Author Archives: Colleen Kelly Alexander

“When life hands you a lemon”.


Photo on 8-24-15 at 11.36 AM #5

Life changes in an instant.  You could be having the most perfectly wonderful time of your life, and BOOM, your holding a lemon.

The common phrase about life turning “negative” is that “When life hands you lemons, you make LEMON AID!”, Although I appreciate this notion, I always found it to be someone wasteful.

So, Im handed this sour and yet beautiful lemon and Im just going to juice it and drink it? What about the seeds?

With every negative AND positive thing that happens in our life, there are ALWAYS root causal factors.  Once we explore those causal factors and potential outcomes of how to move onward we discover the “seeds”.  If you like lemonade, certainly go for the initial hydration and let that temporarily satiate the negative.  Once the drink is over, then what?  This is when we must look further and find out how to make this lemon that was handed to us cultivate an eternal change.  The truth is, we will always be handed lemons, thus we will always be handed seeds.

I am a big fan of all things related to trees.  I find most metaphors in life can somehow be connected to trees.  This may make me sound like somewhat of a free spirited hippy, rather I have always found my grounding within tree roots.  Some of my earliest memories are exploring roots, trees, and nature.   It takes time to sift through life to sort out the “WHY ME”, feelings and not just pass them off and move on to the next thing.  We live in a society that can far too easily just make the lemonade and move on.  I consider that just slapping on a band aid.

If we are willing to take the seeds of the negative source and truly investigate them, connect with them, understand them (to the best of our ability), then we can plant them into the soil of life and trust they will grow. 

We all know that even our best intentions for growth, do not always turn out as we plan. The “elements” of this earth can cause our seeds to rot, or grow without enough nutrients, or perhaps wilt due to lack of rain.  The elements ARE life.  When we hold the seeds and place them into the prepared earth, we are also accepting a responsibility to OWN them, care for them and make sure we can help them grow until they are strong enough to thrive on their own.  We must always take responsibility for the seeds that we are given.

I fully understand that most of the time, the lemon is thrown at us.  We are sometimes blind sighted by the lemon and never see it coming. Regardless, once its in our possession we have to learn to make a choice that will cultivate growth and understanding.

Now that I am going on 4 years post trauma, I look upon my spiritual lemon grove and smile that the trees are upright and they are finally beginning to bear flowers. I have taken on the eternal responsibility to CHOOSE to be the keeper of this grove and use these lemons to remain sustainable even once I have passed on.

Today, think about what your lemon in this life might be. Do you have a lemon? If you are “lemon-less” no worries, it will come.  As long as we live upon this earth we will encounter negativity that will stop us in our tracks.

Today, think about how you will open your hands and care for the seeds once you have drank your lemon aid and allowed it to settle within your being. Remember life is an immensely beautiful gift and often the gifts are contained deeper than what you first notice. Take time to make a grove.


Limitations- Raw and Unfiltered.


Merriam- Webster Dictionary defines limitation as this:


: the act of controlling the size or extent of something : the act of limiting something

: something that controls how much of something is possible or allowed

: something (such as a lack of ability or strength) that controls what a person is able to do


Over the last several years I have had numerous limitations set.   Prior to October 8, 2011 I had brain surgery for a severe  Chiari malformation (mine is a type III), a diagnosis of Lupus, and a diagnosis of Cryoglobulenemia.  

I also went through a divorce, had a nervous break down, and remarried my high school sweet heart.

(No major changes or anything.)

After my Chiari surgery, I needed to learn to balance again when I walked.  I had to learn how to cite my arms and legs properly and retrain my brain as to where my body parts were located.  I feared I would never eat without dropping my food, drooling, or missing my mouth. My limitations at that point were bound around severe pain, swelling in my skull, balance issues, and coordination.  Over time my chiari symptoms that were present pre-operatively began decreasing and with that, my abilities to eat, walk, and have spatial referencing reinstated increased.

