Let it be so that, when I reach the end of this life, I can look back and say what a beautiful ride it was! Let it be so that, when I run out of time, my heart is full and I hold no regrets. Let it be known, by the mark I leave, that I was here in more ways than one.
Let it be true that, even when I failed, I still learned – and tried hard enough to walk away smiling. Let it be known, when it’s my time to go, that somewhere between my first sunrise and my last sunset, I saw my fair share of rainbows. Let it be known that, while I was here, I found hope somewhere even when I was empty and, just along the edges where rivers spill into oceans, I threw the words across the deep, hoping they would keep long enough to be found by someone who needed them.
Let it be so that, for every time I was too afraid to dance, somehow, I will get another chance – and I won’t be afraid, even if the whole world is watching.
Let it be known that, while I was here, I fell a hundred times or more when all I wanted to do was fly… but look at me now, I am the whole sky!
Let it be so.
Let it be known that, somewhere in this life, I used my whole heart to write my story and, even if no one ever read it, it was mine and it was beautiful. Let it be known that, while I was here, it was such an honor to know you… and let it be so that, when I leave, I will carry a part of you with me always.
“Are you going to run when you’re in Mexico?”, a friend asks me, as I take a sip of my coffee.
I almost snort it through my nose.
Laughing and choking at the exact same time, I respond with a vehement “NO!”
We stare at each other for a moment, both of us a little bit stunned by the immediacy of my response, before we crack up, laughing.
My training up to Pittsburgh was strong. I completed the race 22 minutes faster than my Garmin predicted that I would. I resumed my gym time just days after the race. In the weeks that followed, however, my desire to run has greatly waned. This is a normal cycle, I know, and I’m no stranger to the need for a little downtime following a major race event. Even elite athletes take a minimum of several weeks off after a peak performance.
While I am far from “elite”, and I will not be taking several weeks off, I am most certainly choosing to prioritize rest for the next 7days.
The point of this blog is not to garner your sympathy for my residual post-race fatigue or to induce a chuckle at the thought of me, so enthusiastically refusing to do what I’ve fought so hard to be physically capable of doing again. Rather, the point is to remind you that too much of a good thing isn’t always the best thing. Periods of rests are necessary pit stops along the road we travel in order to reach our goals.
Strength training is definitely a good thing, and keeping on a consistent running schedule is key to maintaining our form and fitness level. But, all too often, we tend to believe that more is better.
More miles. More days. More reps. More weight. In some cases, this may be true. Adding a bit more to the mix can absolutely be the key to moving us forward in pursuit of our goals. But there is often a point where too much of a good thing no longer produces additional benefits. And, at a certain point, if you keep stacking more on top of more, your risk of regression or injury increases significantly.
How do you determine exactly where that point is?
That’s a question that I don’t have the answer to, because it’s different for everyone. But, a lot of times, a little common sense is all you really need to decide, for yourself, when and where a good thing becomes a bit too much. And, not for nothing, I’m now fairly certain that resuming my own training, just 48 hours after an event, definitely qualifies as too much of a very good thing.
It’s time to make my pit stop… Mexico, here I come!!!
“When you finally stop chasing the dream, you can finally start living it fully.”
ME, Aubrey Brewer
“You got here sooner than you thought you would…”, my husband said to me, as we walked through the finisher’s chute of the Pittsburgh Marathon.
He looked at his watch, mentally calculating my time, “I think you did it. It’s more than enough.”
This should have been a moment to celebrate – to let out a soul clearing scream. This long awaited goal, finally being realized.
Except it wasn’t being realized; not immediately, anyway. It was just hanging there, in the balance, feeling very heavy. Heavy, like the moisture lingering in the air from the rain that had fallen upon us. Heavy, like my legs, and the pressure upon my spine, as I tried to keep moving forward. Heavy, like the emotions swirling around in my mind. Heavy, like the breath I held, just waiting for me to exhale.
How many years had I been chasing this moment? How many Finish Lines have I crossed, each with a better time or better physical performance, only to come back to the same sad conclusion, still:
NOT GOOD ENOUGH.
