From heart attack to a marathon – Lucy's comeback

Lucy Mennillo was not an unfit woman when she suffered her heart attack. Quite the opposite. Lucy had run the New York Marathon (42.2km) in November 2016 and the Clare Valley Half Marathon (21.1km) in April 2017, and she felt great!

Lucy and Tony Mennillo

Having ticked off another Half-Marathon, she – along with her husband Tony, the other half of the couple behind Better Than Ever – she had turned her attention to the Greenbelt Half-Marathon a couple of months away. She was back on the journey to another half-marathon, and starting to pick up her usual training regime.

Just a simple run

‘I’d gone for just a simple 10k run, my usual city loop’, says Lucy. ‘As I was running, all of a sudden I just felt this massive pain, like somebody had stabbed me in the chest’.

‘I thought “jeez, I must have popped a rib or something”. So, I sort of just…stopped and took my time and the pain wasn’t subsiding, so I thought I’d better just walk home’.

But as she walked, the pain persisted, spreading down through her arms and to her fingertips. Just like that, it had become clear that the chest pain was not just a popped rib.

‘In my head I just thought “oh well, it’s a heart attack”’, Lucy says with the same matter-of-factness that she would employ when dealing with the prospect of getting herself to hospital.

‘I thought “I can’t ring anybody here, because they’re not going to know where to come and get me”. So, I thought the best thing to do would be to walk back to a bunch of workmen who were standing in front of the zoo and get an ambulance to the hospital’.

At the hospital it would become apparent that Lucy had burst an artery in her heart. The doctors used a term called Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD). Spontaneous. It burst. BAM! Just like that!

More to the point, Lucy had questions to which the doctors held no answers. ‘I’m physically fit, in and out. How could that happen?’ she wonders. She would be told that it’s a bizarre, one-off incident.

Did you know that the warning signs of a heart attack are different for men and women? The Heart Foundation has a handy guide to learning the symptoms here.

Marathon Running

Your running days are over…

To tell somebody who runs that they will never run again is like telling a shark that they can no longer swim. It’s not just a challenge; it falls on deaf ears. When Lucy’s cardiologist came to see her the following day he would do exactly that.

‘He said “well it looks like your running days are over” and I just sort of looked at him and said “yeah, I don’t think so” and that was it. It was on for young and old’, recounts Lucy. *

Lucy’s husband Tony puts it this way: ‘in English, we call that ‘hard head’. But that’s Lucy for you, if you tell her that she can’t do something she’ll do it anyway, even if it means risking her own life’.

Lucy spent the remainder of her time in recovery Googling runners who had completed marathons with the condition that she now knew she had.

And from that bed in recovery is where the comeback journey begins. Lucy would get through the initial recovery phase. Then she would get back on the horse.

Want more motivation? Read how Better Than Ever family member Anthony got fit enough to run a half-marathon in just 3 months.

Obstacles and a hot marathon

There are always obstacles. One might consider a heart attack enough of an obstacle to throw in the towel and concede that a marathon might be off the cards. Eighteen months later, however, Lucy was readying herself for the 2018 Melbourne Marathon.

‘At some point in time, things are going to happen to you, for me it all happened the week of us going to Melbourne. Surprise, surprise’.

‘During the week leading up to us leaving on the Saturday morning it started with me eating something on the Saturday before and getting the runs’.
‘The nerve in the back was playing up and I was having lots of glute pain down the back of my leg and you know, sleeping at night I was like, moving my legs all over the place just to train and get relief. Friday morning I wake up with a massive migraine, Friday afternoon I have a sore throat’.

To make things worse, Lucy awoke on the morning of the race at 3am with a right eye so swollen that she could not have seen out of it. Some quick home remedies relieved it, but it was clear that the universe was stacking its odds against her.

Amidst all of this Melbourne had some unseasonably hot weather in store for the runners. Lucy recounts: ‘you know when they say that Melbourne has four seasons in one day, well they decided on this particular day to be just hot and sunny’.

Lucy and Tony's Facebook Live

‘You can do as much as you can’, Lucy says. ‘You can prepare yourself for as much as you can, but just sometimes, on the day, things can happen just leading up to it…it is a hard thing to put your body through, but that’s the challenge as well’.

In the end, the obstacles did not count for much. Just eighteen months after being told by a cardiologist that her running days were over, Lucy was completing another marathon.

Looking back on that day in April 2017 still does not offer any more explanation for the heart attack.

Lucy knows that being fit and healthy prior to the heart attack meant that she had a better chance of recovery. Being ‘hard-headed’ and motivated put her back on her journey to being Better Than Ever.
What obstacles have stood in your way to achieving your Better Than Ever? Let us know in the comments below or over on Better Than Ever’s Facebook page. And don’t forget, if you need motivation and want to get results, the team at Better Than Ever are here to get behind you. Contact us today to get started.
*Disclaimer: Lucy sought secondary medical advice from both her GP and another cardiologist who both had no issue with her continuing to run.