The hurdle of overcoming brain surgery was significant, however the limitations that were involved before surgery had become so debilitating I was ready to try to have my life back. I fought through those days at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital and my case was so significant that they use the surgery video when teaching the neuro students at Columbia.

With Lupus, I learned when to push my limitations and how to take care of myself properly with nutrition, holistic care, exercise, sleep, and stress reduction.

With Cryoglobulenemia, I learned how to maintain my body temperature be consistent with exercise, and monitor my skin for any changes.

When October 8, 2011 happened, I had already heard many friends and family members say: “Oh, Colleen, you are DONE going through major things for a long, long time”.

This was not the case.

Since that date almost 4 years ago I have learned to walk again several times, I have learned to eat again, how to breathe again, what it feels like to learn to speak again, write again, brush my teeth, and how to go to the bathroom.   I knew my limitations two months post trauma were severe. I knew walking would prove challenging, never even considered the option of running or cycling again. I had so much skin loss that the thought of even bathing was such a distant dream that I never imagined I would ever swim again.  Throughout each phase of this process to return to “normalcy”, I have needed to push my limits in order to step one more step, stand on my own five more seconds, chew a piece of solid food, and cry more and more tears until I could decipher basic math again.  When a person is saved from death and brought back to life, EVERY thing that one does is exceeding a limitation simply due to the fact that they are alive.

I have been told countless times that I am an “Unexpected Survivor” by medical staff who cared for me throughout my critical phase.

This brings me back to the original point of understanding limitations. “When we persevere and triumph through obstacles, we are given a power to understand how truly capable we can become.”  ColleenKellyHospital

As we begin to understand that we CAN defy the odds, it creates a drive within us to PUSH even further.  For those of us that are Type A personality athletes, having the PUSH drive is a blessing and a curse.

Defying my obvious limitations has been part of what has allowed me to not only survive but to thrive. Prior to this trauma running was hard, triathlons were hard, let alone throw a broken body in the mix and try them again.  I had never completed a half marathon, Olympic triathlon, half Iron Triathlon, or marathon before October 8, 2011.  When asked why I took a leap in distance events POST trauma, I said “Well, I lived”.

Suddenly things that once limited me, (lupus, chiari, cryo) became trivial. I SURVIVED being run over by a freight truck so I had the capacity to do much more than I ever knew my body was capable of, or did I?  I dealt with pain on a scale I never knew one was capable of handling, I went through surgery after surgery and relearn basic skills over and over. I could be resilient, or could I?

Here is where understanding (or trying) to understand my limitations has become muddied.  I am GOAL oriented. Seems most Type personalities are that way.  I need a strong GOAL to work towards so that I can accomplish it, check it off and then GROW even more.  When is enough, enough?

Dealing with physical manifestations from a trauma, is only the foundation of work that has been prepared for me. I must also learn to deal with the PTSD, and how my psychological well-being has been effected. I must learn how to limit myself within a sensible measure as to not cause more harm, rather to strengthen and be pleased with where I am and celebrate those moments.  I’ve learned that for most trauma survivors, there is a yearning to DO as much as one can, all of the time, because we have learned too painfully how quickly life can be taken away.

I have outgrown almost all of my limitations at this point.  I am now at a point of pondering the horizon and asking myself, “How much further, faster, and longer, do I want to go?”.  Most importantly, I need to ask myself “WHY?”.

We all have reasons for WHY we push our own daily limits in this life. I am learning as I continue on this journey that sometimes surpassing a limitation and then basking in the celebration of that accomplishment, and working to become as strong and resilient in that one accomplishment at a time is enough.  God created this temple that allows me to sit here and type this blog that I’ve worked on sporadically throughout the day. I believe in his infinite wisdom, compassion, and love he has allowed me to surpass any “limitations” that were presented to me to show me how mighty and strong this temple truly is.


