The Boston Marathon might have been delayed due to COVID-19, but neither that nor living with cystic fibrosis is going to stop Nauset High graduate Anabelle Parada-Poignand from tackling the 26.2-mile course in September, even if running isn’t her favorite activity.
Parada-Poignand’s decision to take on one of the country’s most popular marathons came during a visit with her doctor at Boston Children’s Hospital, Dr. Ahmet Uluer, director of the Adult Cystic Fibrosis Program and the Weitzman Family Bridges Adult Transition Program at BCH. About a year-and-a-half ago, Uluer told her he was looking to put together a team of patients he felt were physically able to run the Boston Marathon and asked if she’d be interested.
“I was not a runner at all, but I am relatively healthy with cystic fibrosis, so he knew I would be able to do it,” Parada-Poignand said. “I spontaneously said, ‘Oh, sure!’ I didn’t think much about it because I wasn’t sure if it would actually happen.”
But if it was going to happen, Parada-Poignand wanted to be a part of the team raising funds to benefit Boston Children’s, even if running was her least favorite activity. So far she’s surpassed her $10,000 goal by more than $3,000.
“For me, I have always hated running, so it’s hilarious to me that when my doctor was like, ‘Do you want to run a marathon?’ and my first response was like, ‘Yeah,’” Parada-Poignand said. “I don’t know what I was thinking, but I’m glad that I was feeling ambitious in that moment.”
Before this journey, the former Harwich resident had never run more than two miles straight, and the only reason she did was to prove that she could.
“I remember it was like the biggest deal when I ran two miles straight without walking,” she said. “I literally texted both my parents, with whom I’m very close. That was last summer.”
Parada-Poignand said the main reason she hated running was that she didn’t feel that she was very good at it.
“It was always hard for me because cardio is just very hard on my lungs,” she said.
For those unaware, cystic fibrosis is an illness in which the body produces an overabundance of mucus. Along with the lungs, it can also affect the digestive system. For Parada-Poignand, life with CF has meant using a machine to help shake mucus from her lungs, as well as a nebulizer that, until starting a new medication recently, she’d use up to four hours per day.
Fortunately, running can be beneficial for certain CF patients.
“It’s good for cystic fibrosis patients to run because it’s like airway clearance and helps build lung strength and capacity,” said Parada-Poignand. “I felt lucky enough to be considered to do it, because so many people with CF would never even be able to think of doing this. I want to do it because I can and for people that can’t. A lot of times people take their health for granted and wish they could be doing something fitness related. I want to take advantage of what I can.”
Since October, Parada-Poignand has been training with coach Keith Putnam, using a modified marathon training program through which she runs three days a week, including a long run on weekends, and cross-trains on other days. Before becoming sidelined in February with a bout of the flu, Parada-Poignand was up to 16 miles during her long runs, fitting in her training around her online course schedule at Cape Cod Community College.
“When you’re training for a marathon people run like 40-plus miles per week,” Parada-Poignand said. “There’s a misconception that you have to do that as it might help and give you the miles you need. But for me, because I’m going from zero to 100, I don’t want to injure myself. I’m running about 20 miles per week and supplementing with cross-training because I’ve had some problems with shin splints and knee pain.”
That means when Parada is not on the trail, she can be found at her local gym on the elliptical trainer or one of the stationary cycles.
“Just getting the cardio and the muscles working that I would if running, without all the impact on my joints,” she said. “That’s just because I don’t have the basic strength in spots a runner would because I haven’t done it my whole life. I’ve always been relatively active, but never to do something of this extent.”
“Anabelle possesses an unconventional strength and determination,” said her mother, Courtney, who lives in Harwich and, with dad Pablo, is her daughter’s biggest fan. “She has learned to overcome doubts that she had as a young teen from feeling marginalized because of cystic fibrosis at times. She chose an unconventional path of working and attending 4Cs and has a straight-A average. She has found self-expression through art, design, writing, love of animals and especially her rescue dog Buca, who she found crossing a highway in LA. Now, with this training, Anabelle is learning about the joys of strengthening her body in ways she didn’t know were possible.”
