From Survivor to Marathoner, Maria Papalia-Meier’s Inspiring Story of Goal-Setting

From Survivor to Marathoner, Maria Papalia-Meier’s Inspiring Story of Goal-Setting

“I wanted to run but nobody was telling me how to do it. I realized it was my responsibility, I had to take control of it and figure it out myself. I had to learn how to walk again if I was ever going to move forward on my journey to run again.”

In August of 2022, Maria Meier told the OOFOS team that she intended to run her very first marathon. This personal goal may seem achievable to some people, but most people have not faced the challenges that Maria has overcome. It was during this meeting that the OOFOS team asked to document Maria’s journey as she toed the start line of the biggest race of her life.

The Backstory

Maria has always defined herself as a runner. Running was not only her daily exercise or stress relief, it provided her with a social circle within her community. After tackling local 5K’s and 10K’s, she started training for her very first half marathon. It was during this time that Maria’s life took an unexpected turn that left her fighting for survival.

In June of 2014, Maria went into septic shock from a strep infection she did not realize she had. Sepsis is a blood infection and can be life-threatening if not treated or caught right away. The body goes into Septic shock when the infection has already spread throughout the entire blood stream, often causing severe organ damage and failure.

Maria spent 7 weeks in the hospital - 2 of those weeks in a medically induced coma. The doctors told her husband that she was the sickest patient in the hospital. While in a coma, the doctors gave Maria presser meds to keep all of her blood circulating to her vital organs, resulting in less blood flow to outer extremities. “When I woke up, my feet were black from the ankles down to my toes."

Just 4 months later, Maria had all of her toes amputated. 

"I was very depressed and sad, running was a part of me and who I was. I had just gone through something traumatic …and I lost part of myself.” Simple actions became extremely hard. Normal shoes were leaving Maria off-balance and walking along the outside of her feet. It was then that Maria’s podiatrist recommended OOFOS. “I had a lot of new skin growth so the ball of my foot was very sensitive. After I got my first pair of OOFOS I was able to start walking more naturally again and put more pressure on the front part of my feet. OOFOS became part of my therapy.”

The Importance of OOFOS

Maria had been wearing the OOcloogs while the swelling in her feet went down after her operation. Maria called in to OOFOS to ask about specific sizing of OOFOS for her feet, and was introduced to Linda Jaros, the OOFOS Brand Educator and Company Wellness Coach. Linda recommended the OOahh slide to Maria, reassuring her that the strap will secure her foot across the footbed.

“Since Maria does not have toes, she has no way to control her forward motion. OOfoam technology and our patented footbed design more evenly distributes pressure across the sole of the foot and this is why OOFOS have been such an important part of Maria’s recovery.” -Linda Jaros.

The Comeback

With the goal of running once again, Maria hired a personal trainer. “ I started working with Darren in 2016 when I knew the first step to my recovery was to get my strength back.” They spent weeks in Maria’s home gym working to retrain her muscle and mind connection and regain the strength her legs had lost. Maria also was attending yoga classes regularly to find her balance and improve her mental strength. “It really amazed me that over time, I was able to stand and balance on one leg. When you have an open mind and focus, your body responds.” Simultaneously, Maria had been working on her running mechanics at the Running Clinic at Spaulding in Cambridge, MA with her coach, Lindsey. After months of perfecting her new gait and retraining her muscle and mind connection, she took her first fast steps on the treadmill. “I remember the first day I actually got to run -I felt like me again. As soon as I left I called my husband; I was so excited I actually got to run. After being sick, I lost a lot of who I was, but when I got to run again, I felt like I was making my comeback.”

It is advantageous for Maria to run in a more minimal shoe so that she can feel the ground to avoid running off balance or rolling her ankle. Because of this, Maria’s feet feel every rock and groove on the ground and become extremely sore after the impact of foot to pavement. 

In 2018, Maria would complete her first half marathon - the same marathon she was training for before she got sick. She documented this comeback journey in her book titled, I Am a Runner, the Memoirs of a sepsis survivor. Maria has since completed a number of half marathons and is now looking ahead to achieve her new goal: to run 26.2.

The Road to 26.2

Maria started training for the Kiawah Island Marathon in August 2022. She convinced her lifelong best friend, Sara, to also train for this same marathon. This would be both of the women's first marathon and they planned to run it at the same pace to motivate each other the entire way. “Most of the time the obstacles we think we have are things that we tell ourselves that we can’t do or we allow other people to tell us we can’t do. If you know in your heart it’s a goal you want to reach, then anything is possible”.

In the summer, Maria must keep her mileage low due to the hot temperatures, as her feet are prone to blisters and swelling. The best temperatures for Maria to run are in the fall and winter, when the temperatures are in the 40’s-50’s or lower. She started to increase her mileage through September and October, logging runs of 20 miles. After countless training runs, strength sessions with Darren, and a trip to Asheville, North Carolina, to train with Sara, the big race was approaching fast. “It’s emotional in that this has been a goal of mine and I want to succeed in it."

The Race

On the eve of the big race, Maria was not sure if she was just excited, nervous, or both. “Physically, I know I am prepared, it’s the mental part that I stress over. I am just going to take it mile by mile, water stop by water stop.” The following morning, Maria was buzzing with nervous energy and ready to tackle her goal. It was a cold, misty morning in South Carolina. The perfect temperature for Maria to succeed. The first 10 miles were a breeze and Maria felt great. Around mile 14, Maria was plagued with a random knee pain. The discomfort made the rest of the race grueling, yet her feet felt zero pain. Despite the pain she was feeling, Maria knew how monumental this was and how far she had come to get to this moment. Sara offered Maria words of encouragement the entire way and Maria crossed the finish line after just 5 hours. While embracing Sara, she became emotional - in awe of herself and what her body is capable of. “I am very proud of my accomplishment. When I look back to where I was after surviving septic shock, losing my toes and working so hard to be able to run my first marathon, there is no end in sight. Now there is no stopping me.”