May we always examine our own limitations, and choose growth and strength over pride and harm.  My hearts desire prior to 10/8/11 was to complete a full Iron Man distance triathlon, and that desire is more present now than ever.  My limitations are also present.  Accepting that we need to honor and take care of ourselves in the midst of battling our own race is humbling, and takes an incredible amount of courage.  May I accept my limitations, with courage, and honor  myself where I am on this journey.  May I never accept defeat, yet always celebrate each limitation that has been defeated.

Finding Strength in Vulnerability


I have not blogged in a long time. My life had begun getting so busy with surgeries, healing, training, talking, participating, racing, more surgeries, and internal discussions with my soul that I had started to become disconnected with my ability to process my emotions through this medium. I recently had surgery #29. I completed my first marathon in Lehigh Valley, PA and then went on to having my left side opened back up to have three expanders placed. One in my lower leg, one on my upper thigh, and another on my left butt cheek. The surgery left me back in a wheel chair for sometime and in immense pain. I had to face my own vulnerability all over again with seeing my left side cut again, and bleeding and oozing for weeks. The expansion process was grueling and twice a week for over a month I went in for injections into the three ports of my leg. They slowly injected saline to inflate the expanders bags under my skin and allow me to “grow” new tissue. At three years post trauma my body had grown all the new skin back, however the skin was badly scarred and incredibly vulnerable. In the one year I had sepsis twice. IMG_1536IMG_1192

The goal of the expansion surgery was to be able to grow new tissue through slowly stretching my skin from inside out and then have all of my newly developed skin be cut out so they could stretch my more sustainable skin over affected areas thus reducing my chances of infection. When January came around I was back under anesthesia for another 6+ hours and when I awoke my leg was bound together with multiple drain tubes. The pain was excruciating. I came home far too early and had home health nurses work with me over the next few weeks on wound care. My new leg looked like I had a butterfly of scar left in the stitching. IMG_1815IMG_1745

The pain had me back on crutches for some time so the skin could heal and my depression began spiking again along with PTSD and nightmares of the trauma. I began waking up night after night screaming as my nerves were regenerating and the pain throbbed through my left side. Once again, I was vulnerable.  Help was needed for all of my basic care.  In a few weeks I began lifting for strength, and then as the skin became totally healed over I started spinning, and then light jogging and swimming.   The fascinating thing about this journey that I continue to discover every day is that when we are most vulnerable we are most open to allow ourselves to grieve and release emotion, pain, and the feelings associated with feeling dependent.  As those exhales continued to happen I found I had no choice but to accept help. I had to accept love, support, and care.  As an athlete, and a stubborn Irish/Greek chick Ive found that allowing myself to be in places of discomfort have forced me to grow in ways I never anticipated.   We are now seven months out from my last major surgery. I would like to say that Im no longer vulnerable to infection now that my leg has finished healing, however that is untrue.  Two weeks ago I was back in the hospital facing a severe infection.  I lay in the ER sobbing with anger and despair.  The surgeon looked at me and reminded me that I will forever be compromised as my vascular and lymphatic system was horribly damaged,  AND I am strong, resilient, and capable.  Would I have fully understood the latter sentiments from him had I not been vulnerable?   What a beautiful metaphor has been created. My body needed to have the damaged and affected areas “pruned” off in order for healthy tissue to grow, AND Even with healthy tissue and pruned branches I can still get “sick”, How true for life!  When we become vulnerable in various situations in life, we must learn to extend our hands and accept help. We must learn to accept compliments, love, and growth from others. When our bodies become nourished we can gain the strength to shed those branches of doubt and negativity so that new shoots can grow that are nourishing to our beings.  Powerful stuff. Will we get damaged again with these new shoots? ABSOLUTELY.  As long as we live, we will become vulnerable.

The powerful thing about vulnerability is that it provides us the opportunity to be empowered, enlightened, and to truly listen to ourselves and each other.

