Through trauma, an elite athlete rediscovers why she really runs

Growing up playing outside is no foreign concept to Shandi Kano, Japanese-American athlete and outdoors enthusiast. Her mother recalls Kano opening the back door as a little girl and running laps in the yard.

Kano’s father shared the same inordinate amount of energy, making it easy to believe her zest for life originates in the family tree and keeps on flowing. In her early youth, Kano decided she would be “a runner” and made it her own. It just felt right, and she’s never looked back.

Shandi Kano in her element. Photo: Kylie Fly

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Kano’s career in competitive running continued through her college years — she graduated from Brigham Young University in Utah with a communications broadcast degree in 2007 — and beyond, but it wasn’t until she qualified for and participated in her first Boston Marathon that she really felt a shift. In 2013, Kano woke up and prepared for the race just as she did on any other day before a big run.

The eight months leading up to Boston were somewhat of a blur. Working a demanding job, going through a heart-wrenching breakup and enduring intense ongoing stress in both her professional and personal life, Kano was running on fumes. She had spent money and invested ample amounts of time in receiving the proper training and pushing her body to its limits to get to the start line.

It’s more fun when you laugh. Photo: Kylie Fly

She arrived at the race tired and worn, maxed out and physiologically spent. The morning of the race was no different than any other race day; anxiety consumed her. When she reflects on the happenings of that day, her heart begins to race and tears well up in her eyes. It was a major turning point in her life and it changed her forever.

As Kano crossed the finish line of her dream race, she was immediately rushed into a wheelchair with swollen feet and taken to a medical tent. Delusional and in a state of hysteria, she was screaming, she recalls, sobbing and hyperventilating, causing every muscle in her body to spasm. Parts of her were numb and the pain was extreme, both mentally and physically.

Kano has logged hundreds of miles running in Utah’s Wasatch Mountains. Photo: Kylie Fly

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At one point, she had five nurses administering to her, each holding a limb and one specifically, Sheila, standing over her, holding her hands down and forcing Kano’s focus.

Then the bombs went off.

First one. Then two. She felt it.

Kano asked what was happening. Sheila made her stare back into her eyes, forcing her to breathe through the sirens. Personnel rushed in and out of the tent, looking to free up space for injured people. A TV screen displayed bombs playing back, and it finally clicked: “Bombs. Oh yeah, bombs. I get it.”

The chaos, confusion and shock from the events of that day were impalpable and something Kano cannot ever forget.

Mill Creek Canyon, Utah: A place to find peace in passion. Photo: Kylie Fly

For Kano, the days following the bombing initated a long road to recovery with proper nutrition, medical attention, calming yoga, medication and a clean break from stimulation. She attributes her recovery to many — to friends and family who supported her, to regular visits with a psychologist and a neurologist and to deep self-reflection.

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Her strong desire to be mentally, physically and emotionally healthy led Kano to create life changes. She was willing to do whatever it took to find the happiness she needed and craved.

Finding peace and healing through running. Photo: Kylie Fly

Having spent many years living on the East Coast, where she worked with ESPN and the X Games, consumed in an extremely demanding environment, followed by experiencing firsthand the Boston Marathon attacks, Kano knew she needed a lifestyle change. Seeking healing and a change of pace, she needed to be somewhere she could connect with people and places who were equally passionate about the same things she was: the outdoors and human-powered adventure.

This realization pushed her to pack up the car and move out west to Utah, a place where she remembered being happy. Kano prioritized her happiness and realized what really mattered the most — and it wasn’t a sexy job, a marathon time or her running status. It wasn’t her heart rate or what diet she was on. It wasn’t even a lost love.

Supported by family, friends, good health and faith created Kano’s happiness. By identifying what mattered most and going back to it, she found healing and strength. When you’re dedicated to being happy, what may seem like a risk quickly becomes a tool for change. Kano ran, and she never looked back.