what my body couldn’t do, I am continually amazed at what it can do when I give it the chance.” I am right there with you, Mother Runner! My body has let me down more times than I care to remember but love having to it do what I *want* it to do! As lonely as the cancer journey can be, it is comforting to know that I have other Survivors like you along the ride with me.

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