I sat at my computer today about to begin my outline for my presentation at the Philadelphia marathon expo in two more weeks. As I looked at my screen, a dear friend popped up on Gmail chat to say hello. She is about to go through radiation after almost a year of chemotherapy and a mastectomy. This friend is only in her thirties. Our instant message exchanges were light hearted and full of love. As I sat there gazing down at the carpet at my running sneakers I thought about how many people are in my life that are struggling with some sort of ailment, wether is was something mentally plaguing them, physically, or both.
The month of October was a rough one for me. I worked through the pain of post op from my kidney surgery, the stint, and the memories of all things associated with the season that use to be a favorite of mine. Fall in New England is just simply gorgeous. There is no where in the world that can compare with the feeling of fall in the Northeast. We are blessed with colorful canopies of trees bursting with colors, smells of earth, rain, and decomposing leaves, pumpkins everywhere.. and apples being freshly harvested at every town’s local farm. Fall is a time where we get a little cozier, and await the first few snowflakes that will soon blanket the winter ground. Two plus years ago, my favorite season became that of a nightmare when I was run over while cycling. The leaves were perfect on that October 8th day. The pumpkins adorned every doorstep, and cool breezes swept through my hair, tickling my nose and making my face light up with a smile. Then, the unimaginable happened.. that large freight truck blew right through that stop sign and right over my 125 pound body. I was dragged for several feet, rolled over and over.. my bike shoes were ripped off my feet as my front tire wrapped under the chassy of the freight liner. When my body finally came to a stop, I was left ripped apart with broken bones, much of my skin shredded off my body, and clinging to life. Within minutes my heart would stop beating and I would lay in a coma while being brought in and out of surgeries. I would receive many units of blood and blood products, and I would be resuscitated multiple times. During my “sleep” I would miss the big October snow fall, the fact that Halloween was “cancelled” that year.. and that my job was being eliminated due to a mismanagement of the company I believed so strongly in. When I awoke the leaves were gone, and so was the month of October.
Two years later, my fear and anxiety has reached highs that I could have never begun to imagine. My first love, which is cycling went partially by the wayside, and I began running. With a screwed back together pelvis, mended broken ankle and tibia, 50% less muscle mass in my left leg, partial incontinence, brain trauma issues, a badly degloved glute, and severe wounds, all I wanted to do was run.. run because they managed to keep my leg, run because I was alive, run because my muscles longed to work, run because I could. Running became the hardest and most challenging endeavor that I ever attempted, and at the same time became something that forced me to “unplug”, to listen to my heart beat, to feel pain and know it meant I was here, and to give gratitude.
Running forces your body to go through a series of “head games”. First, there is the mere act of putting on your shoes. For me, I could not put my own shoes on for almost a year. Then it is about taking that first “leap” if you will, for me it provoked terror.. “Will I become unscrewed?” My surgeons came with me on this journey every literal step of the way. What if I poop myself? well, I have.. so what.. its warm, stinky, and it washes off… What it Im too slow and people make fun of me? That’s their issue.. I survived a freight truck.
When we run, multiple things happen.. our bodies begin circulating.. detoxing if you will. We begin cleansing our minds of thoughts, and suddenly have the ability to deal with things.. we NOTICE things.. the trees, the water, each other, the birds.. we SWEAT, and we are reminded about the beauty of water, and we drink. We become hungry, and we are reminded that we live in a country where we can eat. We see others run, and so we wave.. and we join the beautiful energy of people who are living.
So many people say, “I can’t run”. I say, “Are you alive?” because if you are, even if you do it in a non-traditional way.. you can.. on some level. I have watched people race through finish lines on wheel chairs, with prosthetics, stumbling and struggling to stay upright from a stroke, but “running” none-the-less.
When we run, we become empowered to face life. We become empowered to face ourselves. We become empowered to seek gratitude for each fatigued breath in and out that fuels our every heart beat.
How beautiful is gratitude? Today, I closed my laptop and realized the best way to prepare for this upcoming discussion was to “go there”. I needed to run, and not just anywhere.. I needed to run on Boston Post Road, and I needed to run longer than I had ever run. I needed to pray, seek direction, and find gratitude.
When asked how running has helped me handle stress and trauma, I would say it has forced me to “be real” and in doing so, it has opened the box to healing. Today I ran over 17 miles while Fall is still in swing, along Boston Post Road. I stopped often and cried. I stopped and caught my breath, I stopped and prayed. I also stopped to simply wipe away my tears and thank God for my life, this life.. and ask that I can be a light every step of my life.