With partial paralysis down the right side of her body since birth, and living with epilepsy since her father died 25 years ago, Nicole Gallina is no stranger to challenges.
As a child, her parents were firm about one thing – never allowing her to use her disability as a limitation. They encouraged her to participate in as many things as possible, like any other child, and this set Nicole up to expect inclusion in as many different activities as possible as she got older.
Living by the mantra, “Find a reason, not an excuse” has helped Nicole to do things that others told her was not possible. She is a strong advocate for helping people realise that they can do anything, not just at parkrun but also in other areas of life. “It frustrates me when people don’t try their best,” Nicole says. “When I see people using their (perceived) limitations to stop them doing things they really could be doing I want to tell them to stop it. Don’t hide behind your disability. Get out of your comfort zone and out of the house. And go to parkrun!” she says enthusiastically.
With determination like this, and a love of parkrun many of us can relate to, it comes as no surprise to find that Nicole is the first person with epilepsy (we know of in Australia) to complete 50 parkruns when she ran at Gunghalin parkrun on 27th October.
Her journey with parkrun started because she wanted to run with her dog somewhere other than the concrete paths around her home. In late 2013 Nicole searched on Google for “fun run with dog” and came across parkrun. Little did she know how transformational this “parkrun thing” would be. Separating from her husband earlier this year, she knew she needed to change some things about her life. And whilst it started out being about getting out to do some physical exercise with her dog, (named “Reason”), it’s the social aspects of parkrun that have actually impacted her the most.
“parkrun is important to me for my mental, social and physical health,” says Nicole, teary-eyed as she speaks of her love for parkrun. “And I love that anybody can do it,” she continues, “because it’s such an inclusive thing”.
After having two seizures earlier this year, Nicole faced the prospect of having to miss out on her weekly Saturday morning run but was determined to find a solution. Working with the event team, she also took responsibility for the aspects of her health she had control over. She consulted several doctors including a neurologist, cardiologist and psychologist to better understand what was happening in her body. She learnt more about what actually triggered her seizures, and she communicated this information with the event team.
She discovered that it was actually her anxiety around feeling the need to prove herself that would trigger a seizure and felt that the social interactions, the friendships made at parkrun itself as well as the physical exercise were actually helping to reduce the chance of seizures occurring. Whilst others were worried that parkrun was making her epilepsy worse, the opposite was actually true – parkrun was, and still is, improving the quality of her life.
With determination to “find a way”, Nicole continued to find a solution. She’d encourage anyone who has a person with any kind of disability to include that person in their discussions as they look for a solution. “Communication is the answer. Whether you’re on the event team with someone wanting to join your parkrun, or you’re a potential parkrun participant and you don’t know how your disability can be accommodated for, please just communicate. I think there is always a solution as long as we are willing to ask questions and listen to each other.” Nicole states.
She encourages everyone to focus on what the person can do instead of what they can’t, “Because if I couldn’t have done parkrun I don’t know what I would have done,” she said in a quiet tone of voice that conveyed without any doubt, how incredibly important parkrun is to her.
When Nicole was given the option to begin running again (on the proviso she ran with a run buddy) she was happy to be back. But those first few weeks after having two seizures so close together, she found it really hard to leave the house. She was anxious about whether she’d have another seizure and what people might think. She’s so grateful to her parkdog, Reason, for helping her find the courage to get out of the house and get back into parkrun, and the reward of parkrun always outweighed the anxiety she had leaving home earlier that same morning.
Since then she has continued to run with “Reason” who is well known and loved at Gunghalin especially by the children who love to race her!
Whilst Nicole’s love of parkrun precedes her, she also realises that her actions impact others. She is immensely grateful to the 7 or 8 fellow parkrunners who stepped in to assist her out on the course the times when she has experienced seizures. It is their kindness and generosity that has inspired her to volunteer herself at her home parkrun.
And her journey doesn’t stop here. She’s set her new goal of reaching the 100 Milestone and wants to volunteer more to give back to her community who have given so much to her.
To learn more about how to support a person with epilepsy, or what to do if someone has a seizure, visit Epilepsy Australia
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