“Like most things in my life, if you judge me by my results, you aren’t getting the entire picture.” – Casey Revman, from an article in this month’s Runner’s World magazine.
She’s a teenager with tuberous sclerosis, a genetic disorder that causes tumors to form in major organs. Basic tasks are difficult for her, yet she trained and finished two half marathons. She runs – not to win – but to find normalcy in her world. What others see doesn’t matter as much as what she knows from the inside out.
We’re years apart and propelled by different forces, yet we share the same philosophy about running/walking. When we put our soles (souls) out on the road, we tap into our inner being and the lessons we learn about ourselves can be life-changing if we choose to listen.
A very good friend of mine, Kim Heinz, who founded our Adams County Running Club (and an awesome person!), often talks about her belief that the heart of any race is at the back of the pack – those plucky racers who cross the finish line long after the winners have turned off their Garmins, wiped off the sweat and walked triumphantly inside to collect their bling.
She’s so right. If you’re lucky enough to be at that finish line you’ll see amazing fortitude and determination in every person who finishes what they set out to do. Each person has their own story. For some, it’s their very first 5K (or 10K or half marathon or whatever) and their goal is simply (or not so simply) to finish. It could be their first official step toward better health and fitness. It may be an effort dedicated to someone they love, for a myriad of reasons. Or, it could be the most they can do because of their physical and/or emotional limitations.
For them, each step taken is one step forward and measured in much more than miles or kilometers. Their stories can be simple or complicated. But each one can inspire you as much (or more) than you ever thought possible.
Out on the road, when the fast pack has put distance between themselves and me, I have a chance to listen to the cadence of my own foot-falls. I like that. It’s part of the reason why I walk. I like the mix of solitude and camaraderie that comes from running an event with friends. I like being outside and tracing routes that wind through parks, along lakes, through woods – where ever – in all sorts of weather. I move slowly enough to be able to enjoy that beauty. If I were able to run, I would be concentrating more on strategy and less on nature. I know that. And sometimes, even though I don’t win a lot of age group awards, I think I have the better part of the deal.
I know I will see the smiles and hear their cheers of my fleet-footed friends as I cross the finish line and I love the feeling that gives me — I know I’m a winner regardless of where I finish overall, because I’ve done what I set out to do and my friends care about me. And, as Casey Revman says, finish line results don’t tell the whole story.
From the outside, I’m a middle-aged woman, somewhat overweight, walking briskly and purposely. There’s nothing in my step that gives away the fact I have one hip made of plastic and metal. You wouldn’t know that, for more than 50 years, I never walked/lived without pain. My stride is strong and my steps are sure, because I’ve worked on them. The smile in my heart is there because I love the gift I’ve been given. I would LOVE to be able to run – to just throw caution to the wind and open up my stride and GO!! …but to do that would jeopardize all that science has done… and so I walk instead and thank God for what I DO have.
I started walking about 8 months after my hip surgery, and six weeks after my husband had a stroke at 55 due to a blood clot from atrial fibrillation (a-fib). I was utterly petrified he would die and at the same time, worried he would not recover fully. I knew I needed to change our lifestyle to help both my husband and myself yet was overwhelmed by it all and unable to move forward. There were oh-so-many things going on that were beyond my control…
Around that same time, Kim had just started the running club and I showed up to meet the group one Saturday morning in April, 2011 at the suggestion of a friend. “I don’t run,” I had told her bluntly when she mentioned it to me earlier that week. “I know, but you don’t HAVE to run,” she replied. “A lot of us walk, so come out and join us.” Before I left home on that cool, cloudy day, I told my husband, “Ok, I’m going. Listen, if it’s bad, at most, it’s an hour out of my life I’ll never get back.”
Off I went… That first day I managed about a mile and took about 17 minutes to do it. I was tired when I finished and was the last person who returned to the park. I expected everyone to be already gone, but, no, they had all waited for me and greeted me with genuine smiles. Kim came forward to meet me with a hug, saying, “Good job! How’d it go?” They were welcoming and inspiring all at the same time, and I cautiously committed to coming back the next week.
For some weeks, it was the one constant in our lives that I could control. I found friendship but learned a lot about myself along the way. The road, as they say, is a damn good listener.
My husband fully recovered, thank God. He’s not an advocate of exercise but knows its benefits. For now, he’s still working on taking that first step (but not shutting the door on it). All I can do is offer support.
…And here I am, over a year and a half later and about 30# lighter…now looking forward each week to meeting my running club peeps for some fitness activity and breakfast. My miles now average 13 minutes and change during races. I set my goal this year to finish a half marathon and have actually done two. My goal for 2013 is to finish a triathlon. After all, even though I can’t ‘run’ I can swim and bike, so why not?
I have made friendships through our running club that I cherish and I hold them dearly in my heart. We share a passion for life as a whole that goes well beyond the start/finish line.
That’s what has brought me to this place in my life and I’m only one story from the back of the pack.
Regardless of where we finish, we’re all winners by our efforts.