Patient Stories
Life is a Marathon

Competing in a half-marathon takes grit, determination and dedication — these are all traits Leah Nixon embodies. She’s also an artist, a mom and an entrepreneur.

If a picture is worth 1,000 words, a hand-written note might be priceless — at least that’s the hope at Tiny and Snail. Leah Nixon first introduced us to her greeting card company (which she co-owns with her sister Grace) in the Fall 2021 issue of Health magazine. In the cover story of that issue, she also shared her ongoing journey of recovery following a construction accident in 2018. That accident resulted in one of her legs being amputated and left her paralyzed from the armpits down.

A Bookmark in Time

Having had a near-fatal accident, Leah is very aware of how precious time and memories are. Recently she began writing cards each week to her 2-year-old daughter. “At the beginning of this year I realized what a shame it would be if Ellie had no cards from me; I realized that I needed to make that commitment to write to her,” Leah said.

Taking the time to be present by thoughtfully writing to a loved one not only boosts the mental wellbeing of the writer, but creates a powerful connection for the receiver. A client of Tiny and Snail recently remarked, “Your cards are perfect for people who are hurting and who have dealt with trauma.” To Leah, those connections make perfect sense. “I’m in a lot of pain all the time, and that comes out in the art,” she said.

 

Tiny and Snail

Grace Nixon Peterson and Leah Nixon have built Tiny and Snail into a successful business, marketing directly to customers online at tinyandsnail.com. Both Leah and Grace draw the images and write the text for their products.

Sometimes they collaborate. Sometimes they work separately. However all of their cards, stamps, stickers and other designs share the same smart, simply worded and brightly illustrated style.

Gifts With Heart, the gift shop in the lobby at Monument Health Rapid City Hospital, is a Tiny and Snail outlet.

 

Always Moving Forward

“I was a runner before my accident,” Leah said. “The Mickelson — I’ll be running with that with my dad and husband this June — was actually the first half-marathon I ever did.” In June 2023, Leah stopped taking a medication designed to block nerve pain. The medicine had minimal impact on her pain, so Leah has turned to exercise as a way to manage both her physical pain and her mental health.

“I’ve heard a lot of great things about exercise, so I just committed to doing it every day,” she explained. “I have an outdoor exercise chair with levers, so it’s a lot easier on my arms compared to a traditional wheelchair. I’ve worked out outside almost every day since June of last year, and now it’s just a part of my day. I need to do it, and my family knows that I need to do it.”

For Leah, running has always been a symbol of facing challenges. “I hated running to start with, but I know that I can do anything hard for 10 minutes, so I just started running for 10 minutes a day,” she said. “That eventually turned into running a half-marathon and then running two full marathons. And then my accident happened.”

After the accident, Leah continued to work out, but finding space for a daily commitment to exercise — the kind it takes to run competitively — was difficult. “I have a disability, I’m a mom, I’m a business owner; I have a lot going on. Sometimes you just feel too busy to prioritize the things you need to prioritize. But, you still need to step back to be able to think more clearly about it. Then you can find enough space to direct your energy towards the things you need to focus on.”

As Leah, her husband and her dad take on the Mickelson Trail Half-Marathon this summer, the big thoughts of life are front and center in her mind. “My dad actually had brain cancer a couple of years ago, so he’s kind of a miracle, too,” Leah said. “When I was thinking about whether or not I wanted to run this, I thought, hey, I almost died five years ago. That makes you think about life differently. So, of course, I want to run this half-marathon with my dad!”