Toosje Fulcher is willing to go the distance to achieve her dreams – and she won’t let multiple sclerosis get in her way.
For this Business Administration graduate (Class of 2009) graduate, it’s been her long-time dream to run a marathon– and one that she achieved on November 4 after crossing the finish line in the largest marathon in the world: New York City.
“All my life, I have heard what I shouldn’t be able to do,” said the 43-year-old St Catharines resident, who has had MS for the past 30 years. “I enjoy proving to those who say I shouldn’t or that I can’t do something, that I can do whatever I dream up. It may take me longer, but I guarantee I’ll get it done.”
She had dreamed about it decades although, for a long time, she would not say it out loud for fear of being laughed at. It eventually progressed into a dream that everyone she knew shared with her. It was a goal that her mother believed she could reach; one that her father thought she was crazy for even considering. Neither one of them were alive to see her reach it.
“You have just got to believe that they had the ‘best seat in the house’ to watch,” she said.
“In my mind, there isn’t anything I can’t do.” – Toosje Fulcher
Fulcher has been training for the NYC Marathon for the past nine years, although she admits that, at first, she didn’t realize she was. First, her trainer Kru Roger Lumyoung at Muay Thai Niagara worked to build her confidence and self-esteem so that she could believe in her abilities. Three years ago, he began to emphasize strength and conditioning in her workouts. Then, he felt she was ready to tackle the mountains of Trinidad and Tobago. For her training, she was required to ‘climb a different mountain’ every day. During the past year, she focused solely on her leg and cardio conditioning, to ensure her leg muscles would be strong enough to endure the length of a marathon.
“My routine was waking at 6:30 to eat and get dressed for whatever the weather was like outside – warm, cold or snowy. I would be on the streets walking,” she said. “If it was raining, I would be at the gym wearing a 50-pound lead vest walking between four to five hours on the treadmill.”
In June, she attempted the Niagara Ultra marathon but, due to a groin injury she obtained just past the 10 km mark, she could not complete it – even though she continued on for another 25 km despite the pain.
“I was absolutely crushed that I could not finish because, in my mind, there isn’t anything I can’t do,” she recalled. “But common sense played a big role in my dropping out as the marathon that had been on my life list since 1994 was the New York City Marathon.”
She set out to the Big Apple in November with her trainer accompanying her as her guide. The experience was one she will never forget.
“It was like going down the middle of a giant street party that never ended,” she said.
For the duration of the event, Fulcher recalled that she kept thinking about her parents and how proud they would have been to see her cross the finish line, and of her friends and family who were cheering her on – including her father-in-law who, in his hospital bed before she departed, told her to “go and make history for him.”
“That, and after having failed to complete my first marathon attempt in June, kept me mentally focused on my task at hand, knowing that I had the support of family and friends all over Canada, the U.S. and Thailand, I simply wanted to make sure I made them proud to say ‘hey, I know her,'” she said.
When she had only about eight miles left to go, the reality of what she was about to accomplish hit her hard and she fought back tears. Her guide turned the last eight miles into a game of “I bet you can’t pass them,” playing into her competitive side.
Fulcher noted how much it meant to her to see her social media flooded with congratulations and all the good luck messages written on her jersey by the children at the gym who she considers “her kids.”
“For anyone to complete a marathon is an extraordinary achievement. Toosje finishing the marathon came as no surprise to me.”
Rob Shepherd, NC faculty
Among those cheering her on were those who know her from her time at Niagara College. Fulcher grew up in Welland and attended NC from 1999 to 2009 for Business Administration as a part-time student. Attending Niagara College enabled her to stay close to home. She needed to be near her parents for medical reasons and wasn’t ready to leave home shortly after she was diagnosed.
“I was able to create an absolutely awesome support system with the Centre for Students with Disabilities and my program coordinator Rob Shepherd, who would have my year all mapped out by Labour Day,” she recalled. “I was only a part-time student so he would have all set for me what courses I could take by term and still come out ahead at the end of the term and closer to my goal of graduating.”
Shepherd, who has kept in contact with Fulcher over the years, said that it was his pleasure to get to know her, not only as a student, but also as a person.
“She was one of the most positive individuals I have had the opportunity to teach. She always had a smile on her face, a positive attitude toward life and took all of the challenges she faced head on,” he said. “Her attitude was always, ‘I will achieve and overcome no matter what obstacles life presents me with.'”
Shepherd noted how this approach has served her well and is a testament to her not only competing in, but completing the NYC Marathon.
“It is a daunting task to even consider competing in a marathon. For anyone to complete a marathon is an extraordinary achievement,” he said. “Toosje finishing the marathon came as no surprise to me. Her life has been a story of one extraordinary achievement after another.”
“TJ exhibits all the indelible human traits that each of us should aspire for – dedication, perseverance and resilience.” Tony Azzi, Aiva Properties, sponsor
Fulcher was also grateful for the support from one of her fellow teammates and sponsor Tony Azzi, president of Aiva Properties which also created a video about Fulcher’s accomplishment below .
Azzi noted that they were proud Fulcher’s accomplishment and honoured to have sponsored and supported her in her journey to train for and ultimately conquer the NYC Marathon.
“TJ exhibits all the indelible human traits that each of us should aspire for – dedication, perseverance and resilience,” he said. “We are forever grateful to have been involved in any capacity in her rigorous and unrelenting training. Her story is an inspiration to us, those who know her, and the community as a whole.”
Fulcher joined Team for Kids for the NYC Marathon, which helps underprivileged children in NYC who want to pursue recreational running by equipping them with proper shoes so they can run in races.
“My husband and I thought that would be good charity to choose,” she said. “Because of the side effects of the drugs to treat MS symptoms, I was unable to have children and we both love kids so this was our way of helping as many kids as we could.”
In addition to her own training, Fulcher has been mentoring young athletes, as well as some older adults. She has also done motivational speaking on perseverance and determination that those need to live with such an unpredictable disease as MS.
“I really enjoy this as I get to see how much everyone looks up to me, especially when they ask for advice on how they can better themselves,” she said. “I also get to witness firsthand how just being me changes how people see themselves, and how they grow and mature into young adults.”
Fulcher believes she may have made history completing the NYC Marathon. Achilles International is not aware of anyone else ever competing in the NYC Marathon with MS as well as bilateral necrosis of the hips, as Fulcher has. They are also looking into whether any other Canadians with MS have ever completed the NYC Marathon.