I Run in Memory of My Mother… Why I Run

Hilary Topper with her mother

When my mother was a child, she was popular. She was a cute, outgoing child with curly blonde hair and reminded everyone of Shirley Temple.

One family vacation

Then one family vacation, she went swimming in a public pool and got afflicted with polio. After that, she was no longer popular and was hospitalized for many years. During that time, her parents could barely see her and she never saw her little brother, who was shuffled from family to family. Her family was destroyed.

When she got out, she never fully recovered and always had a hard time walking.

She grew up in the Bronx. When she left the hospital, her friends wouldn’t play with her. Their families forbid it.

Moving to Long Beach, LI

So, my mother’s family moved to Long Beach, Long Island. They wanted her to be in a different environment. They wanted their small family to have a fresh start in a new place.

I never thought much about it when I was growing up. It was just how it was. My mother slept a lot and couldn’t do that much and I accepted that as being a part of life. Interestingly, my grandmother had severe asthma and couldn’t breathe. She gained a lot of weight as she got older and eventually died of prolonged use of steroids.

My mother started to follow my grandmother’s footsteps. Although my grandmother didn’t have polio, she too was always very sick.


When my mother got older, the polio came back. She had post-polio syndrome, a disorder that many polio victims get in their later years. The post-polio slowly debilitated her and toward the end, she could no longer walk on her own without a scooter. She could no longer breathe on her own without the use of oxygen, 24/7. She fought it. She didn’t want to use the scooter. She didn’t want to use the oxygen. She didn’t want anyone to see her weakness. But toward the end, it took the better of her.

Running a few years before my mother passed

I started running only a couple of years ago before my mother passed away. She used to tell me I was crazy for running such distances. She would worry that I would get hurt. But I didn’t listen. I loved the sport and kept on doing it.

Whenever I visited her in Florida, I would get up early and run around her complex. I would see her looking out the window watching me. I know she secretly wished she could do it too. But she couldn’t.

When I wrote this piece in 2014, my mother passed away nearly two years ago on June 1. She died because she couldn’t breathe. The polio got the better of her. She was 74. This April 26, 2021, she would have been 83 years old.

While I was running a 9-mile run on the Wantagh Parkway on Long Island, I started to think about why I run and I realized that I run for my mother. I run because my mother couldn’t run. I run because of all those people who can’t run.

I run because I can.