Tonight, I will participate in a triathlon relay. I get to cycle (woohoo!).  I have completed a few triathlons including half iron distance since my last major surgery, however only as an Aqua Bike or as a relay.  I am still working on building my strength back in my left side so I can transition from the bike to the run effectively.  I am continuing to grow, learn, listen, and accept help and kindness from others and my own limitations. I am continuing to learn that STRENGTH has many faces and one of them looks defenseless and weak however the even when the exterior is limited the heart and soul will always persevere.

When you feel vulnerable, remember that even when you need help you are strong. 5893

Stay rooted throughout the seasons of this life my friends.  Remember to shed dead branches so that new shoots can grow.

The Trinity


trinitySt. Patricks Day is among us.

The day celebrated because Christianity was brought to Ireland.

The trinity became famous for its beautiful knot work symbolizing the trinity of Christ.  Jesus, God, the Holy Spirit are symbolized in a beautiful ever flowing loop. The trinity also stands for birth, life, and death and the ongoing flow.  Birth brings life, and through life we find death. With all death comes life, and so the trinity continues.

Our family is a great deal Irish. We are also rooted in faith.  Our roots may not have always been the sturdiest of roots in our family tree, but they have never completely uprooted. They always held strong onto faith, onto the trinity.

Today, I have the opportunity to complete the “trinity loop” thus creating that ongoing beautiful soul and spirit of perseverance.

The Hartford Marathon created the Trinity races as a fun way to earn three medals that would create a beautiful clover. I have had the pleasure of running two of these events thus far and completing my third today. Completing the trinity. Completing the loop of my family, the forever turns and twists that keep us together.  From birth to death, and then birth again. We are all family.

My father has been in the hospital the last few days requiring several units of blood until they could control some internal bleeding.  Two and a half years ago, I lay in a coma requiring countless bags of blood so that my life could be brought back, to continue living. In some ways, October 8, 2011 allowed me to be born a second time. My heart beat had stopped. The trinity loop had ended up at the top point, and then blood donations flooded into my being allowing my trinity to continue along its beautiful, rooted, path of life.

My fathers life has been spared again from the trinity of life.  The vital blood that allows our heart beat to continue is alive and beating because of the family of donors we will never know.

These races are far more to me than another finish line.  Every race I run is part of the trinity.  Every race I run unites the trinity.  Birth, life, and death happen every second of every day.

Tomorrow, I will wrap my arms around my parents.  I will embrace the beautiful trinity of our family, the never ending Kelly blood.

Breathe in. Feel that?  You are in the living part of the trinity.

Here we come O’Hartford.

Birth, Life, Death, then birth again.. and so, I run on.

2014 is the year to publish a book


Happy New Year!

It is 2014, a beautiful time to shed old limbs and grow new shoots.

In the process of my writing today, my soul has cracked open numerous times reflecting on the incredible power and strength of God. Through writing my two upcoming talks and working on some excerpts for my book I found myself once again questioning God. why did I live through such a traumatic ordeal when others die and lose so much more, and often much younger. As my fingers clicked into my keyboard my heart opened to the fact that my number just wasn’t up. None of us are immune. Only the creator of the universe knows our day and time. In a way, that awareness is a beautiful release. We can not live our lives constantly waiting for trauma to fall upon us, we must live like we are dying. As morbid as it sounds, learning how to die allows us to learn how to live. Does that make sense? From the moment you were born, you not only began growing, but you also began dying. The only thing that is constant, is nothing. With the knowledge that nothing is constant, the beautiful knowledge of change unfolds before us. We are changing every single beautiful second. We can not avoid the inevitable, we can live life as beautifully and with as much zest as possible while on this planet..and in doing so, we will learn how to die.

“Shirley, you can’t be serious.. and stop calling me Shirley”



You know those mornings that seem like you woke up in a weird movie?  That is when I think, if only I had a theme song.. I am not sure what it would sound like.. but I know this morning was one of those “Are you serious?” mornings.  

So, Today was SUPPOSED to go the following way.. 

