Woman Reclaims Life Step by Step

Published: December 3, 2005

Years after a severe brain injury, Jingle Bell Run represents a racer's fresh start
By Yoko Minoura

When Tudor Gilmour crosses the finish line at Columbia Park today, she’ll be one step closer to a goal she began chasing seven years ago.

For Gilmour, 33, completing the 1-mile walk in the Jingle Bell Run for Arthritis will be one more sign that she has made remarkable progress rebuilding her life after a traumatic brain injury.

“I’m beginning to see how I want to live my life,” she said. “I’m happy I’m able to do community activities.”

Finishing the walk will also mean the 1989 Bend High School graduate is closer to her goal of completing a marathon someday – a goal that was postponed on a December evening seven years ago.

Shortly after graduating Humboldt State University, Gilmour had flown to Honolulu to run her first marathon, in 1998. She took a moped to scout out the course Dec. 12, the night before the race. A car slammed into her.

Her mother, Martha McCook, said doctors didn’t expect Gilmour to survive the night. Gilmour spent more than two months in a coma and about six months in hospitals in Hawaii and Portland.

When Gilmour was released, McCook took her home to Bend.

McCook temporarily shuttered a private practice in alternative healing and massage in order to care for her daughter and began the long, arduous process of helping her recover – which essentially meant starting over.

Gilmour, who was in a wheelchair when she moved in with her mother, had to learn to walk again. She also had to relearn many things, such as following directions to complete small tasks.

These days, though, Gilmour is learning bookkeeping so she can work part time for her mother’s online business. While she still lives with her mother, she is independent enough to run errands, complete chores and volunteer as a teacher’s aide at Highland Elementary, allowing McCook to reopen her practice for one day a week.

Gilmour is also enrolled in a ministry training course at Westside Church and hopes one day to be ordained.

“This represents a new stage for Tudor,” McCook said. “This (race) feels like it’s sort of a kickoff.”

Yet plenty of evidence remains that things will never be the way they once were. In addition to twice-weekly sessions of physical therapy, gymnastics and ballet, Gilmour attends tutoring classes, relearning skills lost in the accident. She is still working on improving her memory.

McCook said that her daughter’s strength of character, however, remains undiminished. Gilmour said she’s found grounding in faith. Hearing about herself before the crash doesn’t frustrate her, she said. Instead it pushes her onward.

“I have literally no idea of what I was like (before),” Gilmour said, “but I just know I was the kind of person that would run a marathon – that personality is still within me.”

She has regained the balance and coordination needed to walk the 1-mile route, and walks unaided, albeit slowly.

During the race, her mother will be there every step of the way, just as she has been for the past seven years.

Gilmour said the Jingle Bell Run will be the first time she has participated in a race since the accident. Before now, she said, she didn’t feel ready.

When she spotted the brochure for the Jingle Bell Run after a physical therapy session, though, Gilmour immediately noticed that a 1-mile walk was offered alongside the 5-kilometer run or walk. She was also attracted to the charitable aspect.

“It seemed like an invitation that was jumping out at me, ‘This is it,’” Gilmour said. “My competitive spirit said, ‘Yeah, take that home, see if Mom thinks it’s OK.’”

McCook said she was initially worried about the weather, but was soon convinced.

Although Gilmour tends to find crowds overwhelming, she said she figured she chould stand it long enough to finish a 1-mile walk. She isn’t self-conscience about walking slowly, she said, and has become adept to shrugging off snide remarks – one benefit of an imperfect memory.

The run came at just the right time, Gilmour said. She and her mother commemorate Dec. 12 every year, celebrating everything she has accomplished over the past year. The walk seemed like a perfect way to lead up to the anniversary.

As much as an achievement that the walk itself will represent, Gilmour said she’s just as excited about the fact that her participation will help others. She has raised $200 from sponsors on top of her entry fee.

“I really have a feeling, will all I’ve received in these seven years, it’s a way of expressing my gratitude,” she said. “Not in any specific way, but (as) a citizen helping out other citizens.”

Gilmour said she’s looking forward to an independent future, perhaps as a motivational speaker. She hopes to get a driver’s license again, and plans to start a family of her own. But she said she’ll really feel like she’s come full circle when she runs a marathon.

Her older sister Hillary Ehrlich, has suggested they mark the 10th anniversary that way.

“When I cross the finish line of that marathon, I will have both hands up to God, saying, ‘Thank you, I am here now!’” she said. “This is definitely not, in any way, the end.”