Photo: Lilmistydiaz/Instagram

Photo: Lilmistydiaz/Instagram


By Alaa Abdeldaiem

Misty Diaz has never been one to believe in limitations.

Despite being born with Myelomenigocele–a birth defect in which the backbone and spinal canal do not close before birth–the 31-year-old Bakersfield, California, native refuses to settle, embracing what she calls a “fighter mentality.”

“Anything is possible,” Diaz said. “Turtle speed is still a speed as long as you’re moving forward and staying consistent.”

After undergoing 28 operations, overcoming a pain medication addiction and accepting her fate as an adaptive athlete, Diaz has competed in more than 120 races, including 5K and 10K events. She’s crossed finish lines of obstacle courses and completed multiple triathlons.

And she did it the way she approaches everything she does: One step at a time.

A Sudden Stop

The fight began just three days after her birth in 1984.

Diaz had been born prematurely, her organs outside of her body cavity, her spinal cords tangled in a ball inside of a sack around one of her lumbar vertebrae.

After multiple operations just three days after her birth, doctors told Diaz’s parents she would never be able to walk and eat on her own. Her fate living with a disability, they said, was sealed.

But Diaz’s parents never gave up. They constantly pushed their daughter to live independently. Limitations? There were none.

“My parents never believed the doctors from the start,” Diaz said. “They raised me to be independent and find a way to adapt to things.”

Diaz enrolled in public school and rode the bus like the rest of her classmates. She spent her days outdoors, in a tree house or on her favorite swing set.

Yet, despite their efforts to help her adapt, Diaz’s parents couldn’t protect her from everything.

“Kids at school would give me different nicknames, and I didn’t realize I was being bullied until I went home and said, ‘Hey mom, so and so gave me a nickname,’” Diaz said. “I was so embarrassed when the nurse had to help me during the day and hated the time we had to meet daily. It broke my mom’s heart.”

Photo: Lilmistydiaz/Instagram

Photo: Lilmistydiaz/Instagram

Such early experiences were only the start of Diaz’s struggles. After a series of 28 operations, Diaz’s body had become weak. So, too, did her will to push herself, and by her early 20s, Diaz found herself falling into a drug addiction.

“After 28 operations, your body builds such a tolerance to pain medication,” Diaz said. “I went out to parties and saw that if I took different medications at the same time, it gave me a reaction that became enjoyable. I suffered major side effects.”

Suddenly, in her early 20s, Diaz stopped exercising. She was angry, uncomfortable, and slowly, Diaz started to come to a frightening realization.

For the first time in her life, she wasn’t making any steps.

Changing Directions

At 27 years old, Diaz finally hit rock bottom.

“I had a failed marriage and painful divorce, and after just being uncomfortable for so long, I decided one day to take that feeling and switch the gears into becoming healthy,” Diaz said. “Pain pushed me to try something different. One way didn’t work, so why not try another way?”

Diaz started walking from her house to the next block, increasing the distance each day. She built a routine, one that grew from walks around her neighborhood to 5K walks with hot pink crutches and, in 2012, her first Ronald McDonald 5K run.

“My first race felt amazing,” Diaz said. “I felt so exhausted but so happy, the type of happiness that’s from your gut.”

Diaz hasn’t stopped since. She earned a Spartan Trifecta in two days over a 20-mile course, ran in places like Hawaii and Canada and competed in two races in two days.

She hasn’t done it alone, either. After deciding to accept her life with Spina Bifida, Diaz has been able to use her story as a means to help others. Her races have often included running alongside mothers of children with the condition.

They have ended with a crowd of kids with Spina Bifida waiting at the finish line, and after starting something she never wants to stop, Diaz’s path is once again facing the right direction: Forward.

“Running allows me to not think about having Spina Bifida,” Diaz said. “I just forget. So many people focus on what they don’t have.

“My focus is only on what’s ahead.”

The Next Step

“Dream as if you’ll live forever, live as if you’ll die today.”

Photo: Lilmistydiaz/Instagram

Photo: Lilmistydiaz/Instagram

The James Dean quote is tattooed on Diaz’s forearm, serving as a reminder for the runner to live life to its fullest and never be too serious.

After enduring the trials she’s undergone, she can’t be. Diaz, who’s embraced nicknames like Lil Misty, Biggie Smalls and the original Pink Turtle Unicorn, refuses to live the rest of her life any other way.

“I’m very grateful for my resilient persistence to continue forward,” Diaz said. “I wouldn’t be where I am at today without those who follow and support me. Looking back, I’m grateful for all of the pain and lessons I went through. I’m now able to use them to help teach others, to remind them to never, ever give up.”

Diaz will continue to race, preparing for the 2016 Red Bull 400–the steepest 400-meter race Diaz could attempt–and the 2016 Spartan Race in Australia.

She and her hot pink crutches will continue to make strides, and she’ll do it the way she started.

One step at a time, one foot in front of the other.