Running My Life

It’s a beautiful fall day, cool and crisp and sunny.  There’s no sign of color change in the trees in my neighborhood, but all the green has its own beauty.  I’m seeing this in my mind’s eye, because I just completed a bike ride on my exercise bicycle in my bedroom.  I climbed on with my bare feet, took a deep breath, and did the Nike.  Sometimes, especially at the most inopportune, impossible, undoable moments, you just have to pull on your big girl panties and do it.  I had all my meds, including a pain pill, three hours ago, hopefully everything is peaking, and there just wasn’t going to be a better time today.  It took me 10 minutes to ride one mile, but I’m not ashamed.  I did what I could do, even when I thought I couldn’t.  You can’t ask more of yourself than that. 


I used to run a mile and a half in the time it took for this bike ride.  I can still remember the routes that I ran:  from my Center City apartment to the pier and back in Philadelphia, north through beautiful neighborhoods and back to make a five-mile loop in Baltimore, up and down hills and through the McCallie tunnel in Chattanooga.  I loved putting on my running shorts and lacing up my Sauconies with my door key tied into the knot.  Going out my door, stretching briefly, then taking off slowly to warm up.  There was a ritual to running, akin to sliding into a church pew and reciting the liturgy.  It made something happen in my brain as well as in my body.  I felt a power and strength that was transforming. 


I began to run in college.  I read Aerobics by Kenneth H. Cooper, first published in about 1968, just six years before I began college.  It was the start of a revolution in exercise.  I wanted to be healthier, and I’d already seen the benefits of the walking that I did on the Vanderbilt University campus.  I started to jog, running laps in a gym, wearing my old sneakers and whatever clothing I could sweat in.  There was no official uniform for exercising in those days.  Soon I left the gym and began to run across the campus.  Eventually I bought real running shoes and the cool, lightweight shorts with the attached panties.  I was a runner!


Lupus took something huge from me right at the onset.  I was unable to run.  I couldn’t get farther than a few feet without feeling that something was dreadfully wrong.  My energy was depleted without me clearing my driveway.  I soon found that it was the same for tennis.  By the time I had carried my racquet to the court, I was too tired to lift my arm and swing at a ball.  It wasn’t long before walking also exacted a toll, and pain was added to the fatigue.  Once the pain took over, I no longer tried to exercise.  I was just trying to get around my home, my office, and the hospitals where I made rounds.  I was on crutches when the diagnosis came. 


The loss of power, the feeling that your core of strength is diminished, is demoralizing.  Suffice it to say that I was both angry and sad, and that it took years to see myself in a different way, as a human being with a different kind of strength and value.  To maintain this strength, I sometimes must force myself to do what I can, and remind myself that it is sufficient. 



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