Michele Blackburn is running this year’s Boston Marathon to raise awareness and funding for the lymphedema therapy she received at Milford Regional Rehabilitation & Sports Medicine. The Uxbridge resident’s lymphedema diagnosis results from injuries sustained nearly ten years ago and fuels her motivation to run the 2023 marathon on April 17.
On April 15, 2013, Michele Mahoney (now Blackburn) was standing on Boylston Street waiting to see her best friend cross the Boston Marathon finish line. At 2:49 p.m., a bomb detonated two feet from where Blackburn was standing, causing severe damage to both of her legs. She was told her left foot would likely need to be amputated; however, due to her skilled surgeon and extensive skin grafting, she was able to keep both of her legs.
After two years of grueling physical therapy, Blackburn began living her life again. She got married and had two children and her injuries had little impact on her day-to-day life.
Following the 2013 bombing, the Boston Athletic Association each year offers an invitational entry to survivors who would like to run the marathon themselves or gift to someone to run in their honor. “Over the years, so many people told me I should run the marathon myself, but honestly it was never really on my radar,” said Blackburn, who last year gifted her entry to well-known Peloton instructor Jess Sims.
Watching Sims finish the 2022 race was the first time Blackburn returned to the marathon route since the 2013 bombings. “When I saw her cross the finish line, it really inspired me and that’s when I first thought, ‘I might actually be able to run this myself.’”
It was about that time (Spring 2022), when Blackburn began noticing painful swelling in her legs, particularly in her left leg. Her primary care physician recommended she see a specialist for lymphedema (the buildup of lymph fluid in the fatty tissues under skin that causes swelling and pain).
Initially, Blackburn had a difficult time locating such a lymphedema specialist until she found physical therapist Eileen Valis-Kerr of Milford Regional Rehabilitation & Sports Medicine in Milford.
Blackburn admitted she was hesitant to begin another regimen of physical therapy and even more hesitant to discuss her goal of running the Boston Marathon with Valis-Kerr. “I was so worried she was going to tell me I wouldn’t be able to do it, but instead, she couldn’t have been more supportive.”
Valis-Kerr worked with Blackburn to develop a six-week plan of physical therapy consisting of exercises and compression and lymphatic massage that over time significantly reduced Blackburn’s lymphedema symptoms. Valis-Kerr’s prescribed plan allowed Blackburn to move forward with her marathon aspirations.
“The goal of my physical therapy was always to be able to do it on my own, and now it’s a life skill for me. It’s a tool I have in my tool box that empowers me to live my life. That’s what Eileen gave to me,” noted Blackburn.
Blackburn selected Milford Regional Medical Center as her charity because of the positive and supportive experience she had with Valis-Kerr. “I’m just so grateful and it’s my way of saying thank you,” she explained.
To make a donation in support of Blackburn, visit foundation.milfordregional.org.
Eileen is awesome. She makes you want to get better. Her professionalism and expertise are unmatchable. She’s one of the best! Good luck Michelle!!!