For This Full-Time Caregiver, Trail Running Offers a New Path Forward
What started as a means to relieve stress became a source of joy for both Elvina Scott and her daughter.
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Four years ago, Elvina Scott finally pressed pause. For 10 years, she and her husband cared for their daughter Colby while both working full-time. Colby was born with multiple disabilities. At six months old, Colby started having severe seizures, a condition that continues to dominate their home in Ithaca, New York. Colby is nonverbal and nonmobile and needs help with most of her basic functions. It’s an endless stream of work—feeding, cleaning, and diapering; the type of work a parent expects will end after a certain age, but for Scott, has persisted for years.
She was exhausted from the years of chronic sleep deprivation. Then her doctor intervened, placing Scott on disability and telling her to rest. In that moment, Scott’s perspective shifted. She accepted what her life would look like—that Colby would always come first—and she felt a certain relief. She eventually decided to stay home to care for her daughter.
The transition to full-time caregiver was hard. Growing up on the coast of California, Scott believed she could have it all: a career, a family, and plenty of epic outdoor adventures. Now, her world had shrunk dramatically, and she felt lost and without a map.
In search of some mental space, Scott began “aimlessly” running on nearby trails. “When I get up after a really stressful night with Colby, it feels like there’s this exoskeleton of stress that’s scratchy,” she says. “When I get out in nature, it quickly soothes that hum of stress. I come into my body and feel good in my body, which I hadn’t for a very long time.”
Not long after, Scott signed up for her first trail race. About four miles into the 10K, she came to an intense downhill section—single-track and punctuated with big rocks and tree stumps. Instead of hesitating, Scott flung herself forward. She recalls making a deep, primal sound as she bounded down the trail, like she was releasing trauma lodged deep inside her. “All these different moments were flinging through my mind like a slideshow. They were flung out of my brain and left behind,” she says. “By the time I finished, I felt like I had claimed something back. I went from this sense that I never had enough time or energy, or that I wasn’t doing enough, to a sense that I was going to do this well. I was going to be in the woods, take care of myself, and run in a way that was brave.”
Running became a place where Scott, now 50, can feel successful and strong. Running has everything to do with Colby, who is now 15, and nothing to do with Colby at the same time. “Watching Colby recover from thousands of seizures and rally with her spirit in tact—this readiness to be delighted and stoked again about life—it really taught me that we know our limits more than we know our strengths,” she says.
Scott’s trail adventures have rubbed off on Colby, too. When she comes home, Colby beams at her “like I’m Christmas,” says Scott. “I have all these good vibes and hormones coursing through me after a run and she’s totally perceptive of that. She’s so stoked. She’s not in a body that’s ever going to run and this is how she gets a taste of it.”
More than anything, the transition to trails has helped Scott find new joy. “You can have a life that is and looks quite challenging, and you can still have total beauty and freedom within that. It’s not this tragic drudgery,” she says. That perspective is one she strives to model for her 12-year-old daughter Coral. “By taking care of myself in this way, doing things that look brave, I hope I’m showing her that life doesn’t stop even if it gets hard. You can keep looking, shaping, and redefining.”