Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving Day - In the Beginning


Thanksgiving 2016: Bittersweet. First holiday without my mother. We always took her Thanksgiving lunch to the nursing home and she so appreciated the meal and the company. Now, that is not needed anymore and there seems a hole that I can't seem to fill.

But, there is another first on Thanksgiving. Thirty four years ago today, I began my endurance sports journey. I tried to run. It marked a new beginning much like holidays without parents do. But, the running, the biking, and swimming bear no pain of remembrance; only joy. Those memories bring a smile, even now, to these old lips. I was blessed to have parents that I loved so much and I have been blessed by thirty four years of a wonderful life in endurance sports. Thanksgiving ... I am giving thanks to God for it all.

Below is an excerpt from my book, "I Hear Footsteps," accounting that groundbreaking Thanksgiving so many years ago.

Prologue: In the Beginning


Several times when I was young I came close to dying from asthma, pneumonia, or the medication itself. Many times I really wondered if I was going to be able to take that next breath. In those days treatment options were quite limited. Consequently, prolonged bouts with this stuff seemed to keep me in an emaciated physical state. At age fourteen I weighed just seventy-eight pounds and was four foot, eleven inches tall. There were many nights in my life spent sitting up in bed just trying to breathe. My back grew bowed and one side of my chest protruded out much farther than the other. I looked deformed and I guess I was. For me, playing sports was quite limited. I was always the last one chosen for a team.

After adulthood and years of treatment, my health improved somewhat. Eventually, I grew out of my deformed chest; but still, I was occasionally besieged by bouts of severe asthma attacks. It seemed that being an asthmatic was my lot in life, my own piece of hell, a curse from which I would not be set free.

Thanksgiving morning, 1982 found me once again suffering from an asthma attack. Having been up most of the night trying to breathe, I was a man much out of sorts. Somehow though, on this one day in time, a whole lifetime of frustration seemed to culminate right then and there on that Thanksgiving morning. I was just fed up. I was just angry—very angry. For some reason, I just wanted to run. Absurd as that reasoning might sound, I just wanted to make my lungs suffer, to strike back at something, at anything. “Enough is enough!!” I thought. If I were going to be gasping, struggling for breath, and wheezing, well by golly, I might as well have a good reason for it. I was going to run! What was I thinking? It was crazy, I know. Could be I was just a little bit over the edge at the time?

I had no shoes to run in so I laced up my hunting boots and started a slow jog down the dirt road in front of my house. I was going to run the quarter mile to the end of that road if it killed me. It very nearly did. In fact, after only a few moments, after less than a hundred yards, I was bent over with my hands on my knees, seriously struggling for air. Asthma had beaten me again, I thought, as I walked slowly and dejectedly back to the house. Surprisingly though, sometime later after I had fully recovered, it seemed that I could breathe a little better than before. And some of that anger—no, a lot of that anger—was still in there bubbling, simmering around inside. I would have another go at it the next morning. This wasn’t over.

The next morning I got a little farther down the road than the day before, but it was still a suffocating experience. Beaten again. But, I had gone a few feet farther. It wasn’t much farther but there was some small satisfaction in it. Afterwards, I again found I could breathe a little better than before my run. The next morning and the next and the next found me making similar attempts and being met with similar defeats. But, with each effort I was getting a little farther down the road. Anger had matured into firm resolution. My mind and spirit now had “missile locked” on someday getting all the way down that road, the whole quarter mile. Finally, one day I just hung on, suffocated more than I ever thought I could, and made the whole quarter of a mile. No, it wasn’t an Olympic finish. No bands were playing. No crowds were cheering. No one cared, but I knew. It was just my own ecstatic experience, a private victory on a little dirt road in the middle of nowhere.

No stopping me now; I had tasted it. My asthma was getting better almost daily. Finally, one morning I ran all the way back to the house—a half mile. I was elated! Then the day came when I ran a whole mile. Like a prisoner breaking out of his jail cell, breathing fresh air for the first time in a very long time, there was no containing me. I was out of control and still am, I hope. Thank God!! I traded my hunting boots for slip-on deck shoes and, when my long runs got to around three or four miles, I finally bought real running shoes.

The rest of the story is about longer runs: 5Ks, 10Ks, Half Marathons and, in 1987, my first marathon. Sometimes, even now, having completed over thirty marathons and many triathlons, it is still hard to fully comprehend. To think that I did all that, yet knowing all the time I am really nothing special, just a no talent, ordinary person who hung on. I am so grateful! I feel so blessed!! May I never lose that childlike wonderment at all this. May I never forget that first frustrating Thanksgiving morning in 1982. But even more importantly, may I never forget to give God the thanks, that I can run!!