To put it in simplest terms, Amy Robillard is a runner. Along with that title comes words like mom, wife, USA swim coach, high school cross country coach, swimmer and US Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier. As hearty a description that is, all of that doesn't really cover it for Amy.
The bad beginning
When her now five-year-old son Jameson was born, he was diagnosed with Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome, an extremely rare genetic immunodeficiency disorder that required a bone marrow transplant.
"The day he was born, his bone marrow was not functioning right, and the bone marrow is just like the motherboard of the entire body," Cincinnati native Amy said. The disease severely reduced Jameson's ability to form blood clots.
Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome is so rare, in fact, that she says only 504 children have ever been diagnosed. And although Jameson is now cured of the disease thanks to a transplant, he still is dealing with post-transplant issues like chemo therapy and heavy medications.
"It just rocks a child's life. His first three years were not like a normal child's life. We spent a lot of it in the hospital." And while Amy and her husband Matt were in and out of the hospital, their then three-year-old daughter Adalene was at home with her grandparents. The disconnect still angers Amy.
"So you have the three-year-old kid at home who was thrown completely through a loop. You read all these blogs about how to handle the second sibling, but — and I still feel anger — where are the blog posts about how to handle the second sibling who is born with a crazy medical catastrophe where you’re put in-patient at six days old [...] and you’ve got the three-year-old at home who is not old enough to really, truly understand it, but she sees everything that’s happening?"
Finding an outlet
Amy was angry during those days, so she took to running. As a swimmer in college, Amy ran for cross-training, so she was familiar with the art. In fact, running goes back all the way to grade school for her. She even remembers asking her parents for a pair of Nike Pegasus shoes. Later, when she was spending her days in the hospital with her husband and son, she would power walk the first floor of Cincinnati Children's Hospital when she could find 20 or 30 minutes. Running eventually became something she needed to do to get through the day.
Since then, Amy's run six marathons, with a myriad of half marathons and other races mixed in between. She says that if things had gone her way, she'd have liked to run 20 by now, but "six and qualified for the Olympic trials is pretty neat, you know?"
Amy ran — and won — Cincinnati's Flying Pig Half Marathon two years in a row before she fell on a woodsy trail near her home, resulting in a hip fracture. Miraculously, the next year, 2014, she competed in and won the Flying Pig (full) Marathon, out of 1,710 other women. Oh, and she won the year after that, too.
She credits her success in staying healthy after her injury to Beyond Exercise, a small gym in Cincinnati, and owner Eric Oliver.
"He really has helped me stay healthy — no stress fractures, no soft tissue damage, no misalignments where you’re totally jacking up your hip. If I hadn't worked with him, I don’t think my muscles would have been able to recover like they did."
Aside from running, Amy also does a lot of "active relief", aka strength workouts, to work on imbalance issues.
While she credits Beyond Exercise with her physical feats, Amy credits coffee, her husband, and her friends for keeping her sane. "Even though my husband travels a lot and is busy with work, he is so accommodating for me to get everything done. He’ll work from home a lot. He’ll have meetings or calls and we’ll try to get it worked out with kids. He’ll be like, 'OK go get your [physical therapy] done,' or, 'Go get your long run done,'. He knows that it serves a bigger purpose."
The bigger purpose
While running has turned into an outlet for Amy, she says it has also made her a better mom.
"I think it makes me a better mom because it’s my relief. I’m calmer (believe it or not) and I have more clarity. I actually open my mind when I’m running, like, ‘OK, [Adalene] has this project due, she has this paper due, she has her Valentine’s box,’ or ‘OK, [Jameson] needs his infusion tomorrow before I leave, we gotta get labs done, I gotta pack.' That’s what I did when I was on the treadmill this morning was go through everything I gotta do today, tonight, before I leave tomorrow — and it’s kind of a relief."
"I’m a better mom with what I do. I think a lot of moms can relate to that. It’s my time, and it's important not to feel guilty about it. Because you’re asking for one hour out of the day when the other 23 hours are for your kids."
"I think it’s been great for my kids to see. [Eight-year-old Adalene] sees firsthand that it’s awesome that you use your body like this, and it’s cool to be strong and get fit and race and do this stuff. It’s turned into being a role model, where the kids are actually seeing, ‘Oh you work so hard and it’s fun when you go to a race and it goes your way and you have a good day.’"
Today, Jameson is cured of the disease and dealing with post-transplant issues, so his life is far from any other 5-year-old's, but he and sister Adalene are doing just fine.
"It’s not a sob story," Amy said. "You put your game face on and you deal with it as a mom. I think any mom can relate to that. The most infuriating thing that I hear is, 'I don’t know if I could have done that.' Well, yes you could. You’re a mom. You have a child. You deal with it. And you find stuff that you didn’t know you had in you, and you make it happen."
Watch Amy run at the Olympic Qualifying Trials in Los Angeles Saturday, Feb. 13 at 1:00 p.m. EST on NBC. Three men and three women will qualify to represent the United States in Rio this summer.
"I’m just blessed to even qualify," Amy said. "Two hundred women qualify in a three-year window; it’s still pretty amazing [considering] how many people race in this country, so I still am shocked."