“Venous reflux is an inherited disease,” said Dr. Paula Muto, a vascular surgeon who has offices in Lawrence and North Andover. “It’s something you’re born with. If your mom or dad or grandparent or sibling had vericose veins, or venous disease, or swollen legs, you have a pretty good chance of getting it.
“You might not know it, but you probably already have a little bit of it if you have a family history. Then over time — during pregnancy, weight gain, height — these are all factors that will make the disease come out.”
Muto has never treated Sanders, but says she’s the perfect spokeswoman to raise awareness for the disease.
“She’s a world-class athlete, an Olympian, and she has done everything right: She’s been fit, her calf muscle has been pumping,” Muto said. “Her legs are also spectacularly beautiful; she wasn’t looking to make her legs pretty, they were already pretty.
“Despite all the activity, despite being fit, despite being thin, blood was just going in the opposite direction. There’s reflux there, and when she’s treated, the pain goes away.”
Muto and Sanders both emphasize that if you are experiencing any leg soreness, if your legs feel swollen or restless, especially at night, if spider-like veins appear near the ankles, or if discoloration is evident, have a specialist take a look.
Medical advancements have been made to better treat vericose veins and venous insufficiency, with insurance plans, Medicare, and Medicaid covering the cost, since it’s no longer viewed as cosmetic surgery.
The pain barrier
Sanders is running now for a cause. Two, actually, since she’s still involved with the Right to Play charity, which brings sport and play to developing countries, and to children who have been affected by war.
She feels healthier, and her legs lighter, ready to tackle Boston’s hilly course. Even though she hasn’t run it yet, she’s assuming it’ll produce a feeling she’s familiar with, from all those years spent in the pool.
“When I started running, the pain barrier was very familiar to me, and I had no problem pushing beyond the pain,” Sanders said. “When for your whole life, every single workout, you are programmed to push beyond belief, it’s really hard to just turn that off and kind of just be a social competitor.
“I really am just like everyone else, and it’s as simple as crossing that finish line. I don’t care where I cross. It’s accepting the challenge and going for it.
“For me, for Boston, it’s to survive Heartbreak Hill and soak up every single moment.”
Michael Whitmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.