HARTFORD, Conn. — When Kim Lowman runs, she counts utility poles.
It’s a way of marking her distance and her progression. It’s a way she challenges herself, too. Before she ran her third Hartford half marathon as part of the Aiello Inspiration Team last Saturday, she set a goal to make it one or two telephone poles further in between the necessary breaks she needs to take to use her inhaler to combat her asthma, and to ease the challenges that come with running with multiple sclerosis.
But if she didn’t?
“It’s fine, because it is what it is,” Lowman said before the race. “I know I’m not going to win, I know I’m not beating anybody else. I’m going to try and beat myself.”
That it-is-what-it-is, laissez-faire, albeit determined attitude is a staple of Lowman’s. When she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, she simply told the doctor, “All right. OK, what should I do?” When her son Max, who will be 4 years old in November, was diagnosed with autism, she and her husband Travis understood that they would do whatever it took to care for and provide for their son, no questions asked.
“People make themselves negative,” she said. “We’re all given bad decks of cards in this life. It’s all about how you deal with it.”
She began running shortly after her diagnosis to stay healthy, and keep her stress levels low. Now she runs to prove to herself, her young son and everyone else that she won’t be held back by any disability.
“You can have a disability, but it doesn’t define who you are as a person,” Lowman said. “It just gives you something extra. It makes you unique.”
Lowman, who now lives in East Granby, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2012. She was in the process of moving from Rhode Island, where she grew up, to Connecticut. While she was cleaning out her apartment, she suffered from severe headaches, nausea and vomiting. She took herself to the emergency room, where they urged her to seek further testing. Weeks later, after she had moved to Connecticut, she was diagnosed.
Her doctor told her three things would help her keep her disease under control: consistent medication, low stress levels and taking care of her personal health.
The ever-determined Lowman took her challenge in stride.
“You could look at it two ways,” she said. “All right, I have this chronic disease and I could be in a wheelchair when I’m older. Or, I have an illness just like you have brown hair, and it’s just who I am now and it’s part of me and I can accept it and move on with my life.”
“And that’s what I chose to do.”
So Lowman began running. She started with shorter distances and moved up to 5Ks. There’s times where her lungs feel great, but it “feels like there’s eight tons of bricks” on her feet. And when her legs feel fine, her lungs aren’t cooperating. She understood that there were times that she’d have to stop or walk.
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It was frustrating at first for Lowman, who grew up playing competitive sports. She chose to remain positive, though, for herself and others.
“I look at it like, at least I got up, and at least I got dressed, and at least I got myself in the car and I’m still going,” she said. “And that’s 10 times better than what half of these other people in the world have.”
As she continued to run 5Ks, she saw her times continue to drop, even if just by seconds. That’s when running became more passion than a chore for Lowman. She joined Achilles International, a group that pairs able-bodied runners with those who are disabled to help them achieve their running goals. She began running with Connecticut’s Run 169 Towns Society, where the goal is to race in each of the state’s towns. Lowman is currently at 102 towns.
She began running with her sister-in-law, Kristin Lowman, who is also a member of the Run 169 Towns Society. Kristin Lowman was a casual runner growing up, but gave it up as she entered adulthood and went through pharmaceutical school. When she first met Kim, and learned of her story, Kristin picked running back up.
“It inspires me, it helps me look at things in a different way,” Kristin Lowman said. “Just to be happy that I’m healthy to get out there as well. She’s a great example for her son and for my kids as well. Very inspiring.”
Kim Lowman ran the Fairfield Half Marathon 22 weeks pregnant. She stopped running at 27 weeks pregnant, and ran her first 5K about a month after her son was born.
“I finished that one in 46 minutes, and I was fine,” Lowman said. “I was like, I just pushed out a kid four weeks ago, look at me go.”
Her son gave Lowman another reason to run. He runs with a group organized through Fleet Feet, and Lowman said she’ll run with him usually twice a week. At the very least, she wants her family to get out and be active often, whether it’s running, walking or throwing a ball around.
Lowman doesn’t want Max to grow up with an “I can’t” attitude. That’s partially why she runs half marathons; to show that a disability shouldn’t hold you back.
“He looks at me and says, ‘Mommy I can’t, I can’t.’ I say, ‘Well you can, well maybe you can’t right now, or maybe not in this moment, but you always can. As long as you try your best, that’s all you can do.’
Is a marathon in Lowman’s future? Possibly, she says. Saturday’s race was her third Hartford half marathon, and she thinks it might be time to bump up the mileage for next year.
For now, though, she’ll continue to count the telephone poles. After completing the race in 2:56 last year, she set a goal of 2 hours and 50 minutes this year. While she fell just short at 3 hours, 2 minutes and 47 seconds, she’ll continue to tell herself the same thing she tells Max.
“Just try your best,” she said. “Him and I both know, we’re never going to finish first. That’s fine. You tried.”