Plymouth woman who became recluse after collision with cyclist runs again for first time in 10 years

Isla has regained her confidence and is now running again for the first time in 10 years -Credit:PA
Isla has regained her confidence and is now running again for the first time in 10 years -Credit:PA

A keen Plymouth runner who became a recluse after a collision with a cyclist is now running for the first time in 10 years. The crash left Isla Kennedy with chronic pain and crippling anxiety about leaving the house.

Isla, a pharmacy technician, was once known as "Isla the runner" by her neighbours but stopped going out after a collision with a bike while running left her afraid to leave the house as she feared falling over.

Spending a week at home at a time, the 42-year-old began to experience chronic pain from her injury which she described as feeling like there was "acid" on her knee, which shattered her confidence and mobility.

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As a result, Isla avoided leaving the house and would only go out once a week on small trips with her mum. In 2021, Isla hired a personal trainer who helped her to slowly rebuild her strength with basic exercises and last summer she ran on a treadmill for the first time in 10 years.

After first discovering her love of running by taking part in a half marathon in her early 20s, Isla now has dreams of taking part in that same race again in the future.

Isla told PA Real Life: "I felt very isolated and I lost all social outlets, and not being able to run... it was a bereavement. I just felt like, do I exist? Am I here? Can anyone see me?

"I felt invisible, like I lost my identity. I lost who I was and I didn't know who I was in the world any more. I had no purpose or reason to get out of bed in the morning. I was just existing."

Isla first got the running bug after leaving university when her sister signed her up for the Plymouth half marathon. A novice at the time, Isla took on the challenge and joined a running club shortly after.

She said: "I just loved running and the club was a key part of that because of the social side of it. I think that's when you really start improving when you are running with other people."

Regularly spotted out for runs around her local area, neighbours would affectionately refer to her as "Isla the runner" and she recalled how she would often spend time training for the latest race, adding: "Running was just part of me, it was a very big part of my identity and who I was."

But her love for racing came to a crashing halt one day in November 2013 when Isla collided with a bike while out training.

Racing down a steep hill near her home, Isla described how a teenage cyclist came out from behind a high wall and, unable to stop in time, she fell into him, flipping over the bike and hitting her knee hard on the saddle.

Isla said: "I've done so many off road runs before through rivers and things like that, into thigh deep mud, and I've run a lot of races where injuries could happen.

"Yet, it was just two minutes from my house that I had an accident. I tried to stop myself when I saw the bike but because I was running downhill, I couldn't stop the momentum and I went into him, over the top of him, he came off his bike and I landed on the other side on my face and shoulder."

After making sure they were both OK, Isla started to head home but, feeling faint, she stopped in on a neighbour for a cup of tea where she began to feel a pain in her knee.

Isla added: "I thought that it would heal but the pain didn't go, it just went on and on like a toothache in the side of my knee."

Isla Kennedy before her accident -Credit:PA
Isla Kennedy before her accident -Credit:PA

Two weeks later she went to A&E where she was told she had a soft tissue injury but when the pain still did not heal, a specialist informed her that it was a miniscule tear in the cartilage and that she would need surgery, which took place in February 2014.

What Isla thought would be a straightforward recovery turned into a nightmare when the pain in her leg only worsened as she recuperated from the op.

She said: "I started getting heat and redness coming into my knee. It felt like there was acid on it, it was an awful sensation like the worst sunburn you've ever experienced. It was red hot, you could feel it hot to touch and visibly it was red as well.

"Several times a day, I'd sit with peas on my knee. I had a bag of peas that I used so much that the print wore off, it was just a nightmare."

A physio informed Isla that she was suffering from complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), a condition where a person experiences persistent, severe and debilitating pain.

Unable to work for five months following her surgery, Isla rarely left the house, adding: "I didn't want to speak to people because I felt embarrassed that I couldn't get over this condition.

"People would invite me to go out for meals and I wouldn't go because I was too scared. Is there going to be stairs? Is the chair that I sit on going to be OK? Is it going to be busy?

"I didn't want to see people out and about because they'd ask about my injury. Instead of 'Isla the runner', I became 'Isla with a bad knee'. I lost weight because I couldn't eat from the anxiety and I suffered muscle loss as well.

"I would sometimes go out for walks in the evenings with my mum and we'd be like, 'let's get to the red car, let's reach the next lamppost', just to try and get moving."

When Covid restrictions began to ease in 2021, Isla felt determined for a change after finding lockdown isolating, and so she contacted her local Nuffield Health gym.

Aware of her anxiety, Isla's personal trainer Simon took her into a studio away from other gym goers for their first few sessions where they did basic movements with 1kg weights.

Isla Kennedy -Credit:PA
Isla Kennedy -Credit:PA

She said: "It wasn't anything majorly ground-breaking but I was moving again. When I went back the next time, he'd set up a workstation with a workout step and every time I went, my equipment would be set up. He never, never let me down."

Slowly rebuilding her strength, Isla began training with Simon in the gym and last year she did her first run on the treadmill in 10 years.

She added: "Running was never on the table, I just wanted to be functional. I've always said the door is shut but I guess it's not locked, you don't know what the future holds.

"So, he did get me back running which I never ever thought I would do. I really thought I would never run again. Now I run on the treadmill and last summer we did a little bit outside in the car park. I feel so lucky that I get to move, I get to go and do these things.

"There's the social side too where I've made a lot of acquaintances at the gym and it's given me a lot of confidence in my everyday life."

Now, Isla no longer experiences pain in her knee, something she credits with movement and exercise, and has plans to return to the Plymouth half marathon, where her love of running first began.

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