To keep her CF under control, Parada-Poignand must do airway clearance treatments twice a day, using sterile saline water or medication that flows through the nebulizer to help clear the mucus from her lungs.
“It’s definitely hard. I’d have to wake up before everyone else to get to school on time and make time for treatment,” she said. “I take enzymes when I eat and other vitamins, supplements, and medications. But I think that growing up with CF made me mentally strong because I learned not to take things for granted. When you live with something that’s potentially life-shortening you gain that perspective sooner than you would if not.”
While there are fears around the rapidly spreading coronavirus, Parada-Poignand’s online schedule has helped keep her healthy, with the exception of the flu.
“The worry of corona feels like a macro example of how we, as parents of someone with CF, have lived for the past 20 years,” said Courtney. “We had to consider everything we did to avoid exposure to germs and sicknesses and had to practice infection control measures that seemed obsessive to others, even asking schools to cancel perfect attendance awards and asking sick friends to keep their distance.”
Courtney said the willingness of others to take personal responsibility for their health and that of others is key for everyone.
“It is uniquely why Anabelle has remained so healthy over the years,” she said. “For Anabelle, and for everyone, it begins with small choices of self-care, like eating healthy foods, washing hands, and staying home when sick, and moves into participating in causes greater than yourself, and conditioning your body to be the amazing machine it was designed to be.”
As a child, Parada-Poignand danced, then became a cheerleader once enrolled at Nauset, though her workouts were slightly different from her teammates since she was the team’s flier, or the one being lifted for various stunts.
“I wasn’t necessarily getting a workout since I wasn’t the one lifting people” she said. “It wasn’t an intense hobby for me.”
Now, Parada-Poignand is focusing on more long-term training given the postponement of the race, but still fully intends to take part.
“I’m super excited, but I’m definitely nervous, mostly because, while I’ve proven myself every weekend that I’ve set out on the long run that I can do more distance, the pain that I feel after… It’s insane,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s heightened for me because I’m a new runner and my body’s like, ‘What are you doing?’ But I can’t move the rest of the day. I’m just scared of what it’s going to be like after running the full 26.2 miles.”
Naturally, Heartbreak Hill is a daunting prospect for Parada-Poignand.
“I’ve run my own Heartbreak Hill by setting a treadmill to the incline, and it’s not that bad, but what they say is hard is when it comes,” she said. “I think it comes around mile 15, toward the end of the run. When I’m at around 16 miles on my long run, thinking about continuing for the next 10 miles, I don’t know if I can do that. It’s humbling to know I’m not quite there yet. I just need to keep training.”
The hardest part, other than logging the miles, is that Parada-Poignand isn’t able to physically connect with any of her teammates since all CF patients must remain a specific distance apart or run the risk of infecting each other with the varying types of bacteria in their lungs. In honor of that came their team name.
“There are 10 other cystic fibrosis patients that are running,” said Parada-Poignand. “We have a group called 26.2 Miles Apart, based on the movie Five Feet Apart, about two cystic fibrosis patients that fall in love.”
Since the team can’t physically get together, they connect via social media and the Strava physical fitness app.
“We are trying to be a support to each other through social media since we can’t ever meet in person,” said Parada-Poignand. “We see our activities and cheer each other on.”
In February, Parada-Poignand and three of her 26.2 Miles Apart teammates ran the Hyannis Half Marathon as something of a warm-up for Boston, which had not yet been postponed.
“I finished faster than I thought I would,” she said. “I say fast, but I’m very slow, probably because I’m new at it. I really enjoyed running it, having people to keep up with, and being in a race environment.”
Now it’s on to Heartbreak Hill.
“I know I can do it,” Parada-Poignand said. “It’s just intimidating because 26.2 is such a large number. But it feels really good to be giving back to the hospital that helped me so much.”
To donate to Anabelle Parada-Poignand’s fundraiser to benefit Boston Children’s Hospital, visit this link: fundraise.childrenshospital.org/goto/anabelleparada.