When Logan McGill, 15, was diagnosed with a severe case of scoliosis last year, doctors gave her two choices: painful and invasive back surgery to straighten her S-shaped spine, or wear a cumbersome, plastic body brace 20 hours a day for two years.
Her spine was contorted at 28 degrees when doctors first assessed her condition, but it quickly worsened to 39 percent, her mother, Jennifer McGill, said.
For the Dallas teenager, who's an avid runner and swimmer, both remedies seemed ominous. One would keep her off the athletic field and temporarily out of school, while the other posed years of discomfort and potential social stigma.
McGill says she settled on the obtrusive, three-pound torso clamp with the belief it would pose the least disruption in her life.
"It was really tough," McGill said of the decision. "It was definitely painful the first few weeks I had it. I was learning to sleep in it and walk and sit and do all the normal things with the brace on."
Scoliosis, a spinal deformity without a known cause or cure, can be physically and emotionally painful, hamper breathing and restrict physical activity if it's not corrected. An estimated 6 million Americans are affected by the disease, according to the National Scoliosis Foundation.
McGill said she was determined not to let it get her down and has spent the past year making the most out of the four hours a day she gets to live brace-free.
"I kinda feel like a noodle when I take it off, and I can bend my back and bend over and it feels really good to take it off," she said. "But when I have the brace off, getting the brace back on is always in the back of my mind."
The lanky, 5-foot-8-inch high school freshman has been maximizing the tight daily window during which she's unstrapped, squeezing in social time with friends, laps in the pool and training runs for the Dallas White Rock Marathon Relay. She'll cross the starting line with a crowd of 22,000 marathoners on Sunday.
But perhaps more impressive than McGill's optimism and determination is her record-setting fundraising for a charity she started herself in conjunction with the race.
"Race for the Curve" has collected more than $54,000 for Dallas' Scottish Rite Hospital, her mother said -- more money than anyone has ever raised in the 41 years of the city's marathon and more than all other charity fundraising for this year's race, combined.
"Scottish Rite doesn't accept payment for their patients and I really wanted to give back to the hospital," she said. "I've been running since third or fourth grade, so I wanted to tie the charity to my hobby."
14,000 Hours in Scoliosis Brace
McGill's attitude and work for charity have thrilled her parents, who say their daughter should be an example for others.
"A lot of kids that wear braces are really self-conscious about it," said Jennifer McGill. "Some of them choose even not to wear them at all and end up at surgery. I just think the publicity about her being comfortable in her brace and still being an active person will be helpful to other kids."
Less than one percent of Americans affected by scoliosis, including around 30,000 U.S. teens, use back braces each year to try to correct the curvature of their spines. More than 38,000 opt for surgery.
"They cut through your back muscles. They dig out the disc material between your vertebrae and replace it with bone graft. Then they insert a metal rod down your back to stabilize your spine until the graft fuses to the vertebrae," said McGill, explaining why her daughter wanted to avoid the surgery.
Still, doctors say there's only a 70 percent chance the brace will shape a lasting fix and McGill may need surgery anyway.
But Logan McGill isn't thinking about that right now. She's heeding the same advice she offers her peers.
"Stay positive," she said. "There are kids with a lot worse conditions," she said. "You won't be in the brace forever – it's just temporary."