Tornado shatters Beavercreek runner’s legs, not her drive

In the spring of 2020 former marathon runner Deborah Wailes, whose legs were shattered during a 2019 Memorial Day tornado, was able to ride from Kettering to Franklin on her bike. CONTRIBUTED
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In the spring of 2020 former marathon runner Deborah Wailes, whose legs were shattered during a 2019 Memorial Day tornado, was able to ride from Kettering to Franklin on her bike. CONTRIBUTED

Athlete works to return to marathons.

Deborah Wailes has run 20-plus marathons, including four Boston Marathons. She was there in 2013 when the bombs exploded. Although she escaped injury then, she couldn’t escape the 2019 Memorial Day tornadoes.

“I had just completed a 220-mile bike ride in Kentucky, came home to my Beavercreek townhouse, lay on the couch and fell asleep,” the 67-year-old recalls. “I woke up to a big clap and found myself covered in debris. A wall had blown in on me, I couldn’t move my legs as I tried to remove stuff, and there was a sheet of glass window on top of me that could have cut me in half.

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“I heard people outside, so I yelled through the hole in the wall. Three men came in, wrapped me in my blanket and carried me outside, then a policeman dragged me farther from the building and called an ambulance and called for an ambulance.”

Her legs and an ankle were shattered; after being taken to Soin Medical Center in Beavercreek for evaluation, she was transferred to another hospital for surgery.

“I was in recovery, then the rehab section for about two weeks, but had no place to live — I’d lost everything, and my townhouse was condemned.”

She has two sons — one in Kettering, one in Springboro, and three daughters out of state. Son Matthew and his wife Laura took her in. “Laura, who’s a full-time teacher in Springfield and mother of three, was my hero,” said Wailes. “I stayed there about four months while Laura helped me survive in a wheelchair.”

Deborah continues to swim, now up to a mile each day at the Kettering YMCA , to strengthen her legs. CONTRIBUTED
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Deborah continues to swim, now up to a mile each day at the Kettering YMCA , to strengthen her legs. CONTRIBUTED

One of the out of state daughters, a nurse, would come and relieve the family when possible. Family members went through the rubble of her townhouse, and “When they found her box of medals which she’d been so proud of, she didn’t want to see them,” said Laura. “It had become a trigger since she was in a wheelchair.”

What impressed Laura most she said was, “Deb’s willingness to move forward, to go through the grieving process along with the trauma she suffered.

“We had to make adjustments in our house and lifestyles — the bathroom door had to be removed, a ramp had to be constantly moved, rooms had to be changed.”

“Laura or a friend would take me to the Y to use the recumbent bike, and I found rides to the Kettering Sports Network for therapy through my church,” said Wailes. “When I got out of the wheelchair, I walked starting with a walker, then crutches.”

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By the time school started and she left Laura and Matthew’s, she could walk alone and drive. She moved into her son Andrew’s house in Kettering, and, during the two months there, continued physical therapy.

“Finally, I got permission to get in the pool, and now swim a mile every day.”

As her legs strengthened, she started hiking with the Dayton Hikers. In January of 2020 she moved into a Kettering apartment, choosing the third floor “since there’s no elevator and I’d have to use the stairs,” she said. “I did it to strengthen my legs, and have to carry my bike up and down when I want to ride.”

Just last spring, she rode on a 50-mile ride. Over the winter and spring of 2021, she’s done a lot more swimming and hiking and plays pickleball — with plans of running.

“My physical therapists were getting me ready to run after I could walk, but I needed to strengthen legs. They’re not the same as they were, but I’m hoping they can withstand running.

“I’m a runner — I did biking and swimming for cross-training, so losing running was the worst. I did a couple of two-mile runs in March, and a 10- mile hike just the other day.

“My family, friends and faith got me through this and I’m a fighter, but my ankles will never be normal. I’m still learning what I can and cannot do. Inwardly, I want to run another marathon. It’s a goal I’m working toward.”

Contact this contributing writer at virgburroughs@gmail.com.

Deborah Wailes' legs after surgery in 2019. CONTRIBUTED
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Deborah Wailes' legs after surgery in 2019. CONTRIBUTED