Car accident. Amputation. Stump. Prosthetist. Cerebral Palsy. Disability. Perseverance. Success.
That’s a ten word summary of the best book I’ve read in the recent past.
The Running Dream chronicles the story of Jessica, a bright young sprinter who loses her right leg below the knee after a catastrophic car accident. Jessica reluctantly enters the world of doctors, disability, rehab, and feels conspicuous at every turn. She is forced to relearn the simplest of tasks, like getting to the toilet. Upon returning to school, Jessica begins to relate to her peers with disabilities in a new way. She befriends Rosa, a Freshman and math genius with Cerebral Palsy who begins to tutor Jessica. Through her friendship with Rosa, Jessica learns (and understands in a personal way) that everyone wants to be seen for who they are not for their disability.
Jessica progresses in rehab, is fit for a walking prosthesis and is able to be fit for a running prosthesis (through the tireless fundraising efforts of her track teammates). Jessica begins training again because she was made to run– it is what she enjoys most in life, something transcendent and nearly indescribable. After describing the joys of running to her new friend, Rosa, Jessica determines to push Rosa in her wheelchair for a ten mile race so that Rosa too can experience the joy of the journey and the wind in her hair.
Author Wendelin Van Draanen impacted me on so many levels. I am an occupational therapist and work with children and teens with disabilities just like Rosa’s and Jessica’s. I was impressed with the accuracy of Van Draanen’s depiction of the rehab process. Some of the tips Jessica was given I have shared with some of my patients! Also, I have done research about the place of persons with disabilities and daily seek to see them (and encourage others to see them) as people first who happen to be dealing with a disability. And I am an aspiring runner. I am growing to understand the joys of running, accomplishment, and the magic of the finish line. I enjoyed the emotions that Van Draanen was able to bring into this book: the financial strain of hospital bills, the guilt of survival, the changes in relationships, and the thrill of success.
I loved this book. My only edit would be, that had Jessica had occupational therapy as part of her rehab process, she wouldn’t have had to perform a dangerous one-legged hop into the shower in one scene!
Truly fabulous read, Wendelin. Thank you for the powerful message.