Becky Vander Zwaag 001

Back on track | Health beat

The moment Becky Vander Zwaag set the starting line for the Amway River Bank Run, she will call herself a winner.

To get to this point, she had to overcome some major hurdles, including a double mastectomy and plantar fasciitis.

She overcame them – fueled by her love of running, the expertise of her medical team, and the support of the River Bank Run Road Warriors.

“I’m excited. I’m just ready to do another personal race,” she said. “I’m a person and I love that aspect of the race.”

Becky, a 38-year-old hairdresser from Zeeland, Michigan, started running in 2009 after the birth of her second son. She would leave early in the morning while her husband Eric looked after the children.

She grew up loving the sport.

“For me, it’s a mental health issue,” she said. “I find consolation in it. Every time my foot hits the sidewalk, my stress somehow melts away. “

She ran alone and with joint running groups. She participated in local races – from 5 km to half marathons. She ran the River Bank Run eight times.

In 2018, however, new health concerns sent her running game on a detour.

Assessment of your risk of breast cancer

“I grew up with a mother who had a mastectomy in third grade,” Becky said. “I remember going to the hospital with my father every day after school to see her. We talked about breast cancer for a long time. “

This experience inspired them to proactively address their risk of breast cancer as young adults. She did self-examinations. She had her first mammogram at the age of 27.

In 2018, her mother, Bev Vanden Bosch, was diagnosed with breast cancer a second time – 28 years after she was first diagnosed.

Becky decided to have a genetic test to assess her own risk for the disease.

She received the call one day while at work: She carried a BRCA-2 gene mutation that put her at increased risk of breast cancer.

“It was so strange. Girls I worked with started crying. But I said I was relieved, ”said Becky. “I felt like I had always known.”

For the next six months, Becky helped her mother with surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.

She also planned a preventive double mastectomy for herself in January 2019.

After she recovered, she returned to running.

In June she underwent reconstructive surgery. Again she ran again.

In the fall, she applied and joined the Road Warrior team for the River Bank Run. The team members act as ambassadors for the race and train with the help of coaches.

The team camaraderie gave her an additional boost in motivation.

“My team is great,” said Becky. “You have become some of my best friends. We come from all walks of life, but we are a really good match. “

A painful heel

Becky’s running game soon took a new detour: She developed plantar fasciitis. Approximately 2 million people in the United States are treated for this disease each year.

She began to feel a pain in her left heel while running. The pain got worse over time.

“It felt like walking on a knife stuck in your heel,” she said. “It was terrible.”

Becky met in February 2020 Jason Lazor, DO, a Spectrum Health Sports Medic. Spectrum Health’s orthopedic and sports medicine team supports and treats the athletes on the River Bank Run.

The condition affects the plantar fascia, a tight ligament that is attached to the bottom of the heel and extends to all of the toes.

When the fascia becomes inflamed, it causes pain on the bottom of the heel, as it did with Becky.

“The pain tends to improve with light activity, but it gets worse with more aggressive activities such as running,” said Dr. Lazor.

Pain is also often noticeable in the morning.

“When we sleep at night, our toes are often pointed,” he says. “It shortens the plantar fascia.

“When you get out of bed for the first time in the morning and put weight on your foot, the arch of your foot falls and this stretches the plantar fascia so quickly that it can cause considerable irritation.”

The cause is largely unknown. Sometimes, he said, this could be related to overuse or overstretching of the fascia, poorly fitting shoes, or improper walking shape.

Dr. Lazor provided Becky with a home exercise program that included stretching hamstrings and calf muscles, foam rolling the plantar fascia, and strengthening the ankles with therapy tape.

For some runners, Dr. Lazor for an examination by physical therapists, who analyze their running form and help runners strengthen weak muscles and stretch tight ones.

“Sometimes patients bring their running shoes so we can see the pattern of wear,” he said. “If we find any significant abnormalities, we can manufacture custom-made orthotics for your shoes.”

He also advises calm. He encourages patients to avoid exercise that irritates the plantar fascia and seek other activities that do not cause pain, such as cycling or swimming.

“Exercise generally helps with healing,” he said. “But when it hurts, the movement hinders healing.”

Patients with acute plantar fasciitis may need four to six weeks of activity change.

In some cases, plantar fasciitis is treated with surgery to lengthen the plantar fascia. But that’s rare, said Dr. Lazor.

“It’s always the last resort,” he said.

Preparation for race day

Becky, who suffered from chronic plantar fasciitis, took a nine-month break from running. She did the exercises that Dr. Lazor had recommended.

She is diligent in stretching and strengthening exercises. And she is careful not to go barefoot.

“I have a special pair of shoes for the house,” she said. “I slip my shoes first thing in the morning.”

Since she got back to running in June, Becky has been careful not to overwhelm herself too soon.

“I take it easy. I tend to overdo it and I think that’s one of the reasons I got plantar fasciitis in the first place, ”she said.

Although she ran the 25k course with the River Bank Run seven or eight times, this year she has her sights set on the 10k race.

Her mom and dad, husband and sons Cohen and Easton will cheer there.

Standing at the racetrack after a long break will be worth it. Over the years she has convinced several friends to host the River Bank Run for the first time. Seeing her success reminds her of the first time she competed in the race – and the pride in achieving a goal she once thought was impossible.

“I think my favorite part is when they cross the finish line,” she said. “I love to watch people come in.”

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