KU student overcomes obstacles to run in Lawrence half marathon

Heather Brandenburg, a Kansas University student from Wisconsin works out at the KU recreation center at 1740 Watkins Center Drive on a recent day. After being diagnosed with bilateral hip dysplasia and rheumatoid arthritis as a child, doctors feared she would never run again. But Brandenburg has overcome a lot, and is preparing to run in November's Kansas Half Marathon, a fundraiser for Health Care Access.

Event details

The Kansas Half Marathon & 5K takes place Sunday, Nov. 2, from 7:30 to 11:30 a.m. at Watson Park, 727 Kentucky St. The 5K begins at 7:30 a.m., with the half marathon shortly after.

The event is a fundraiser for Health Care Access, a clinic that serves uninsured residents of Douglas County. To register or for more information, visit www.KansasHalfMarathon.com.

Just a few months ago, Heather Brandenburg was told she’d likely never be able to run again.

But the 21-year-old Kansas University student didn’t let that stop her. She pushed through the pain and is now training to participate in the Kansas Half Marathon, which takes place in Lawrence this November.

“I finally took control of my own life,” the Minocqua, Wis., native said during a recent interview at Ambler Student Recreation Fitness Center, where she has been working out in preparation for the 13.1-mile run. “It’s about time. It’s been three years that I’ve let this take over my life.”

At 11, Brandenburg was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. In the years that followed, she figured any joint pain she had was being caused by that condition. But while playing soccer during her junior year of high school, the pain in her hips got so bad she cried after every practice. She was diagnosed with bilateral hip dysplasia, a condition that causes both hip sockets to form improperly.

Brandenburg underwent surgery on her right hip, but that only made the problem worse. Eight months into her recovery, she couldn’t touch her toes or move her leg forward or backward. She eventually found another doctor, who, through two subsequent procedures, corrected the mistakes made in the first surgery and allowed her to have full range of motion in her right leg.

During a checkup in May, her surgeon told her that though she was recovering well, she likely would never be able to run again or work out for more than two days in a row.

“I’m 21 years old. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life being careful and not doing the things I want to do,” she recalls telling herself. “In high school, I used to run to relieve stress. In the last three years since I haven’t been able to run, I’ve resorted to driving and wasting a lot of gas to relieve stress.”

So she focused on rebuilding her strength. She participated in a 60-day workout challenge over the summer and started running again in July. After making it up to eight consecutive miles, she decided to sign up for the Kansas Half Marathon, a fundraiser for Lawrence safety-net clinic Health Care Access.

Her mom, Ellen Kramer, has been one of her biggest supporters, posting on Facebook: “My daughter … was told she would live in constant pain and never be able to run again, a passion she was heartbroken at losing. She’s showing them all up by running her 1st half marathon in November! Go, baby girl! Love you so much!”

Brandenburg now runs about three days a week to prepare for the race. Her right hip has been free of pain; any discomfort she has experienced has been on the left side. She plans to break the news about the half marathon to her doctor — eventually.

“Since I was 11, when I was diagnosed with arthritis, every time I had pain I said, ‘OK, I’m going to stop.’ It was a reason to quit,” she said. “Now, I think I’ll probably run my body into the ground before I give up again.”