The lazy days of summer are upon us. Here at Mermaid Series HQ, we are busy gearing up for our fall Mermaid Series Events. We wanted to bring back our Inspirational Mermaid Athlete series. We believe that all of our Mermaid Athletes are special. We take the time and care to profile ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Look around you next time you toe the line, you may see a few of the familiar faces that we have profiled so far.
This month, we would like to introduce you to Bernadette Gomez. Bernadette has been a longtime Mermaid Athlete, both as a participant and volunteer. Her infectious smile and calm demeanor are two of the inviting qualities that draw people to Bernadette. She is a big presence in the running community and Mermaids will find her running races throughout the bay area. When challenges and obstacles get in her way, Bernadette is a fierce competitor and her resiliency is priceless! Read her story and you'll see why she is our Inspirational Athlete for the month of August.
MS: Tell us about your favorite places to run, Bernadette.
BG: I used to love training on the Los Gatos Creek Trail.
MS: Who do you enjoy running with?
BG: I love waking up at the crack of dawn and driving 15 minutes from my home to meet up with the moms of San Jose Chapter of Moms Run This Town (SJMRTT). I also loved to run with my yellow lab, Twinkie. Our 5am runs around the neighborhood were a great way to start my day.
MS: What do you like to use for fueling and hydration during your events?
BG: I like (Gu) Chomps. Anything else will upset my stomach. I love Nuun hydration.
MS: Tell our readers about your pre and post race meals.
BG: My pre-race meal is a toasted bagel with peanut butter and honey. I also have a small cup of coffee. I do not eat right after a race. I am just not hungry. After an hour or so, I could eat anything, but I prefer dim-sum.
MS: Not many know your story. Those of us who have known you for a long time understand that you are on a comeback. Would you share with our readers a little more about you?
BG: I was 43 years old running 2 to 3 times a week, and when I am not running I was at the gym. I had two teen, well-adjusted boys, and my marriage, with even the trials that marriages go through, was sailing smoothly. I was surrounded by great friends who share the same values that I have: family, running, laughs, and good food (not always in that order). My life was full. I was content and happy.
The events that transpired on October 28, 2014, were truly unexpected. I had been nursing a horrible migraine all day. I called in sick for work and spent most of the day in bed. I got up, made dinner and watched game 6 of the World Series. Disappointed with the outcome of the game, I went upstairs to get ready for bed. I tucked my youngest to sleep and my eldest was hanging out with me in my room. All of the sudden, I felt as if someone hit me on the back of my head with a 2x4. My kid, who was 16 at the time, noticed I was slurring my words. I do not
have a recollection of what happened next. I heard the word “stroke” being said by paramedics. I heard “stroke unit,” then, I heard nothing.
I woke up a few weeks later, still very out of it. I was told that I had a stroke. I heard myself say, “I have to get out of here. I am running the 10k Turkey Trot.” I still had not realized that my life as I knew it, had changed.
A blood vessel had broken in my head, causing a hemorrhagic stroke. [After] three weeks in and out of the ICU, I was transferred to Kaiser’s Intensive In-Patient rehab facility in Vallejo, California. I could not move or feel the left side of my body. When I was told that I had to learn to walk again, I was in shock. I cried. I refused to go to therapy. I hated being in my wheelchair.
The next day, I got to work. It was painful. It was hard. My family was involved. They had to learn how to get me in/out of the car, the bed, the shower and the toilet. They were planning on building a ramp so that I can get into my house. I told them, “No ramp.” I told them that we wouldn’t need it.
One of my physical therapists challenged me. The challenge: “You will walk the ‘She is Beautiful 5k in March.’” It was November. The first few weeks at home were really trying. It was tough to navigate my wheelchair around the house. I could not do it myself because my left arm was not working. I wanted to be out of that chair, even if it was just in the house. By New Year’s Day, I was out of the wheelchair and was using a quad cane.
Fast forward to March 2015, with the support and help of my very, very precious friends and my husband, I crossed the finish line of the She is Beautiful 5k race. I walked 6 more 5k’s after that. My next goal was to walk a 5k without a cane or without having to hold anyone’s hand. That goal was met at the San Francisco Mermaid Series Race 5k.
I still have more work to do. I have tone and spasticity (one of the many gifts of the stroke) on my left leg which is preventing me from running. But, I am working on that. My arm still needs a lot of work to be fully functional. I was told that being a runner saved my life. I plan on living life fully and along the way, inspire others to push through obstacles in their lives.
MS: We are without words. Knowing that we were a part of your recovery is an extreme honor. We loved watching you cross that finish line on November 1, 2015 and look forward to seeing you cross many more.
How are you doing these days?
BG: I have not walked outside for a while now. I fell and had to get stitches in my face. I got a little nervous being outside. I focused on strengthening and core work at my gym. I also started working out in the pool. I do pool walking and aqua Zumba. I believe those activities helped me get stronger.
My PT saw that I was walking incorrectly. I was fast, but my gait was wrong. I had to relearn to walk properly and improve my balance. These days, I stand at the corner of the house doing exercises to challenge my balance. My son asked me if I was practicing for a sobriety field test.
I am focused on improving my gait, balance and form right now. Even if this means I have to walk on the treadmill. Walking in front of a mirror gives me instant feedback on what I need to
improve. I miss running so much. It is silly, but I look at the runners up and down my street (there are a lot of them) and I envy them.
MS: We have no doubt that you will get back to where you want to be, Bernadette. You have tremendous grit and determination. Where might someone follow your journey online?
BG: I have a blog site called mommaberna.com and I have a Facebook site called Sole Stories by MamaBerna (@mommaberna).
MS: Thank you, Bernadette, for opening up to the Mermaid Athletes out there.
Know the signs of a stroke by following the acronym, F.A.S.T. You can learn more about the signs at: