Meet the nine other cover athlete finalists here!
Cindy Spiva begins to jog with a nervous smile through Gas Works Park, just north of downtown Seattle. Her nerves are understandable. Spiva isn’t used to the attention, yet she’s fully aware of the photographer, the videographer and the half-dozen representatives from Brooks and Competitor Running who are watching her every step.
Cormac Evans doesn’t need to force a smile. Spiva’s 14-year-old son can’t talk, isn’t independently mobile and is mostly paralyzed on the right side of his body. Yet his grin is ear to ear as Mom pushes him through the park in a racing chair, both of them head to toe in new Brooks apparel and shoes. A slight breeze kicks up off of Lake Union, cooling the Pacific Northwest sun on a rare day when it doesn’t compete with Seattle clouds. For Spiva, the attention is new and exciting. For Cormac, it’s pure bliss.
“Kids like Cormac are very rarely able to immerse themselves and fully participate in life around them,” says Spiva, who lives in San Diego. “But when we run, in that experience, he’s a 100 percent participant. So often he’s invisible. He’s ignored. He’s treated like a piece of furniture. But when we run, people see him. They give him high-fives. Even though I’m his legs, he’s a full participant.”
The pair is in Seattle because Spiva clicked a box. A friend on Facebook had participated in “The Big Endorsement” campaign (the new promotion pays any runner $1 to be an officially endorsed Brooks athlete). Spiva thought it was a cute idea, so she signed up too. There was also an option to enter the Competitor Running Cover Athlete Contest. The magazine’s editorial staff pored over more than a thousand submissions, narrowing the finalists down to a list of 10 (keep reading to meet the other amazing runners!). Spiva’s story of courage, love (of running and family) and perseverance resonated, and she was selected as the winner. Her trip to Seattle for the cover shoot included a tour of Brooks headquarters and once-in-a-lifetime memories with her son.
Cormac was born with hemimegalencephaly, a rare neurological disorder where one half of the brain is abnormally larger than the other. By five months, he was undergoing brain surgery where doctors removed most of the left side of his brain, essentially disconnecting the right side of his body and language centers.
Spiva, 50, only started running last year. She went to the Carlsbad 5000 to support one of Cormac’s friends and became enamored with the experience. And more importantly—how Cormac reacted. He loved it more than she did. She immediately downloaded a couch-to-5K app and promised herself she’d run a half marathon by the time she was 50. Two days after her birthday in February, Spiva ran the Divas Half Marathon in Temecula, Calif. Little did she know that months later she’d be on the cover of a national running magazine.
“I don’t know if I really have words to explain what it was like, because I don’t consider myself an athlete or anyone of note,” says Spiva. “We’re everyman. We’re the 99.9 percent who go out and do our thing each day while watching the elites from afar. To have someone go ‘you’re noticeable,’ it’s crazy. And pretty cool.”
And yet it’s what Spiva didn’t say in her contest entry that might be the most telling about who she is. Four years ago, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis after waking one morning with impaired vision in one eye. A case of optic neuritis led to an MRI, which revealed “a brain full of lesions.” She didn’t disclose any of this until after she was selected the winner of the contest.
“I don’t really like things being about me. I like that this was about Cormac,” she says. “I’ve learned so much about the brain parenting Cormac that being handed my own diagnosis wasn’t a problem. I know what to do.”
So far, Spiva hasn’t had any episodes since that first one five years ago. Though the science is still out on whether running can help stave off MS, Spiva believes it’s helping to keep her brain and muscles sharp. She estimates that she runs between 15 and 30 miles per week. Sometimes it’s with Cormac, weather permitting. And sometimes she likes to go it alone on trails.
“I learned how to be an advocate for my son and myself, and I learned how to say no to doctors, which has been a very important tool,” says Spiva, who studied parasitic diseases in graduate school. “Most doctors have been respectful when I say no, because I usually have an educated reason. I believe in keeping my body moving and challenging it—especially on trails because [every] footfall is different. While I’m training my body and muscles to respond, I’m also training my brain.”
Now semi-retired, Spiva previously worked for 13 years at the San Diego Zoo in the education department. She teaches a museum studies course one month a year to graduate students through Johns Hopkins University and loves to write. But she also recognizes that taking care of Cormac is a full-time job. She has an aid. And her ex-husband, Keith, is involved with Cormac and their 18-year-old daughter, Chloe.
But running is just for mother and son. She’s found plenty of help from support groups online and within the running community and tries to be an example for those on the fence about getting involved in running.
“If I can do it, anyone can do it,” she says. “I just get out and move. I have my bad days and my great days. My goal is not to win any race we get into. It’s not even to place in my age group. It’s just to participate in life.
“We’ll just keep moving as long as we can and hope that we continue to keep moving.”