Buzz Knight 00:00:02
On this episode of taking a walk. This is a story of someone who has endured personal challenges and has prevailed in triumph. Mary McManus was diagnosed at age 53 with postpolio syndrome , a progressive neuromuscular disease, and was told to be prepared to spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair. She would not be brought down. Hear this story of triumph from an everyday person as Mary McManus and I take a walk in Brookline.Buzz Knight 00:00:33
Taking a walk with Buzz Knight. Well, hi, Mary. It’s so nice to be taking a walk with you here on a beautiful day in Brookline.
Mary McManus 00:00:41
Oh, Buzz, can you believe this weather? I mean, we had what, a couple of days of rain and we said we’re just going to wait. We know the skies will clear as they always do after a storm. And here we are.
Buzz Knight 00:00:53
It’s so nice to meet you. This is a beautiful place to take a walk. It’s been a while since I have is this your regular spot?
Mary McManus 00:01:01
Yes, this is actually where well, these days I’m more power walking than running, which is fine, it works really well for me. But this is our usual spot. We live about a 15 minutes walk.
Buzz Knight 00:01:15
From here and describe the scene. So those that don’t know where we are, get a picture.
Mary McManus 00:01:23
Well, we’re right almost just outside the heart of Boston. You can actually see the Prudential Center and the Hancock building from the other end of the reservoir. It’s a mile around. It’s a beautiful body of water. There are geese sometimes there are swans, which I always love because they are such a symbol of serenity and peace. There is beautiful trees. Interestingly enough, Buzz, they just renovated this. Yes, the walls were crumbling. The path over across the way was very narrow, so only one person could go at a time.
Buzz Knight 00:02:05
Mary McManus 00:02:06
And they widen that. And they’ve also been very mindful of watch out for the geese droppings. That’s the only thing you have to be aware of here.
Buzz Knight 00:02:19
Yeah, well, I don’t want to get the geese angry either. I like staying on the better side of the geese and my wife.
Mary McManus 00:02:30
But yeah, this is the place where I first learned how to run and it’s the place we go to. We feel so incredibly blessed that we live so close to such a magnificent place right here, just outside of Boston.
Buzz Knight 00:02:47
Why is walking or sauntering and taking in the surroundings? Why is it important to you?
Mary McManus 00:02:55
Oh, Buzz. I get a little emotional. Every step is a gift for me. I contracted paralytic polio in one of the last polio epidemics and then 15 years ago was told that I spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair and I was able to heal my life, but every step is a gift. And on my way over here I was thinking, oh my goodness, so many people get out of bed, they put their 2ft on the floor, they walk to the bathroom. They don’t give it a second thought. But for me, I put my feet on the ground and I express my gratitude because I know what a gift it is.
Buzz Knight 00:03:38
That’s beautifully put. And that is at the essence of a lot of what certainly instigated this Taking a Walk podcast, the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, and the beauty of just appreciating a moment certainly is what I think became easier for people maybe around the Pandemic. Do you feel that way?
Mary McManus 00:04:07
Oh, Buzz, I’ll tell you, it’s interesting because I used to go to the gym one day a week as part of my workouts, but with the Pandemic, we could no longer do that. So it enabled us actually, it was a gift that we had to get out. And so rather than go to the gym for a swim or, oh, it’s a little cold out today, that was taken off the table. And so the Pandemic, I think, really was a gift in that regard that we had to get outside.
Buzz Knight 00:04:41
What are the places do you like to go?
Mary McManus 00:04:43
Well, there’s another reservoir. Where is it? It’s at the end of Beacon Street. It’s the Cleveland Circle reservoir. Another favorite place is Jamaica Pond.
Buzz Knight 00:04:57
And they all have different vibes. I’m thinking.
Mary McManus 00:05:00
Yes, this one has a little more serenity, as you can tell. It’s very peaceful. There typically aren’t a lot of people at the Cleveland Circle Reservoir. It’s usually more populated, and then Jamaica Pond can get really crowded, so we have to pick our time. But oh, my goodness, it’s such a wonderful place. We trained there a lot during the Boston Marathon.
Mary McManus 00:05:37
It’s where Bill Rogers trained for the Boston Marathon…No, Jamaica Pond sorry
Mary McManus 00:05:39
Yeah. That was his go to place while training for Boston, so we followed in his footsteps. Buzz I love that.
Buzz Knight 00:05:49
I love that. So you didn’t grow up in this area?
Mary McManus 00:05:52
No, I grew up in New York.
Buzz Knight 00:05:54
Yeah, like outside of New York, right?
Mary McManus 00:05:56
Yeah. Not far from Stamford
Buzz Knight 00:05:58
Yeah, where I grew up. And you grew up in Rye is that right?
