Misty Diaz, aka Lil’ Misty, is an adaptive athlete and motivational speaker. She has completed over 110 different races including 5k’s, 10k’s, half marathons, and Spartan races. And she was born with Spina Bifida. To me, Misty is the epitome of strength, determination, and drive.
Spina Bifida (latin for split spine) is a birth defect where there is an incomplete closing of the backbone and membranes around the spinal cord. Misty had many operations within the first 3 days of her life and has been through 28 surgeries to date. It hasn’t been easy but she attributes her success to one simple rule: Don’t listen to people when they say you can’t.
As we spoke, I found a kindred spirit of sorts in Misty. Our experiences, while different, were remarkably similar. We both felt betrayed by our bodies and struggled for years to figure out how to overcome the challenges presented to us- not just the physical but the emotional as well.
Neither of us were connected with a community growing up. “I didn’t know anyone growing up with Spina Bifida, and didn’t meet another person with it until I was 20.” Misty told me. That feeling of seclusion, paired with bullying in school and the pain of 20+ operations led to an addiction to painkillers and a reliance on antidepressants. I,too, felt extremely alone with my hemophilia and hated it at many points in my life. I hated infusing and hated it even more when I had bleeds and had to sit on the sidelines. I couldn’t understand why I had to struggle when my friends seemed to have it so easy. I denied my depression for years and years.
“There’s always a moment in life where you can either keeping going down the same path or you can stop, start over, and try things you have never done before.” -Lil’ Misty
For me, that moment was when my Uncle Dave took me climbing for the first time. I had finally found an outlet where I felt truly alive and like I could excel and I knew I didn’t want to stay on that sad and angry path that I had been on for so long.
As I’ve found acceptance in the hemophilia community, my confidence has grown and with that, so has my success. Both my Uncle Dave and my climbing guide, Ryan, have pushed me to do things I never would have considered before (the Seven Summits challenge!). They acknowledge my physical challenges but don’t allow them to be excuses. They’ve taught me how to push past my mental barriers for incredible physical outcomes.
For Misty, that moment was the day she decided she wanted a different life. One without a constant fog from pain pills and depression. She started slowly by just getting up and walking to the mailbox. Then down to the beach three blocks away. As her depression waned, so did her desire to take painkillers. Misty started looking at the challenges of her condition differently. Her thoughts changed from “I can’t,” to, “Why can’t I, I don’t care how hard it looks I’m going to find a way to get it done, even if it’s an adaptive way!”
Like me, Misty didn’t do it all alone. She had a mentor who never never looked at her and saw a condition but instead saw heart and drive. Mike Ainis came into Misty’s life as she was struggling to train for a half marathon. She proved to Mike and herself that she was committed to her goal and completed the 13.1 miles and immediately wanted another challenge, a Spartan race! If you have ever seen a Spartan race, you know it’s an exceptional event. There is fire jumping, rope climbing, wall jumping, and so much more. Mike jumped on board believing it was possible and has encouraged Misty in the 38+ Spartan races she has competed in since! She even holds three adaptive athlete world records in the Spartan race!
After hundreds of races Misty isn’t done…not even close. She is always searching for her next big challenge. And true to form, her next one is pretty wild, the Red Bull 400! It’s basically a 400m sprint up a 36 degree slope! Her philosophy to prepare and #playitsmart, “I know it’s going to be hard so train hard!” Words to live by!