There are certain people you come across who just blow your mind and inspire you to live your best life, no excuses allowed. Heather Laptalo is one of those people. Introduced to physical challenges from the day she was born, Heather has been handed more NOs than many of us have ever heard. And while many would have given into the idea that the glass was half empty, Heather had a very different reaction — and she saw the opportunity in the trials. We had the opportunity to ask Heather about her physical journey to where she is now — thriving, pushing limits, and defying the medical odds — living a life more fulfilled than anyone would have predicted for her!
From the time she was born, and for unknown reasons, Heather’s bones, as she puts it, didn’t know how to grow correctly. As a baby, she had foot braces to straighten out her feet, and by 10, a back brace would be used as a remedy for her scoliosis, or curvature of the spine. Because her back was shaped like an S, she slept in the brace every night. As you can imagine, not being able to move or walk in the brace, and because it twisted her spine in the opposite direction, she felt it was more like torture than anything else. Despite the agonizing pain from the brace’s efforts to move her spine into place, on a nightly basis, it ultimately didn’t work.
By the age of 13, once the curves in her spine continued to worsen, Heather ended up having to get a spinal fusion. She had to have two rods screwed into each side of half of her spine, while a new brace provided support for the other half. Heather continued to grow, and the medical help continued not to work. The scoliosis also worsened, and she developed lordosis (front to back S curve). The following years would prove to be even more challenging — at the age of 18, more surgeries included reconstruction on her jaw, which had become crooked as a result of the evolution of her spine. Even after countless changes in her body, painful treatments, and needs for surgery, Heather pushed forward with a smile on her face. You wouldn’t have known that she had been through some of the most difficult physical challenges.
Once she had her last surgery, Heather received news from her doctor that would’ve crushed anyone’s resolve — she was told that she is permanently 20% disabled, permanently missing 40% of her lung capacity, and that she’s “far too fragile for contact, and [would] never be able to run again — not even a mile.” With a love for running and soccer, she could have been devastated to the point of giving up, but her reaction was the opposite. Her response to her doctors was that of, “I couldn’t believe it and told my doctors I was going to try.” Slowly and surely, one step at a time, Heather slowly built her strength, stamina, and speed, and was able to train herself into long-distance running and full marathons! “Bodies are amazing,” Heather says. “You can tell it to do something and it will do it if you consistently believe and try. This last year, I’ve run 50 miles without stopping, through the Grand Canyon and around mountains. I’ve run a full marathon in 2:45:59.”
Heather certainly is an inspiring person, to say the absolute least. To have endured the amount of challenges she’s had — physical and, inevitably emotional — yet to immediately deny the NOs in a way that allowed her to come out on top, is beyond remarkable.
To read more from our Q & A with Heather, check out our story in the Spring/Summer issue of our Ellie Magazine!
This inspiring story about the road to overcoming and defeating fitness challenges was contributed exclusively to Ellie by Heather Laptalo. She is a sponsored athlete, keynote speaker, adventurer, and storyteller. Instagram: @hlaptalo Website: www.heatherlaptalo.com