Auckland marathon runner: ‘I always wished I had new legs’

Doctors doubted Paige Boyed would ever be able to run again but 15 years later she is about to do part of the Auckland Marathon for the fourth time.

The 23-year-old Auckland woman is running the 11km Traverse this Sunday to raise money for the Starship Foundation.

Boyed was born with spina bifida and amniotic band syndrome, which caused fused finger tips and a leg length discrepancy. Multiple operations to remove the spinal fluid sac and fix her right hand and leg meant she spent a lot of time in Starship as a baby.

When she was 8, Boyed had major surgery in to lengthen her right leg. Doctors broke her leg and inserted pins attached to metal ilizarov frames, which held the break open in an attempt to make the bones slowly grow as the break healed.

“Every morning my mum would have to crank the frames apart with spanners while I sat in my wheelchair screaming the house down,” Boyed said.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, when the frames were finally removed after about four months, doctors discovered she could no longer bend her right leg.

“It is fairly disfigured, covered in scars and I limp when I walk,” she said.

Doctors were unsure of whether the complication would allow the sport-loving, active 8-year-old to ever run again.

“I taught myself to run again. I was quite a sporty kid so I was upset that I couldn’t run around so I just launched in. It was quite a shock when [the ability] was taken away,” she said.

“There’s still a discrepancy in length and, because I can’t bend it, my leg kind of swings out when I run.”

But her unusual gait has not held her back. Boyed still plays team sports, goes to the gym and runs most days.

“Proving people wrong is a large part of my drive,” she said.

Boyed said she was supporting the Starship Foundation because she was thankful for how “incredible” the nurses were during her stays at the hospital and wanted to make sure other kids got the same level of treatment she did.

Boyed said she was also taking part in the race to prove that you can do anything you put your mind to.

Her message to those facing their own struggles was that your body is capable of more than you think and that, with a positive attitude, anything is possible.

“It’s not great in the moment but it’s always going to get better,” Boyed said.

“One of the big things is my leg looks so different to anyone else I know so as a kid I always wished I had new legs. As I grew up I realised no one’s legs are perfect – they are there to take you places. You get past the fact that people are always going to stare but it’s not out of judgment, it’s out of curiosity.”

Starship Foundation chief executive Aisha Daji Punga said she was often humbled by the generosity and passionate support New Zealanders showed for the children’s hospital.

“It’s fantastic to see Paige, a young woman who has spent time at Starship, go on to achieve so much and she’s a wonderful inspiration for children and families facing tough challenges with care, treatment and support at Starship. We’re so lucky to have her, and many others, on Team Starship to raise funds that can bring better health and brighter futures for our children,” she said.

More than 13,000 people will run in the six races held as part of this Sunday’s Auckland Marathon.

• Click here to support Paige and the other Team Starship runners and walkers.

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