By Rhea Mahbubani
4:28 PM PDT, October 28, 2013
She's only 29 years old, but Misty Diaz has undergone 28 major surgeries.
Doctors have done everything from repairing her intestines to retethering her spinal cord and providing her with balance necessary to stand up without toppling over, tie her shoelaces and live independently.
The Long Beach resident was born with spina bifida, a congenital condition that often causes paralysis of the lower limbs. Over time, she grew addicted to drugs that helped her with pain management, anxiety and difficulty sleeping, among other conditions.
"I wanted different results," she said. "I wanted to not be in pain, I wanted to wake up at 7 a.m. and not feel groggy and tired. I was willing to try something different to see how I would feel and to see if it could have a different effect."
Diaz decided to get sober. The last time she took a sip of alcohol or swallowed a pill — other than maybe Tylenol or Ibuprofen, when needed — was Feb. 2, 2012.
A few days later, while wondering where to channel her energy, she drove past a billboard advertising the annual Ronald McDonald House Run/Walk. Without giving herself time to think about her lack of training or her need for leg braces and walking canes, she signed up.
Even with the braces and canes, Diaz still completed the 5K walk — and felt "really good." A fortnight passed, and she enlisted for a similar event in Seal Beach. And so it continued.
"Running gave me an outlet to use my energy to help my mind and body," she said. "It boosts my confidence and self-esteem and gives me a sense of accomplishment."
Now, Diaz is only a few days away from her 33rd attempt. She, like others, will line up Friday at the OC Fair & Event Center in preparation for the Electric Run.
After debuting at the same venue last year, the event has been hosted at various locations nationwide, attracting thousands of attendees. Participants are invited to walk, jog or run five kilometers — or 3.1 miles — to the accompaniment of pulsating electronic dance music.
Start-line festivities include free face-painting, while tunes blast and neon glow sticks are thrown out at the crowd before the untimed run begins. Sent out in waves of about 800, guests then make their way through eight distinct courses, decorated with upside-down umbrellas, glowing arches, wall art and an inflatable castle.
"Our founder, Dan Hill, just loved the idea of a big, fun run so people can get together and have a good time," said Joel McAllister, marketing engineer for the family-friendly event. "It's a party while you're staying fit and active."
He added that Electric Run, which is gearing up for its first international pit stop in Sydney, Australia, features a party after the finish line where runners can grab water and a granola bar amid free giveaways and a DJ playing contemporary numbers.
Organizers also decided to divert a portion of ticket sales to family services, education and research at Children's Hospital of Orange County. Also, several teams that joined the CHOC Walk on Oct. 13 will be present for Electric Run, with funds raised Friday added to their totals.
Zachariah Abrams, director of special events and corporate relations at CHOC Children's Foundation, said the hospital, which plans to provide volunteers, would be glad if this were to become an "ongoing partnership."
"CHOC is incredibly grateful for the generous support of the community," he said. "With the recent opening of our new Bill Holmes Tower comes an increase in the number of families depending on CHOC for their children's health care needs. This growth, in turn, increases the importance of and need for philanthropic support."
Diaz, who is able to travel across the nation for similar events with the help of grants and donations from loyal fans, encountered information about Electric Run at a time when she wasn't ready for anything more intense, such as a timed race.
"Who doesn't like to do something at night in tutus and wigs and a whole bunch of lights?" she asked. "I needed to be motivated and to be part of something that was energetic, colorful and had music and people of all ages."
And that's what she got.
Training at Bluff Park overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Diaz recalled spending her teenage years without a sturdy support system. It wasn't until she was in her 20s that she even met someone with spina bifida.
Determined to do better by others, she mentors young women and shares her story on YouTube, Facebook and elsewhere so people can ask questions, be informed and follow her journey.
"The funny thing is that the pain I'm in today is because I trained or ran a half-marathon," she said. "It's pain that can be taking care of with stretching, rest or massages. It's wonderful, and this is how it should be."
If You Go
What: Electric Run
Where: OC Fair and Event Center, 88 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa
When: 7 p.m. Friday