1. I was supposed to wake up, make coffee. Take the dogs out. Make awesome husband breakfast.

2. Kiss husband, pat his tush.. and see him in the evening.. 

3. Sit down with large glass of water and have awesome conversation with dynamic powerhouse woman Heidi Armstrong via FaceTime.. “She seems pretty damn cool, check out her website here.. “.  

4. Go for my training run, then do my post run exercises.. walk the dogs.. 

5. Get a biopsy.. (wee!)

6. Come home, take a siesta with the puppies.. 

7. make dinner, welcome home husband.. go for family walk.. 

INSTEAD.. this is what happened.

We both woke up feeling under the weather, and struggled getting out of bed. The dogs seemed more needy than usual and appeared to want to make us trip over them with every step. I made husbands breakfast and lunch like a good wife (I really like doing this), we let our dogs, and he opted to drive the car to work in Guilford as its been making horrid sounds and needed to go to the shop, (I normally drive truck due to my newfound fear of driving my Toyota since the squish and peel trauma.. )

He left for work, came back five minutes later because he left his wallet at home.. I began getting ready to go for a run, when the phone rang and he explained the truck died at the gas station.. he checked the oil to find it bone dry (That’s my bad, Ive been driving it).

So I begin looking for my wallet to drive him to work, and discover Its “missing”.. After frantic searching and tripping on large labs for 10 minutes, I give in and drive him to work “wallet-less”.  Hoping I don’t get pulled over.. because with my luck, this would be the day I get pulled over.

He gets to work late, I begin driving home and the dogs throw up.  When a ninety pound lab throws up, well.. you get it.  This causes them to both want to get out of the throw up zone and into the front seat, WHILE Im driving.. 

I pull over, they fight over who gets to be upfront.. I begin cleaning up pile #1 of puke on the side of the road and escort the “loser” of the front seat challenge to the back to accompany the vomit.

We arrive at the tow truck place to hand over the trucks keys so the man can pick up the truck and take it to the mechanic, but I am lacking a wallet.  Smiling with frustration, I head back home.. the dogs jump out of the car covered in chunky puke into the house and my stomach begins heaving. 

We all get “cleaned up”, they want to regain playing.. and I still can not find my damn wallet. “Where the crap did you go, stupid wallet, did you run away again?”.

This is when the frantic “Monica from Friends” kicks in, and I begin cleaning.. Image

After almost two hours and shiny counter tops and dressers.. I found that little sneaky wallet.  Where you ask? On my bed of course.

At this point, I decide to finally pour my coffee and head to the tow truck place to drop off the keys and the man looks at me and says “You look familiar”.. he begins eyeing me and says “You from Clinton?”.  (sigh..).  So, I say.. that indeed.. Im “That” girl.  He then has a million questions for me, mostly the same one everyone asks “How in the hell are you smiling and standing?”.

I don’t want to go into it, so I answer with my blanket response of “Well, Im alive.. and I lived for a reason..” and then in my awkward fashion follow it up with a “fill in sentence”.. telling him I also found my wallet and cleaned up my dogs puke.. so the day was getting better. 

Upon arriving home, both dogs were smiling.. smelling fresh, and it was 11:00. I missed my biopsy. Not to worry, it is rescheduled for December 31st so it will be covered under 2013 ded. with my insurance.  So, now we sit and wait to find out of the truck is indeed “scrap” as the man called it.  He’s an older chap.  The truck has been with Sean about 9 years, and he bought it used. It went on many mountain biking trips with him out west when he lived in CO. It has seen Moab many times, and trekked across country carrying all of his belongings when he decided to move in with me in VT.  It has treated us well here in CT, and I failed to treat it with the same care it has given me and was not diligent with his oil change. 


So, here we are. Where we are supposed to be. 

Life has a funny way of happening fast.  Sometimes we are not where we want to be in life, and our days (even if they are just mornings) go completely opposite of how we expected.. HOWEVER, they end up just as they should.  

So, Don’t call me Shirley. I am serious. My house is also clean, my wallet is beside me, and my running shoes are on.