Mary McManus 00:06:01
That right, or no, not far from Rye. Are you thinking of Rye because of the train station?
Buzz Knight 00:06:05
Just thinking of that whole area as a big blur. I remember the stops coming back from New York, and Rye was one of them. And certainly remember Rye for Playland Amusement Park
Mary McManus 00:06:24
Buzz Knight 00:06:25
New Rochelle. Yeah. It sounds like I could hear the conductor right now.
Buzz Knight 00:06:32
Oh, there you go. The last train out of New York was 130 train
Buzz Knight 00:06:39
They used to call it 130 in the morning. They called it the milk train. Stopped everywhere, right? Every stop. So when did you leave that area?
Mary McManus 00:06:48
I left in September of 1971, and I came to Boston University and I never left.
Buzz Knight 00:06:56
And you came to study? To study. What at BU?
Mary McManus 00:07:02
You name it’s, multifaceted majors. But I landed in public relations and marketing.
Buzz Knight 00:07:13
But there are points in your life, sir, that were very low points. They were low as a result of your health situation?
Mary McManus 00:07:26
Buzz Knight 00:07:26
And that affected probably your mind as well, right? Yeah, it was all connected. So what was the moment where it really all changed?
Mary McManus 00:07:38
It was in February of 2007. I’d been diagnosed with postpolio syndrome, and I was told I should prepare to spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair. And I got still, and I asked for divine guidance, and I wrote a poem. It’s funny how God answers prayer sometimes. And I wrote the poem called Running the Race. And it’s like something open to my soul. And this long poem just flowed out of me. And I said, Why am I writing about running the race? I’m in a wheelchair at times, I’m in a leg race. I couldn’t figure it out. But I knew that I felt so good after I wrote that the home And I was told that I needed to quit my job. It was more than a job. It was an award winning career at the VA as a social worker. And I said, oh, my gosh, what am I going to do? All I’ve known for 25 years is working as a social worker and giving and taking care, which, of course, is how I got so sick, because I didn’t know how to take care of myself. And suddenly I felt there was a world opening up before me, but I didn’t know what that world was. So in the darkest moment of my life, where with the caterpillar, just right when the caterpillar thinks it’s going to die, it transforms, and that’s what happened to me.
Buzz Knight 00:09:16
So resilience then, is something that you summoned up from that process?
Mary McManus 00:09:23
Yes, definitely. I dug deep and I said, okay, I have to find the courage to do what I need to do in order to heal my life. And part of that was taking a leap of faith and leaving my award winning career three years before I was, quote unquote, eligible for retirement. So my husband said, look, what good is it if you’re in a wheelchair? What good is it if you don’t feel well? What difference does your salary make? So I said, all right. And I realized that I had a gift of poetry. And so I was going to start a business called New World greeting Cards original poetry for every occasion. And I’d actually started it while I was still at the VA. Poetry was just flowing out of me, and it was all about imagining a different life from myself. I saw myself splashing in puddles without my leg brace. I saw myself dancing. I saw myself running. And so my husband said, okay, well, let’s get a plan. Well, I started with a plan, and then I had an abnormal mammogram Buzz and I said, Whoa, universe, you don’t mess around. You really want me to leave? So I knew about the power of meditation and visualization, and I focused healing energy, and I dissolved the breast tumor. And at that point, my daughter said, what are you waiting for? I said, I don’t know. So we gave six weeks notice, and I left on May 25 of 15 years, 2007.
Buzz Knight 00:11:28
And you don’t look back, obviously, at all?
Mary McManus 00:11:33
No, other than to be grateful.
Buzz Knight 00:11:38
So as you study, really, these last few years, which have really pressed people and pushed them to the limits, and frankly, still are, what advice would you give in a simple fashion to people to summon up resilience?
Mary McManus 00:12:00
Well, you got to have hope. I know it sounds like a song, but it’s true. But it’s really true. Hope, gratitude, knowing that things do get better, things do transform, and there are things you can do to help that process. Faith is very important. I’m not talking about a religion, talking about feeling there’s something greater. I mean, if we stop and we just look at this, there’s something that created all of this. This beauty, this piece, this water. So just feeling there’s something greater at work. And I know it’s hard. I know when things are bearing down. I know when things look awful. Gosh. For me, when I was a senior in high school, I thought my life was going to end. My father was an alcoholic, and he ended up taking his own life. And I held on to hope. I knew there were better days ahead. And I was blessed, truly blessed. I had people come into my life. Sometimes the divine comes in your life in the form of another person. And look for that and keep your eyes and heart open and really trust, really trust that things will get better. But also, you can make a difference by giving, by serving others through kindness, generosity, and that’s how we made it through. Also, as I said, getting outdoors, staying connected, having conversations, putting down the phone, which it was something that I think we really value during the pandemic and post pandemic. Find your passion, be creative. So those are some ways. And move, even if it’s just taken a walk.
