Mary McManus is a polio survivor who has turned her life around, and around, and around to accomplish what most of us only dream of doing in a lifetime. Poet, author, Blog Talk Radio show host, public speaker and marathon runner, Mary’s stories will undoubtedly inspire us all to believe we can truly accomplish anything we set out to do.
Love and Water- Can you share with us how you came to writing poetry and starting your own greeting card company?
Mary McManus- In December of 2006 I was diagnosed with Post-Polio Syndrome. I’m a polio survivor, and as we polio survivors age we can start experiencing symptoms of fatigue, weakness, chronic pain, tremors, and difficulty swallowing and breathing. We also, as a group, are typically type-A personalities, because we are so used to pushing ourselves past our limits and we don’t always know how to say no or to pace ourselves. There was a lot of shame around polio when I was young- it was called the AIDS of its day, because there was a lot of embarrassment over the idea that we were not good enough. So we always had to prove ourselves, so to speak. I was teased a lot in gym class because I wasn’t able to participate in sports, and was limited physically. So I pushed myself mentally. In my career as a social worker, I pushed myself beyond my limits, and finally burnt out. I went to the Spaulding Rehab Hospital for Polio, and the doctor said I needed to make some serious lifestyle changes if I didn’t want to end up in a wheelchair for the rest of my life. It was absolutely devastating to me because I felt like my whole world was crumbling. Not only did I feel awful, but to have someone tell me I had to quit my job was completely overwhelming. I started to meet with some therapists who were able to reflect such love and understanding back to me that I went into a short leg brace and used a wheelchair only sometimes, and I started reconnecting with God. I had a vision of God as a child when I had polio, and I felt this amazing comfort. But as I got older and was busy raising my family, I forgot about my spiritual side. So one of the first things I did while I was healing was to go within. As I was deciding what my next course in life was going to be I started to write poetry. One of the first poems I wrote was called “Running the Race.” I had no idea when I wrote this in 2007 that I was going to go on to run the Boston Marathon. I just knew in my mind’s eye that I was winning a 10k race- and at the time I wondered why I was envisioning that, but I just went with it as part of my path to healing. I started writing poetry at warped speed. I had to have pen and paper with me wherever I went, and in the morning I would wake up and there would be a poem there. They were all amazing, all about appreciation and gratitude and nature. It was incredible, and as this was happening I began to reposition myself with these new interests. My husband finally said to me, “why don’t you start your own greeting card company?” And I thought to myself, “why not?” So I did.
L&W- What is the company called?
MM- It’s called New World Greeting Cards: Original Poetry for Every Occasion, and I do customized poems for people. People basically commission me to write personalized poems for their special occasions. I do a lot of birthday and anniversary cards, and also weddings, eulogies, and anything else people may want a poem for. Most recently I wrote a poem for a woman whose dad died seven years ago and she’s now getting married. She wanted to find a way to honor him, but she didn’t want anything sappy or sentimental. So we talked on the phone for about half an hour and then she sent me as much information as she wanted about him and their relationship. I wrote it and she is very happy with it. One of my customers wanted to buy herself a gift for the New Year for inspiration, and asked me to write a poem for her. I was really touched by that, because I think that’s such a special gift to give to yourself. I was honored to write it.
L&W- You also have a book of poetry! How did that come into fruition?
MM- Soon after we created New World Greeting Cards, all kinds of events started happening that put me in the company of published authors, and I realized I had a book to write. Ironically, around that time, when I went in for my mammogram, I found out I had a tumor. I knew at that point that I was on such a good track for the first time in my life that I had to get rid of it. So I started to visualize and meditate, and when I went in to have it tested again, it was gone. It was a wake up call that I needed to continue on this new path I had found. It’s been an incredible journey. I finished my rehab, got my book published, and in 2007 I hired a personal trainer because I needed to regain strength in certain areas of my body that had really suffered. When I first started strength training I couldn’t even pass the assessment test. By February of 2008 I had made a good amount of progress, and we were talking about what my new goals were in my training, and I said I wanted to run the Boston Marathon! It was amazing to me how I had a vision of it a few years before, and it hit me in that moment that I was going to actually do it. I also knew I wanted to use it as an opportunity to raise money for Spaulding Rehab. I bought my first pair of running shoes and started my training, and one year later my husband, daughter and I crossed the finish line on April 20 and raised over $10,535.00 for Spaulding Rehab.
L&W- That’s so amazing, Mary! So inspiring. I understand you also have another book in the works?
MM- Well, I do a show on Blog Talk Radio called “It’s All About You” and I read a poem from my book, “New World Greetings: Inspirational Poetry and Musings for a New World,” on every show. My second book is with a publisher now. It’s called “Set Sail For A New World: Healing The Self Through The Gift Of Poetry.” I donate twenty percent of the proceeds from both books to Spaulding Rehab. On Thursdays I’m a co-host for a show called “City Enlightenment,’ which is about finding sources of enlightenment wherever you are. I write a poem for each show, and realized recently that I now have a third book in the works!
L&W- Can you talk about the work you do with Rotary Clubs, and how that is helping to cure polio?
MM- I speak at Rotary Clubs because Rotary International was given a grant by Bill and Melinda Gates to eradicate polio worldwide. It would only be the second disease that was ever eradicated- smallpox was the first. They donated roughly 300,000,000.00 to Rotary, and there is a matching grant for $200,000,000.00 in place. To date, we have $109,000,000.00, which is really exciting. A vaccine is only $.60, but the costs also go to getting teams together and in building teams in India, Pakistan and Nigeria, where polio is rampant. Teams go in to educate the people in those countries so they understand the vaccine is safe, and could really save their lives. There are many polio survivors today who work hard to share their stories of survival so that people can better understand the effects it has on the body. Violinist and conductor Itzhak Perlman is a polio survivor. He did the “Concert To End Polio” at Lincoln Center in December of ’09. He is now in a motorized wheelchair, but for this concert he came out in leg braces and crutches to illustrate to the audience of how devastating a disease this is, and that we can eradicate it. So I go to local rotary clubs to share with them my journey with polio. One of the clubs in making a donation in my honor to the End Polio Now Campaign. When Rotarians buy my book, I donate twenty percent of the profits to the End Polio Now Campaign as well. I was also the associate producer for WBZ Radio’s The Jordan Rich Show on January 10 of this year “Polio: Forgotten But Not Gone,” to bring awareness to Rotary International’s End Polio Now Campaign.
L&W- Your stories are so moving and inspiring, Mary. I’m so grateful you have shared them with us.
MM- When I speak or write an introduction for a speaking engagement I always sit back and recognize how grateful I am for what I’ve gone through and where I am today. I do a gratitude journal everyday. I’ve met the most amazing people on my journey, and am inspired by what people are doing. There is so much good news out there. And that makes me look forward to what there is to come.