From life support to 5k

May 14, 2024

Register for the Whitaker Wander 5k

On Saturday, May 18 at 9 a.m. walkers and runners will wend their way through the beautiful Whitaker Woods to support White Mountain Community Health Center at its third Whitaker Wander 5k. Improbably, one of those walkers will be Ann Norcross. Norcross was very active, regularly kayaking and hiking, until her COPD diagnosis, which sent her to life support with a collapsed lung just six months ago.

We talked to Norcross about her journey to get back on her feet and why she chose the Whitaker Wander 5k as a goal for this spring.

Siena Kaplan-Thompson: Tell me about why you’re planning to walk the Whitaker Wander 5k.

Ann Norcross: I have had a really hard year. I’ve been in and out of the hospital 15 times with medical issues. I’m looking to support the medical field. And I’m looking to inspire other people who have had medical issues.

Most people think of a 5k as a run, but I’m going to walk it. You can do it too! Nobody said you had to do the whole thing, nobody said you had to run, it’s what you can do. It doesn’t have to be a lot, it doesn’t have to be the same as someone else, you do what you can do to feel a bit better.

I have COPD [a lung disease that makes breathing difficult]. I was a very active person before. I have a lot of support, between my previous coworkers, my family, the medical staff. So many people have helped me out through my tough time, this is my way of giving back. I’m all about spreading love. It’s my mission in life, spreading as much love and light as I can in the world. People need that.

I really, really had a difficult time. Normally I’m very positive, I really try to get people to feel good. I try even on my harder days. It comes back to you. In the moments you don’t think you can do it, someone comes along and gives you a little hope and faith and love and light and it fills you back up so you can go on again.

SKT: It sounds like a big motivation for you is to help other people. What does it do for yourself to be working towards doing the 5k?

AN: I know I won’t ever be at full capacity, but to build myself up and feel better. I’m an active person. Some people are cool with being sedentary but I am not. Even if I just do a little bit at a time, it will help me feel normal. To feel like myself again, to the best of my ability, even if it’s just a little bit.

Last year I was stuck in bed, I couldn’t even go outside because the air quality was so poor and I couldn’t breathe. I used to have physical therapy, and they gave me exercises I could do in bed. It helped me because it still kept me somewhat active, and I’ve been building from there, bit by bit.

In December, my right lung collapsed and I was on life support for three days. It happened on Christmas. When I came out of there, I just made a decision, this is not how it’s gonna go. It’s got to be better than this.

So many people have helped me, in your office alone I’ve had providers, I’ve had social workers, they’ve just been so helpful. Churches have helped, people have been so patient helping me through until I could be self-sustaining. I’m super independent, it’s difficult to ask for help when you’re used to being self-reliant. I think it’s important that people know they can reach out, even in their darkest hour. I definitely went through some dark hours this past year. The entire community has really been helpful. I didn’t even realize how many people are out there who will give you a helping hand when you don’t think you have one.

SKT: I’m so glad you’re feeling so much better.

AN: I am extremely grateful for the support, from every direction. There are people who I see out walking every day who really inspire me. One of them walks around Conway in a Star Wars cape, he’s amazing. He walks every day regardless of the weather. I think of these people – they can do it, I can do it too. I can do it at my own pace.

Be good to yourself, know your limits, and just work on you. Self-love is a big thing. Once you take that step towards it, it feels good.

SKT: What kind of training are you doing?

AN: I try to walk at least 15 miles a week. That’s my weekly goal. I have to take breaks, but I just take my time and stroll, I usually walk around town. It doesn’t matter how fast you go, it doesn’t matter how long it takes, the point is you got up, and you didn’t do it for anyone besides yourself. You’re filling your own cup. Eventually, you inspire people. They see that you do it, it creates a movement – a self-awareness movement!

SKT: Is there anything else you want to share about working towards the 5k?

AN: I’m pretty excited about it! I wanted to do the Mammoth March in Boston last year, but I got sick. It’s 20 miles, you have 8 hours to walk it. I didn’t get to do it, so I was very disappointed. Then I learned about this one, I thought, well I’ll do that one! I’m working to build myself up and do the Mammoth March next year. My block is exactly one mile around – if I can walk around my block 20 times in 8 hours, then I know I can do it. One step at a time.

I just encourage anybody to do it, you don’t have to run, just participate, be a part of it. Come out and cheer other people on, it’s an amazing thing! I encourage people to get out there and do it for themselves, but what they don’t see is they’re also inspiring other people.

SKT: I think that was one of our hopes in starting the 5k, that it would give people going through a tough time something to inspire them and work towards.

AN: You guys do a lot of things for the community. Supporting people who are supporting others – we’re all one unit, you know?

SKT: Right, if we all support each other, we have a better community.

AN: Exactly.