I am a Moon Jogger on my way to Venus with the crew. My year long goals are to run two half marathons, participate in a sprint duathlon, a century ride, just maybe a full marathon. I look to complete 1000 miles running and over 1000 actual miles biking by the new year. I wake up some mornings and ask myself, “Self, how did you get here?”
The journey has been long with surprising turns and twists. One day in 1999 I got out of my car and found myself on the ground. I wasn’t dizzy, hadn’t fainted or tripped. It was as if I had no legs. For 5 years previous I had been experiencing a downward spiral of symptoms yet undiagnosed. An MRI finally revealed that my spinal cord was slowly being impinged. In 1993, a missed block and a young man new to our martial arts class caught me in the back of the head and neck with a round kick which set off years of unbalance, misdiagnoses and trouble. To add insult to injury, some six months later, balance issues contributed to a bad fall down a steep flight of stairs. The damage had taken five years to discover. In 1999 the first of five surgeries was performed. In spite of these, there still remained questionable balance, extensive radiating nerve pain and spastic quadraparesis.
Independence being important, I acquired tools to maintain it; power wheelchair, handicap equipped van and a sweet lab named Pepper. Pepper had no idea what she was getting into but she maintained her sweet disposition and she and I became like two old shoes in front of the fireplace. Not being able to continue my pre-injury professions, I soon found myself in a government subsidized senior handicap rated apartment at still less than retirement age. Needless to say, depression blossomed and exacerbated what was then undiagnosed bipolar, and with it more than an 80 pound weight gain. After hitting 205 I refused to let them take my weight anymore but continued to grow in bulk. Over time Pepper helped me to get back on my feet but the thought of ambulating further than the mailbox seemed overwhelming. The wheelchair remained in my life for six years. My interests became more and more sedentary.
In January of 2004 I was given a final prognosis that deterioration would slowly continue over time. In February came what would become a life changing crossroads. Returning from Wyoming on a genealogy research trip, I came to terms that I was watching myself sit in that apartment slowly dying and decided I would do whatever I could as long as I could until I couldn’t any more. And so my life on wheels began. I gave up my apartment and everything I owned went into a trailer towed by my van or passed on to others. The “rule” was I would do all I could for myself unless it was apparent that I was up against something that even given enough time was beyond my physical ability. The journey that first year took me to Arizona where sadly the death of three family members kept me there through my first RVing winter.
An interesting thing living this lifestyle and being in a very dry climate; in spite of the grief and stresses of handling three estates, my physical stamina and mobility improved a small amount. I began to use walking sticks and Pepper more and the chair less. So I stayed another winter and another, traveling during some of the hotter months. By 2006 the chair began to lie dormant and I functioned with crutches and sticks in all of life’s necessaries. I started walking and was up to ¼ mile at a time and resolved to let the chair go if I could manage a year without using it, and I did. 2008 I discovered the hobby letterboxing that required some hiking, and in the dry Arizona climate the physical nerves continued to heal, and my range extended until one day with the help of walking sticks I hiked 6 miles. I dropped weight to about 190; I was content that I might live a somewhat normal life even though I thought it likely I would never return to the level of activity I once had. So life went on.
In the meantime I was also diagnosed with Bipolar disorder and after 2 years of struggling to find something that worked, I found an alternative treatment that has changed that part of my life; EMP by Truehope in Canada. It hasn’t been perfect and there were times that it didn’t keep me as even as I felt I needed but the side effects of the many pharmaceuticals that had run through my system were much worse. So I followed my protocol and I traveled and I hiked and I read and I sewed. I was also given opportunity to help a friend as she went through cancer surgery and chemo.
Crossroads come in many forms and I thought I had hit yet another one. I thought I would be building a root base in Tucson even though my family was scattered far to the Northwest and East. This was a conscious choice as my physical body really loves that hot dry climate. Much to my chagrin I found myself in the state of Washington. My daughter lives on one side of the state and my son the other. In the fall of the first year and on the west side my daughter says, come do the Jingle Bell Run with me in Seattle, it will be fun.
FUN? I can walk 3 miles but RUN? And so it started. Near the mobile home and RV park a bike trail extended both directions and I would go walk a lot and run a little. Then the running became a little more. The day came I texted my daughter in tears, I had run the entire 5k distance; slow, but without stopping to walk. We did that first 5k and then another and then a 10k in Wenatchee. And, the pounds came off.
And I was feeling more content with the world.
That spring I moved to the east side of the state. The primary impetus was a temporary part-time job that I had confirmed the previous summer. However, upon arriving it turned out the park had been sold and the new managers had no idea that workampers were showing up expecting a space in which to live and hours to work. Fortunately I found a site in the next town over that would accept my rolling home and the price was very reasonable with more space and more privacy. Just down the hill another bike trail extending two directions and running continued.
The Sage Rat Deux Run: A 12k and the next day a 15k hill/trail run (ok I hiked the 1200′ elev. gain).
Came home with some terrific bling for the two days including a 2nd and 3rd for age division.
After completing the races I had committed to with dollars, I continued to run because I just plain felt so much better both physically and emotionally. The climate is dry on this side of the state so the twinges that had started to sneak back in while on the wet side, disappeared. I thought maybe someday I might try a ½ marathon; and maybe, just maybe, if I got real wild and crazy I’d consider a full. That summer, on my 62nd birthday I did a training run of 13.1 miles, unsupported. All was great until the last two miles and it disintegrated into disaster real fast, but I learned some good lessons from those two miles. One month later, exactly a year after my daughter challenged me to run the Jingle Bell Run with her, I finished my first officially timed ½ and can’t wait to do it again this year. No, I’m not fast, but that 15k hike? Last week I took 40 minutes off last year’s time in a training run. I’m looking to take 15 minutes off this ½ marathon time at Wenatchee in April. Who knows, maybe wild and crazy will come sooner than I imagine. I actually looked at marathons scheduled late this year.
As I wrote this I am teary with gratitude. Yes, I am grateful for having my legs back. But more so, I am grateful for those who stood by me, held me up, and walked with me through many fiery trials over the years. I’m grateful for the hours spent in the rooms, the hours sitting in waiting rooms, taking notes, and asking questions, the miles driven to appointments and even to rescue from halfway across the country when I couldn’t get myself home. I am grateful to those who walked with me, though they barely knew me, through the dying and death of three family members in one year. I’m grateful for the selfless giving of many who have by their example given me the freedom to turn around and pass it forward. I am grateful to have a lifestyle that has now allowed me to heal and progress and to be there for others during hard times. I am grateful I couldn’t see ahead what each of the stops on the journey would entail, because I’m not sure I would always have gone. However, once in the midst, I wouldn’t want to be some other place. I am doing something I would not, could not, do before. And, I am grateful.