There are moments in life when you feel like you’ve simply run out of gas, and if you’re past a certain age those moments become episodes that arrive with frustrating regularity. And unsurprisingly, these episodic bouts of exhaustion are likely to occur at times when you can’t stop to take a break. The clearest analogy for runners is that last mile of a race when your body cries out for rest and that voice in your head is shouting “I can’t go on!” Then something or someone appears to make your personal discomfort seem narcissistic or even wimpish. Paula Golladay is that person.
If you participate in timed races in Northern Virginia with any regularity, you may have seen Paula Golladay on her running blades. Her legs were amputated as the result of an inherited disorder, Gaucher Disease, which, though rare, occurs most common in Jewish people of Eastern and Central European descent (Ashkenazi). Among its many symptoms, Gaucher weakens bones, thereby increasing the risk of painful fractures. It also interferes with the blood supply to your bones, which can cause portions of the bone to die. Symptoms can appear at any age.
Paula had her left leg amputated on September 11, 2002, due to Gaucher. This was only after multiple surgeries and the removal of her left forefoot. Her surgeon advised that the only remaining alternative to save her leg required an eight-month recovery with no weight bearing that was given less than a 20 percent chance of success. For Paula, this was no alternative at all. Fearlessly, she told her doctor to amputate. When he asked how soon she would like the surgery, she replied “I’m not doing anything tomorrow. What are you doing?” Two weeks later she had the surgery, and eight weeks after that she was up and walking. Her right leg was amputated on February 23, 2009, once again due to complications from Gaucher.
Paula has never been one to set limitations on herself, regardless of the obstacles. Prior to her amputations, she was an avid cyclist, twice riding 100 miles in a single day. Her first timed race as an amputee was the 2017 Marine Corps Turkey Trot – 10K, which she admits was more of a walk than a run. Despite efforts to remain active and healthy, she was sidelined again in 2021 with serious Gaucher complications that left her barely able to walk. Her medical nightmare that year included five major surgeries – two revisions to her amputations and three abdominal operations. Following a race that same year, she fell and fractured her pelvis in five places. In a separate incident she fractured her L4-L6 vertebrae.
Though her recovery is an ongoing state of affairs, Paula still manages to run as often as possible. These days you will see her blade running most every weekend, sometimes in both Saturday and Sunday races. When asked why she does it, she may reply “It calms my mind and beats the hell of depression.” More often than not, however, Paula will respond with a quip that belies her disability and highlights her character: If Not Now, When? Dead Last Beats Didn’t Finish or Quit is a 4-letter word!
Paula’s determination is an inspiration to everyone, but her real strength is her profound empathy and the inspiration she draws from the accomplishments of others. To see and hear her on the racecourse, she typically gives many more shout-outs to her fellow runners than she receives. To show her support for the Boulder Crest Foundation (this year’s Memorial Day race beneficiary) and the trauma recovery programs they offer to veterans, first responders, and their families, she made a patriotic-themed quilt honoring their service. A true labor of love, Paula adorned the quilt with stars and stripes patches, all by her own hand (see photo)!
Ringing In Hope races are community events that salute and support the vital programs and services provided by local non-profit organizations while at the same time encouraging healthful exercise, family fun, and the spirit that arises from shared activity. We are also proud to recognize those unique individuals whose accomplishments inspire our admiration and awe. Paula Golladay is that person.