There are individuals who let setbacks and pitfalls overwhelm their lives, there are those who overcome them, and then there’s Alex Dumas.
In 2003, Dumas was diagnosed with a debilitating terminal illness. Doctors gave her the proverbial “You only have so much time to live” speech. She would lose a considerable amount of weight, lose half a lung, have to wear gloves, protective dark glasses, and a mask for health reasons, and even have a stint in hospice. (Dumas requested that we withhold the specific name of her condition.) In 2006, Dumas was told she wouldn’t make it past June. After enduring a total of 28 surgeries, the possibility of never walking or seeing again-let alone death-was very real.
Alex proved everyone wrong.
She would harness her mental fortitude through the next few years. “I just don’t think you have a choice,” says Dumas. “I think when you lose everything that you have in your life, like your health, you have to depend only on yourself. You make yourself become a stronger person.”
The words “can’t” and “never” don’t apply to this talkative, spunky athlete. But a little help from a furry friend didn’t hurt.
Last year, after a two-month stay at the Mayo Clinic, Dumas’ confidence in her health was looking for a jolt. That’s when a Golden Labrador Retriever, aptly named Hope, was assigned to her.
Dumas never thought of herself as disabled. Everybody for the last three years suggested she get a seeing eye dog to help with her hearing and vision impairments on her left side. “I thought, ‘What am I going to get a dog for? How can they limit me like that?'” But she would eventually concede in August of 2006.
“The doctors didn’t give me any hope. That’s what’s kind of funny. I got hope when I got Hope,” she says. “Within a couple of months, I could start running again, because I wasn’t by myself. Hope can hear sounds that I can’t hear. She will put her body in front to stop me from going over something or from hurting myself. I know where she’s at, and I know if there’s a problem with her without seeing her. I can know if there’s a car behind me without seeing or hearing it.”
Soon, Dumas was allowed back on the treadmill and her condition improved. “I started regaining who I was again,” she adds. “I got Hope and something inside my head clicked subconsciously. I realized that I had to take care of Hope because she depended on me to live.”
Now the pair will make history when, for the first time ever, someone will run a marathon with a service dog. The LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon will mark the northern Indiana resident’s return to her hometown of Chicago. They will enter in the regular field, not the handicapped or disabled divisions.
Alex And Hope
Back in March, Dumas recalls a conversation with her aunt when running a marathon was brought up. “I told her I was going to run the marathon and she told me I was crazy.” Alex’s aunt told her that it required too much training. Her aunt and others underestimated Dumas’ can-do, no-nonsense attitude. Says Dumas, “I think it’s sad that people let themselves be limited by everybody else-that they’ve never taken a stand in what they believe in.”
Their entry into the LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon has never been about the publicity; Dumas realized only after her registration that she will be a groundbreaker when she runs the marathon with Hope. “I’m not doing the marathon for history, as ‘Oh, look at this.’ I’m doing it so other people who think they can’t do something can do it.”
It’s Dumas’ unflappable attitude, through a life-altering experience, and the significance of running with a dog named Hope, that will spur others-even non-runners-to find their own courage in adverse times. “I was given life there in Chicago, and I think it’s only fitting that I “run for life” with Hope there.
Marathons are a microcosm of life, demonstrating the will to accomplish what was once thought impossible. This is especially true for Dumas. “It was a kind of a thing that I wanted to know if I could do it … I looked healthier when I ran than when I didn’t run-and it’s good for Hope.”
Despite some limitations, Dumas and Hope have a few unorthodox tricks up their sleeves in between normal preparations. Dumas runs with a weight vest. She also fits in the traditional dog walks Hope requires, for stamina.
As for restrictions, she remains a realist. “I don’t set goals, like I have to run in 2:46, or something.” She’s also concerned for Hope: “I also have her to think about. Realistically, if I put extra pressure on myself, she’s going to feel it. There’s also physical therapy, and I knock ribs out in public all the time. My whole abdomen has been rebuilt so many times.”
Dumas is filled out well now and looks as if she never had health issues. Dumas’ family and friends have seen the health and personal changes she has had to navigate. Watching her battle with adversity has been hard, but also has helped them realize how much character Alex has.
“I couldn’t go through what she went through and still have as much confidence, or want to live as much as she does,” says Tom Wilson, her grandfather. “She keeps pluggin’ along. I’ve seen her down and out, and she just keeps coming back.”
Dumas feels hope has been somewhat forgotten in our world today. “People need to find it so they can believe in themselves again and have faith,” Dumas says, as she strokes Hope’s yellow coat. “When they can do that, they will get their miracle. The miracle is themselves.”
“I want everyone to know that anything is possible. You can do whatever you want-it’s just how bad you want it. Never think that you have to live with somebody else’s expectations. You don’t. What you do with your life is up to you, and you’re the only one who can limit it.”
Anthony Brass is an intern with Chicago Athletemagazine and a freelance writer in the Chicago area. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.