Incredible perseverance leads to accomplishment on the seven-month anniversary of surgery
Crossing the finish line of the 2017 Canal Run was more than the completion of a five-mile run for Renee Anick. The race signified that she had successfully made it through the biggest challenge of her lifetime, open heart surgery. Renee underwent the surgery in December 2016 and completed the Canal Run on July 15, 2017.
“It felt like a giant achievement just putting on the bib and my shoes on the morning of the race. Even if I didn’t run the whole thing, or finish in the time I wanted to, it was something I did. It was something I was able to do.” – Renee Anick on completing the Canal Run just seven months after having heart surgery.
That last part is the key, and it’s what Renee has to be most proud of as she looks back at the event. She underwent surgery in December and quickly set a list of goals she wanted to accomplish. She wanted to be home to celebrate Christmas with her family in Hancock, she wanted to be back at St. Cloud State University for the beginning of the spring semester and the final goal was to complete the five-mile run during the Canal Run.
By her side the entire time was her mother, Tracy Lang. Tracy was there in the hospital as they prepared for surgery. She was there for the December trip back to Hancock. She was there for every step as Renee completed therapy to re-learn how to do basic things like hold a pencil, walk up and down stairs, and simply go from laying down to sitting up. All her fine motor skills needed to be relearned as a result of the surgery.
“She was so driven to be home for Christmas, and to be back to school on time that there was no stopping her,” Tracy said. “She could still not go from sitting to standing by herself, but she pushed it to go home and was able to be home for Christmas. She then needed to be fully independent before she was going to be allowed to go back to school.”
That included being able to handle the bitter winter cold of Minnesota. It meant being able to climb to the top bunk in her dorm room. Renee battled through therapy, worked hard, and was back for the spring semester at SCSU.
“She has such a unique attitude,” Tracy said. “She is so drive, she’s so positive and she doesn’t let anything stop her. Going in she had the right attitude, afterward she kept that going. She is an incredibly strong and unique 19-year-old.”
It took a lot of sisu – strength, determination and will power to get back to her life.
“At first it was really hard,” Renee said. “It’s winter in Minnesota. I was extremely nervous that I would slip on ice because that would cause some major damage to my still-healing body. It was also tough because I couldn’t walk that fast, and I had to go from one end of campus to the other side for some of my classes.”
Slowly things started to get easier, and one night Renee and Tracy started talking about what was next. That’s when the Canal Run came to mind. Renee decided she was going to do the five mile run.
“I was talking to my mom about the Canal Run and said to her how cool would it be to do this seven months after I had open heart surgery,” Renee said. “I also told her I needed someone to do it with me.”
Tracy didn’t debate the options. Despite the fact that she hated running, had never done any sort of event like the Canal Run, and her daughter was only going to be seven months removed from surgery on race day, she said there was nowhere she’d rather be that morning.
“She’s never run, she doesn’t like to run, and that was a spur-of-the-moment decision,” Renee said. “But it helped motivate me. I worked on running when I was able to be active again, and my mom and I started to do some training to help prepare for it.”
While her mother didn’t enjoy running, she did enjoy the escape and relationship building it provided.
“I was never going to let her do something like this on her own, and once we started running I came around to enjoying it a little bit,” said Tracy, who kept Renee within her sights throughout the entire five-mile course. “She likes a challenge, and knowing she just came off heart surgery, it was a goal she wanted to say that she did. I was so nervous still.”
The two finished within a couple minutes of each other, a moment that will never be forgotten.
“That was the finale for her in her recovery,” Tracy said. “We all knew that if she could do that, she could do anything. She made it back for Christmas, she made it back to school and then made it through that five-mile run.”
For Renee the feeling of completion was overwhelming.
“For the first two or so miles I made it completely without needing to walk, which was the furthest I had made it to that point,” she said. “When I got to the finish line it was nuts. It was great to see the crowd of people, and quickly find my family to celebrate making it through this. It was a blissful feeling finally crossing the finish line, and knowing that I did it.”
Renee is now in her fourth semester at St. Cloud State University and has fully recovered from the surgery. She still has regular check-ups to make sure everything is going well, but the family feels as if they’ve cleared the largest challenges. On December 19 Tracy posted a photo on Facebook flashing back to the day Renee left the hospital. “Hard to believe it has been a year,” she said. “We’ve been very blessed.”