Back in high school, my favorite race was the 800. That’s 2 times around the track. My second favorite race, even though I really only did it during relays, was the 400. That’s once around the track. That means that I was a middle distance runner. And what I loved about those races was that I went all out in them, without as much pacing as longer distances, coming to the end completely out of breath - having gone my fastest the entire race - with nothing left to give - giving my all - I loved that feeling.
The past 7 or so years I have gone back to the track to walk that same 400 that I used to run all out. At first it was a marathon to me, taking an hour. And it always has felt like a distance race these past 7 years, where I need to pace myself so I make it the whole way without falling apart. But the most recent time when I went to the track I found my middle distance self again - not realizing it at first - but having a feeling that something was different. I went all out, without pacing, coming to the end completely out of breath - having gone my fastest the entire race - with nothing left to give - giving my all - I loved that feeling.
My goal was to break 10 minutes, and to do that, I knew I had to start fast and just keep going, without worrying about pacing myself - without fearing I would fall apart. So I started fast and thought these things to myself:
(First 100) turnover, leg turnover - Rhythm - keep the rhythm all the way around the track - 1 2 1 2 1 2...
(first bend) shorten your strides, keep the rhythm, get ready to GO on the backstretch -
(backstretch) GO! - open your stride - keep a rhythm - 1 2 1 2 1 2 - long strides -
(final bend) heel. heel. heel. rhythm. rhythm. rhythm. - push it in - win the race - don’t let them catch you -
DONE! Breathe (gasp) - relax - check the time - that had to be under 10 - and it is 9:25!
Those thoughts - what wasn’t there that used to be there - were thoughts of how I was slowing - there was no slowing - and instead there were only thoughts of increasing momentum. Thoughts came back of races where I didn’t “kick it in.” But not this time - I kicked it in. And that is how I realized I found my middle distance self again - because I gave everything I had for that finite 400. It was all about keeping leg turnover, going as fast as I could - changing the rhythm a bit when the track opened - and then finishing strong, completely out of breath - giving everything - and that is the amazing feeling I love.
Some say people should not dwell on the past or “live” in the past, but my past drives me forward - I am still the same person - who just never got to break times that were so close to being broken as a runner, when things went wrong and I couldn’t finish races as I wanted -but finished feeling as if my body was just crumbling into a pile of nothing.
Now I chase different times - 10 minutes for a 400 - and when I finish and do not crumble - it feels amazing. Gasping for air at the end while still standing feels amazing. I will never forget these times.
There is much that has changed in the past few months for me. It is as if a nerve connection that had been broken for a very long time got connected overnight. I can stand without holding onto something. I can stand up from the floor without holding onto something - that is so new and was a big surprise as I had been trying to stand for some time when all of a sudden, one day, it just happened.
Now that I don’t use my wheelchair much, I have figured out how to put it into my car without having to take all the pieces apart. Wish I could have done this when I needed the chair more, but oh well. Imagine this scene: I was in the parking lot of a store attempting to hoist the whole chair into the back of my van when a nice guy came to offer his help. Me: “No. I. Am. Trying. To. Learn. To. Do. This. Myself.” Nice man: “Well, ok, but I thought I would let you know that your tire there flattened out and that is why it is stuck.” Oh... My mom showed up and it was in and I proclaimed with a big smile, “See?!!” And at the next place I insisted in trying again myself. That time she informed someone who was coming to help that I was working on doing this myself. And we all laughed. And at the next place she informed me that I should walk and leave my chair in the car, which I did.
I told my husband recently that it is more difficult for me to use my wheelchair in places because it feels a bit ridiculous and really feels like I should be walking. He asked, “why don’t you?” And part of it is knowing my walking looks pretty goofy. To this he asked “Who cares?” Well, someone close to me does care and would rather I use my chair than walk, and I explained this to him. His response: “This is your life, not theirs.” Yes, it is - it goes deeper - it goes to knowing people look at me strangely - to walk I stick out more - I get more questions - or I used to get more questions. But he is right and so I am trying to move past these anti-walking thoughts I have.
I need to live my life. If I want to walk, and I can walk, I should walk. So we went to see the musical “Chicago” on my birthday this year downtown. And I walked - and it really wasn’t that far. The people who opened the theater doors for us smiled at me. The ushers smiled at me. I think they are used to seeing me in my chair. And for the next production, I walked. And I realized funny things like there are a lot of people who are shorter than I thought they were!
I walked into Target to shop for something, walked into Walgreens and shopped for multiple things, and have walked various other places where I used to wheel. I smile and people smile back and they don’t question if I need help as much as people question if I need help when I am using my chair. That is intriguing to me.
If you made it this far, thanks for reading about all that is happening in my life in surprising and unexpected ways.
And, as always, I feel God is on this “journey” with me, even as I become more independent and want less help, thinking “I got this!”