Fierce Flyer - Laura Collins
Allie Bigelow here! Over the course of the past few years the Oiselle Volee has grown into amazing community of 1,700 athletes of all ages, backgrounds and relationships with the sport of running. These women all bring with them unique stories of how they came to running and what their involvement with the Volée means to them. While each story is unique and inspiring, two of our teammates share a common theme to their running journey that leaves us in awe of their tenacity, grace and resilience. They have each faced more adversity and challenge than many of us will in our lifetimes and they both do so with quiet fortitude, bravery and a whole lot of grit. While their stories are incredibly different, what ties Portia and Laura together is the fact that they are both not only runners, but runners who navigate the sport, and their lives, while contending with Multiple Sclerosis.
Today I’m thrilled to introduce Laura Collins. Laura is a member of Oiselle Team North Carolina and is, among other amazing accomplishments one of the first women to have ever piloted the Apache Helicopter for the United States Army. (Before you read her story, just let that accomplishment sink in for a moment…)
Why I run.
Running has been a part of my life since grade school. Growing faster than everyone else, I was quickly one of the tallest in our class. What started as “growing pains” became a little more serious and the pain led to physical therapy, medication, long middle-of-the-night-baths, and the recommendation to take up either ballet or running. Being a huge tomboy, ballet was out of the question. Running just seemed to be the natural selection, and I was good at it. I ran throughout grade school and on our middle school track team. Unfortunately during my sophomore year of high school I was in a horrific fatality car accident. Recovery, knee surgeries, bulimia put my running on hold but it was an extremely belittling and negative experience with my track coach that led me to leave the sport. I would not return to running until I entered the Army.
My MS first started when I began having unexplained neurological symptoms while flying with my unit in Bosnia. When the flight surgeons could find nothing, I was allowed to fly another year until the symptoms returned. Due to prior injuries and these new neurological issues, I was permanently grounded. I was devastated. But after being grounded and completion of my vocational rehabilitation, I had the wonderful opportunity to work as a Peds Nurse & Pediatric Cardiology Nurse Clinician at Duke, where I stayed until my MS had progressed to the point I was no longer considered safe to treat patients. If this upheaval and transition weren’t enough, throughout this period in my life I also contended with an unfaithful and abusive husband, the loss of my brother to suicide and the death of my dad, and my sister's diagnosis with osteosarcoma (which she would later succumb to). In addition, my bulimia had reared its ugly head again, I underwent 7 of my 20 surgeries, was diagnosed with skin cancer, and mourned the deaths of more friends and fellow pilots from the Army than I care to count. To say that this was a trying period in my life would be a massive understatement.
It probably comes as no surprise that depression is one of the first things that flight surgeons examine pilots for when they are grounded. They call it everything from “loss of status” to “insomnia” to “failure to cope.” But in the end the true diagnosis is “situational depression”. This is understandable, and often treatable. But what happens when that situation continues over multiple years? And what happens when it is compounded by so many other challenges?
What happened for me was that I started running again. I was just so angry. I was mad at the Army, mad at my ex-husband (just to caveat this, I have the most awesome husband now!), I was mad at my brother, my dad, my sister, my friends, Duke, UNC, myself….I was just pissed off at the whole world. I decided I was going to take this anger I have, and my will to not be defeated and put it all into running. I wanted to escape and be free again, freedom like I used to feel when I was flying. Since I started running again I have had relapses, new diagnoses, set backs, you name it…but I won’t quit. I won’t be defeated or defined by my illness or injuries. After 5 fractured vertebrae, 18 screws and 4 plates in my face, numerous knee injuries, and MS…I am still fighting. This resilience is an example that I want to set for others:
"Dum Spiro, Spero"
While I breathe, I hope.
What Oiselle means to me.
The best way to explain what Oiselle means to me is to tell you about flying. During one of the phases in flight school, we used to fly one of the helicopters with the doors off. It was amazing! While in the clouds, a feeling of peace used to come over me. You could see across the horizon forever. The cloud itself, though, it would be inside of the bird with us. I would touch it, run it through my fingers, smell it, and I could even taste it. It is the most intense feeling of freedom. To fly...to pop up and play inside the clouds is a freedom that I have only experienced while flying and jumping from an aircraft.
Running may not put me back in the clouds, but when I grab my iPod, throw on my shoes, and go for a run around the lake during sunrise, running gives me another chance to “fly” across the ground and grants a new sense of freedom. To me, Oiselle embodies this sense of flight and freedom.
What Oiselle Volee has provided me.
Over the last year, Oiselle Volee has provided me with a network of sisterhood and excellent support system, while building strong, lasting bonds and great friendships along the way. I love my OiselleNC Team. They have given me the courage and confidence to stop being so reclusive and to come out of my shell. Believe me, they don’t allow it! I may never be an elite athlete, and I have my ups and downs, but knowing they are there for me gives me the strength to continue my pursuit of my goals.
- Laura Collins