Corazon Miller is a NZ Herald reporter

Ankle brace helps runner keep running in face of dire prognosis

When Debbie Hardy developed arthritis in her ankle, she was told to forget about running.

The avid runner was devastated. But a year later, the 34-year-old is training to run a half marathon thanks to a UK company that makes a device used by only a handful of others, including war veterans.

Hardy's right ankle became swollen and painful late last year due to an infection, caused by a form of the staph bacteria.

The positive psychology coach ended up having four surgeries and spent a few weeks on intravenous antibiotics to rid her foot of the infection.

"The infection ate the cartilage that's normally between the joint and partially fused the bones together. What isn't fused is bone on bone - once that happens there is no cure and the cartilage doesn't grow back."

Instead of spending her Christmas vacation and summer months doing what she loved, Hardy spent many weeks recuperating.

"The hospital told me to forget about running," she said.

"I found that quite hard to take, with it being such a big part of my life, I didn't really want to give it up."

In June this year she realised her foot was as good as it was going to get - unless she found extra help.

"Basically when I try and run with that foot now, and I try push off the toes I can't do that anymore, it's quite painful," Hardy said.

She turned to the United Kingdom, where a private company manufactured special off-loading braces, that would help reduce the impact running had on her arthritic ankle.

For $NZ8000 she got one custom-made and is now one of a handful others, including war veterans, using the supportive device.

Hardy said running was more than just a way for her to keep in form, but was a motivational and social activity - something she wasn't prepared to give up just because of an injured foot.

"I had run almost daily for years.

"I was running like competitions all the time and running everyday, it was my social activity."

Hardy's only had the brace since July, but said already it's made a difference.

She is training for the Speight's West Coaster half-marathon on December 10, in an effort to fundraise for Arthritis New Zealand.

She runs around 20km once a week, and 10km every other day of the week.

"I'm definitely not as good as I was without it, but I'm still running a lot, so I'm just happy to be doing anything," Hardy said.

"Given they said to forget it, I feel really lucky, it's changed my whole attitude to life and also for me it's given me an opportunity to be inspiring to other people."

She hoped her run would increase awareness about the disease and its various forms.

According to the Ministry of Health's online fact sheet on arthritis the disease is classed as being the "single greatest cause of disability" in the country - with more than half a million people expected to be affected by it in their lifetime.

Despite these figures Hardy said few seemed to know much about arthritis.

To support her run click: here

- NZ Herald

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