Buzz Knight 00:14:19
So who inspires you these days?
Mary McManus 00:14:27
There are many people who do. People to be honest, President Biden inspires me. Kamala Harris people who are willing to take a path that they maybe didn’t have to take, regardless of political affiliations or whatever. It’s just the fact that it was how many years old is President Biden? I mean, he could have stayed home with his grandchildren, and instead he said, no, the world needs me, so they definitely inspire me. As far as running my hero was Wilma Rudolph. You know her?
Buzz Knight 00:15:09
Tell the audience about her.
Mary McManus 00:15:10
Oh, my goodness. So when I was training for the Boston Marathon with my personal trainer. She asked me if I heard of Rudolph, and I said no. She said, go home and google her. And I was having a bad run that day. And I said, I don’t know if I can really do this. And so she said, well, just go home and Google Wilma. And she was a polio survivor, and she was very ill as a child, and her mom was told she’d never walk again. And her mom and her brothers and sisters would massage her legs and tell her, you will walk. I don’t care what the doctor said. And not only did she walk, she went on to become an Olympic gold medalist.
Buzz Knight 00:16:03
That’s awesome. I love it. Yeah, that’s fantastic. So last question for you, Mary. What would you tell a doctor who was adverse from applying elements of Western medicine and mixing up versions of traditional medicine with some new thinking? What would you tell that doctor who’s holding out and closed minded
Mary McManus 00:16:37
Look at me and look at others as well. There are so many people who have overcome, who have transformed, who have gone beyond their diagnosis. And I would say, look, I know they talk about they don’t want to give false hope, but is there anything as false hope? There’s only hope. And oftentimes the power of hope can be far greater than being told, you’re going to end up in a wheelchair, you’re going to die in six months. What if you keep that open? What if you just think about how people’s lives might change? And the other thing I would say is look at the science, because there is a whole wealth of science now. Buzz talking about the mind body connection, the studies are showing there was a study at Harvard that’s really fascinating, where they had one group practice scales with a piano, and they actually did it on the scales on the piano. And then they had a group that imagined that they were going to be playing the scale. Do you know that the finger, the muscles in their fingers actually grew almost as much in the people who imagined it from the people who actually played? And so I’d say, look at the science. You’re a doctor. You believe in science. You’re basing your decision on scientific fact. So what about if you look at science science, and there are more and more studies coming out to show the power of the mind body connection? I know when I dissolved my breast tumor, they said, oh, it was an artifact. Well, it wasn’t, but that’s okay. You need to believe what you need to believe. So I would absolutely tell them, first of all, look at me. Look at what’s possible, if it’s possible for me, if it’s possible for this woman who is amazing, Evie McDonald, who healed her life from ALS. She was also a polio survivor. And look at so many examples of people who talk about how they’ve transformed their lives and the power of the mind body connection. And Bernie Siegel talks about who inspires me. He totally inspires me. And he talks about you can love yourself. Well, there’s power and unconditional love. And I would say and Bernie is a doctor, I’d say go talk to Bernie Siegel.
Buzz Knight 00:19:12
Well, we know about the power of gratitude as well and there’s science to back that up. Terrific course I took online, the science of happiness and well being out of Yale.
Mary McManus 00:19:25
Buzz Knight 00:19:26
Doctor Lori Santos so we know there’s science as well with gratitude and other elements. And I think that’s an excellent advice. Go to the science, treat it with there is data because I hear the story of those that are looking for a solution to something and their doctor is only applying traditional means and not open to other means, whether it be homeopathic or mind body. So I think you’ve distilled it and made it simple to digest. Speaking of gratitude, I’m grateful for you taking a walk and I appreciate you being here and everything you’re doing and I wish you well and thanks for spreading your word.
Mary McManus 00:20:19
Oh, thank you so much, Buzz. And I’m so grateful to you and I’m so happy that we found each other and that I have this opportunity to let people know what’s possible and that you’re not your diagnosis. And that when things are the darkest, there’s always a ray of light, of hope.
Buzz Knight 00:20:39
Taking a Walk is about life stories and lessons. It’s from ranging from all different types of people, whether they be actors or musicians. But when we first spoke, it’s also about everyday people as well and the stories they have to tell. So I appreciate Mary, you’re taking a walk.
Mary McManus 00:21:00
Thank you so much, Buzz. And we were so blessed with this weather.
Buzz Knight 00:21:08
Well, listen, we did about 3200 steps on that walk.
Mary McManus 00:21:17
Mary McManus 00:21:30
Oh, thank you so much. Thank you.
Buzz Knight 00:21:34
Taking a Walk with Buzz Knight is available on Spotify, Apple podcasts or we’re ever you get your podcasts.