Austin triathlete Laurie Allen spent a few hours with her girlfriends last weekend, getting her toenails painted sparkly blue at a nail salon near her home.
Allen, who was paralyzed in a fall last February, heads into surgery today for a procedure that will allow her to catheterize herself, instead of relying on her friends or family. She hopes to be home from the hospital by Christmas, where a few friends plan to cook her a holiday dinner.
The pedicure is a regular deal for Allen, who drops by the salon with her friends every three weeks for a little pampering. On Saturday, she and her friends reminisced about racing in Maine and their hunt for pumpkin whoopies (a type of cookie) as they got new polish.
They brought along a bottle of wine, and Allen’s friend’s periodically tipped a glass to her mouth so she could drink. “It’s a two person operation,” she joked.
So what’s new with Allen?
A few months ago she underwent what became a difficult surgery to put in a port that automatically injects anti-spasm medications into her body. Despite problems recovering, the end result has been good – not nearly as many spasms.
She also tried out a hand cycle, although the frame was too big to fit her comfortably. She and her husband Matt took a spin down some neighborhood streets, and Allen says it made her feel almost normal.
“It felt so good to be back on the road,” she says. “It was like freedom again.”
In the meantime, a local fund-raiser headed by Jack Murray of High Five Events has raised money to eventually buy Allen her own hand cycle (one that fits!) and a racing wheelchair.
She’s volunteered at a few triathlons, too, handing out packets to athletes and directing them through transition areas. It allows her to keep in touch with the triathlon community she loves.
“Until I’m ready to race, I’ll keep volunteering,” she says.
The holiday season has delivered plenty of new challenges to Allen, who is still adjusting to her post-accident life.
The Thundercloud Subs Turkey Trot has long been a tradition, so she and Matt headed down for the race, hoping he could push her along the course. They had to turn back after one block because of wet and slippery streets.
And she’s missing her usual holiday routine. “It’s been tough. It’s things like decorating the tree and I can’t go Christmas shopping, I can’t wrap presents, I can’t travel,” she says.
Still, she’s made progress.
“Things are so much better than they were at first,” Allen says. “I can do more things for myself. Matt can leave me alone and not panic that I’m going to fall out of my chair.”
After weeks of struggling, she can finally brush her teeth by herself. She can put on makeup and blow dry her hair, too. She’s learned how to roll her wheelchair over the bump at the threshold between her home and the garage, something that once seemed like an insurmountable task.
She’s working full-time, and has been cleared to take driving school when she’s recovered from today’s surgery. She also has plans to join her friend Andrea Fisher, another triathlete, at the YMCA to learn to swim again. And two and a half weeks ago, she transferred herself, unassisted, from the bed to her wheelchair for the first time.