Grace Marschall, 55, underwent emergency bypass surgery four years ago. Now, she lifts, runs, and even does Zumba at Full Circle Fitness NY in Colonie. Kassie Parisi/Spotlight
COLONIE — Grace Marschall was one of over 3,000 participants in the recent Freihofer’s Run for Women. Marschall, like so many other runners, did not finish in first place, nor did she finish in last place. She completed the run, her first 5K ever, in 48 minutes. After the race, she was a bit disappointed about her time. However, at the end of the day for Marschall, the start and finish, not the time, were the most significant factors, considering that she is on the tail end of receiving emergency heart surgery four years ago.
“Five k’s were what somebody else did. I watched. I didn’t participate,” Marschall told Spotlight News during an interview at Full Circle Fitness NY, a small gym located in the Capital District where she exercises rigorously now at least three times a week with trainers and other clients. Marschall is calculated in her workouts, making sure to not push herself to the point where it would be detrimental to her health, but ultimately isn’t afraid of something happening to her heart.
Four years ago, things were different. Marschall, now 55, had been dealing with chest pains for seven years. She was living in Texas at the time and had undergone multiple different tests for the pain, such as CAT scans, MRIs, and other heart tests. Marschall had also been seeing a cardiologist, who told her she should undergo stress management for the pain. She integrated the heart pain into her every day life because of that diagnosis, and didn’t particularly notice it getting worse.
“I think in the back of my mind I wanted that to be true because then it wouldn’t interrupt my life. I would have to just deal with it, and just keep on going,” Marschall said. “It was part of every day.”
On one particular day in 2012 however, her heart pain was worse than usual. While it might not have been anything different for her, Marschall’s husband noticed it was a different pain, the worst she had ever been in. They went to the hospital immediately.
Doctors soon discovered that Marschall had no radial pulse in her left wrist. When they attempted to perform an angioplasty, doctors found that the area was rock solid and blocked off, and needed to go in surgically and perform a bypass. While performing the bypass, surgeons also found a lump in Marschall’s breast, which she later had removed. Her surgery took around four hours.
Later, Marschall learned from her doctor that if she had not gone to the hospital at that time, she would have been dead in six months.
She said the procedure was easy enough for her because she was sedated, but for her children and husband, the waiting was painful.
“It just made my mortality more real to my kids. That, there will be a day where I’m not around, and it scared the hell out my husband,” she said. She explained that the only thing her husband could focus on during the procedure was hoping that nothing would go wrong. Marschall tearfully recalled when her husband told her that she was the glue that kept the family together.
After the surgery, Marschall was in the intensive care unit for 24 hours, and then she returned home. Her recovery was smooth, and it took about six weeks.
“I’m one of the lucky ones because I got in, I had surgery. I’m able to do things now, because of that,” she said.
Years ago, Marschall probably wouldn’t have joined a gym, let alone sign up to run a 5K.
“Right after my surgery, I wouldn’t go near a treadmill. They scared me, because I was so afraid something would happen,” she explained. That changed when she moved to Schenectady, and started working out at Full Circle Fitness this past September. Marschall felt way out of her comfort zone when she began working out, but pushed aside her fears when she decided that she was working out for herself, not anybody else, noting that it’s particularly important for women to find things they enjoy and do only for themselves, and that will give them a reprieve from the familial responsibility that so often comes from being a mother and wife.
“I realized that I could do more than I ever thought I could,” she explained. Currently, her favorite exercise is suspension training, which allows her to work out her upper body and her core at the same time.
After a few months at Full Circle Fitness, Marschall decided to sign up for the Freihofer 5K and didn’t look back. She signed up for the race on Jan. 25, even though the race wasn’t until June 4.
“Was it scary? Yeah,” she admitted, noting that she felt the task was impossible more than once. But, with help from trainers, Marschall completed a 10-week training regiment, even running on days that weren’t scheduled running days during the training. The result was a completed race in June, and a husband who was a nervous wreck while she was running but was appeased with chocolate chip cookies, according to Marschall.
The fact that Marschall overcame such large hurdles does not go unnoticed at the gym, according to Full Circle Fitness NY owner Dan Romand. Romand said that even though Marschall herself might not notice, her progress inspires people at the gym, both younger and older, to push forward.
“She inspires people around here,” Romand said.
When Marschall joined Full Circle Fitness, her resting heart rate was 88, and it’s now down to 62. She didn’t lose as much weight as she initially hoped she would, but she’s the healthiest she’s been in a long time, and there isn’t any damage to her heart. Marschall hopes that her story proves to people that they can do things like run 5Ks and get in shape no matter what their circumstances are, because she never thought she would be capable of getting herself to the place she’s in now, and plans to stay in.
“I think we get too involved with the numbers. I’m here, when, against all odds, I shouldn’t be,” Marschall said.