My name is Kim Virden and “I’m a Runner.” I think I was born a natural athlete. I’ve been in sports since I was in kindergarten, and competed on my first swim team at age 5. I was always doing some type of sport… if I wasn’t swimming, playing tennis, or downhill skiing, I was out fishing. I’ve always been drawn to sports – even after a bad skiing accident that left me with a traumatic brain injury and epilepsy at the age of seventeen.
I was out west skiing in Colorado with some family friends. Back then they called it hot-dogging, but now-a-days they call it freestyle skiing, with all the cool jumps and spins. Well, one bad airborne jump changed my life forever. I landed on my head, and the brain injury it caused put an end to my “old me” and opened up my new life. It took me five long years to get back to what would be my “normal.” Five tough, depressing, and hard years. Eventually, I worked thru all of the issues, problems, and hurdles life threw at me. Relearning wasn’t fun for someone who used to pick up things quickly and easily, and not being able to do sports was certainly tough. But, after many years of healing, I got the ok to start enjoying life and sports again. I started riding my bike after college, and boy did I enjoy the freedom of being out on the back roads, miles from home, wind in my hair and feeling free. Before long, I got the competition bug and was entering bike races again. One thing led to another, and I was not only entering races, but winning them and ended up rated as one of the top female racers in the United States. I competed in races all over the country – from Idaho to Georgia. My cycling career took me right up to the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, where I not only qualified for the US Olympic Trials, but was also chosen to carry the Olympic Torch. I got to hand it off to none other than football coach legend Lou Holtz.
After the Olympics, I retired from bike racing and moved up north to Madison, WI. It was then that I decided it was time for a new sport and I took up running so I could try my first triathlon. Wow, what a blast! It was tough, at first, though. I was a natural swimmer, and proven bike racer, but a rough and slow runner. Even so, I fell in love with the triathlon and competed for many years. It was running that really lit up my life, though. I didn’t care that I wasn’t the fastest around. I loved the sport for its solitude–for the hours of running all alone in the great outdoors. My love for running also opened up new opportunities and a new passion. It started when I read the book “I am the Central Park Jogger.” In the book, Trisha Meili tells her story of being brutally attacked while running in Central Park, but she also speaks about her rehab. Specifically, she talks about the importance of a group called the Achilles Track Club that helped her learn to run again with. To me, this sounded like an awesome group – a group especially formed for physically disabled athletes. I wanted to learn more about it, and I wanted to belong, but sadly, there wasn’t a local chapter in Wisconsin. So, I called up the New York City office and spoke with Dick Traum, the founder and president of Achilles. Next thing I know, I’m packing my bags and heading to NYC to participate in a 5 mile run with the Achilles Team and learn more about their program. I came home with fire under my tail and a passion growing stronger in my heart. I knew that I just had to start an Achilles program in Madison and fill the void for all disabled athletes in the area. It’s been 8 years now since I started my chapter. We still meet every Thursday for our weekly workout and our Madison chapter participates in several local races each year – everything from run/walks to triathlons. I’m so proud of all the athletes that have come my way in the past 8 years. I’ve been able run the NYC marathon three times, and I’ve had seven disabled athletes from Madison run the New York City marathon. I still love bragging about them and telling folks how very proud I am of each and everyone one of them! From my blind runner to my quadriplegic, it’s all about what they can do, not what they can’t do anymore.
In the summer of 2008 I had another life changing moment, but this time it was something wonderful! After losing a friend of mine to epilepsy I decided to apply for a service dog – a special seizure response dog. One that would be at my side 24×7, always be there to help me out, and get help if I had a seizure and got into danger. When the call came saying my special dog was coming on July 15th, I was so delighted I could barely stand. My service dog Karma has been at my side and helping me ever since. This summer we will celebrate our five-year anniversary together as a Team. I forecast a cake and champagne celebration.
A couple of summers ago we saw a story in the Wisconsin State Journal about Lily’s Lemonade stands, a group of folks trying to raise awareness for epilepsy and raise funds for epilepsy research at UW-Madison. Karma and I thought this was a wonderful idea, so off we went that Saturday morning trying to find each and every one of these lemonade stands. We stopped at each one we could find, drank some lemonade, and ate some delicious cookies (OK, maybe it was just me doing the eating and drinking, but Karma was more than willing to partake in those cookies!). Our new mission is to help Lily’s Fund spread the word about what epilepsy is, to educate folks on Seizure Response dogs, and help raise money to find a cure.