In retrospect, Delilah Topic isn’t quite sure how she was able to complete two races last month at the World Masters Games in Auckland, New Zealand.
Running on a badly broken foot, the 37-year-old Kelowna athlete accomplished a most improbable feat by winning two medals in the women’s 35 to 39 age group.
Due to a rheumatoid bone condition, Topic has grown more prone to injury over the years and may one day have to leave competitive running behind for good.
To complicate matters, she is a type 1 diabetic who, in preparing for races, must constantly monitor her blood sugar levels with an insulin pump.
Topic was already nursing a broken toe before leaving for Auckland and knew she wouldn’t be in peak form for the games.
But calling on every ounce of will and grit in her slender frame, Topic was determined to complete her first event—the 10 km road race—regardless of the consequences.
“Initially my goal really was just to finish,” said Topic. “I used all the mental mantras—mind over matter, pain is only temporary, give it everything you have, you don’t want to have any regrets. It was something I felt I had to do.”
Already in considerable discomfort, Topic’s situation worsened when she felt “a crunch” in her foot at both the 3 km and 8 km marks of the race.
X-rays would later show, that in addition to the fractured toe, Topic had broken four more bones in her foot.
“I’ve never felt pain like that in my life, but I just forced myself,” said Topic. “The crowd saw what I was going through and was just incredible, encouraging me on. I was like a flamingo on one foot at the end and crying. When we saw the x-rays it was no wonder it hurt so much over the last kilometre.”
Because runners from other age groups were in the same race, Topic never entertained the possibility she had won a medal. She was in the massage tent when word came she had captured the silver.
“No part of me thought I had won a medal,” said Topic who placed 19th overall out of 180 runners. “It was way off my best time, but given the situation, given my foot, I was very fortunate and happy. I did as much as I could and I’d say I exceeded expectations.”
After bowing out of both the 1,500 and 5,000 metre events, Topic, broken foot and all, was on the track four days later to compete in the 800 metres.
She couldn’t land properly on her forefoot, nor could she wear cleated track shoes like the other competitors.
Still, with the prospects of her competitive running days potentially coming to an end, Topic was emboldened to race once more—this time winning a bronze.
“At first, I thought, what am I doing here, I can’t even stride out the right way,’” she said. “The next thing I knew, I was at the start line and the race was on. I limp-ran all the way as fast as I could and the crowd cheered me on to the finish.
“I just wanted to take it all in and be out there one more time,” she said. “It was really painful, but I didn’t know if it would be my last time so I just wanted to experience it. In the end, I’m happy I did it.”
In addition to her own intestinal fortitude, Topic said the encouragement and support of so many back in Kelowna was instrumental in keeping her motivated.
“The support I had back home from friends and other people in the community has been amazing,” she said. “It really did carry me through, I learned you can lean on people sometimes for support, rather than thinking you can do it all on your own.”
A medical oncologist in her professional life, Topic expects full healing of the foot to take at least several months.
Whether she is able to run again competitively is uncertain, but regardless she plans to stay connected to the running world.
“My two passions are my work and my running,” she said. “I can be as broken as I want and still work as an oncologist, but leaving running completely would be impossible. I could see going into coaching, so at least I have that.
“I’m trying to look at the bright side.”