“Not good enough” tends to be a recurring theme in the undercurrent of my mind. Words never actually spoken out loud, yet repeatedly applied, subconsciously, throughout my life.
So, on this day, when we finally realized my dream, success was simply not something that, I think, either one of us knew how to process. Not immediately, anyway. It definitely took a few days. And it’s really got me thinking… what good is a goal if we are so solely focused on it that, when we finally achieve it, we are unable to fully enjoy the exact moment of our success? What possesses us to tie so much of our own self worth to our own personal achievements? Especially when, in the end, it’s not what we do that even matters at all – but rather, it’s how we go about doing it, and who we choose to do it with, that makes all the difference in the world.
It doesn’t really matter if I qualified for the Boston Marathon or not. It’s just another race.
It doesn’t matter if I actually choose to go and run it or not. I am just one, of the many, who now have the choice.
What matters is the people that I choose to surround myself with – the people who, also, choose me. The ones who care enough to show up, to run with me and support me, in person or in spirit, and who, without any words needed, have come to understand the very depths of my journey.
When it comes right down to it, nothing really even matters at all… because, once obtained, there will always be something else, somewhere else – some other goal or dream we then choose to set our sights on and work towards. It never ends. Each step is just another rung in the ladder of our lives, and we continue to climb.
No matter what your goals might be, please consider this: No THING in this world is greater than YOU. And any THING that causes you to question your own self worth, costs you your peace or the presence of those around you, is simply not worth chasing.
If the many miles covered, all along the way, on the journey to that finish line don’t build you up, can not be savored daily, or fully enjoyed with those who matter the most to you, then what is the point of even going at all?
In the words of the late, great Alan Watts:
“You can’t live at all, unless you can live fully NOW.”
“We must always welcome the end of all things. For sometimes, knowing nothing lasts forever, is the only way we can learn to fall in love with all the moments and all the people that are meant to take our breath away.”
“My mom is dead.” I responded, unflinchingly, for the very first time in nearly 6 years.
I had just been asked if a woman at my post-race marathon party last Sunday had been my mom. It struck me that the words did not sting, even as I spoke them. My voice did not shake, nor did tears form behind my eyes. Suddenly, I was outside myself, looking down at the woman that I have become. No longer child-like and small, feeling abandoned or alone… but, rather, strong and confident, feeling fiercely independent; a testament to the hard work in healing and personal growth which I have made a priority in my life these past several years.
But some days I still miss her. Not just today, or because it’s Mother’s Day. And, some days, missing her still feels heavy. Sudden, unexpected remembrances still cause grief to catch in my throat.
In the beginning, the heaviness was all I knew. But now, it’s mostly easy and light – a fleeting memory or passing thought, which I quietly acknowledge – or mentally take note of, but leave completely unspoken. Like when the wings of a butterfly, flutter through the breeze. It catches my eye and captures my heart, reminding me that she’s still here with me, even though she’s long since gone.
I wish I had better words to describe this place. Words that might, somehow, comfort another still finding their way through. All I can really say is, to have loved and lost will shake you to your very core. It will strip away every pretension and peel back every layer, allowing you to see things in a different light. It will cause you to question everything, up to and including the very meaning of this Life. But, once you’ve answered all your own questions and processed through your own emotions, the truest healing can then begin.
Missing her used to come in waves, washing over me in swells so strong, they threatened to drown me with their depth. Now, its more of an ebb and flow. No longer does the loss of her cause me to shut others out. Now, acknowledging her absence allows me to value the presence of others even more… to not take one single moment for granted – knowing that, one day, it will all, most certainly, be gone.
“And in the space of a few short hours, life had been reduced from a highly complex existence, with a thousand petty problems, to one of the barest simplicity in which one real task remained – the achievement of the goal.”
A. Lansing, “ENDURANCE”
Running a marathon is such a transcendent experience. In the span of this one, single day, you inevitably live through all the emotions of life – all the highs, and all the lows. Within those few “short” hours, you earn decades of wisdom – the kind of self-knowledge that people pay shamans and therapists thousands of dollars in order to discover. The kind that can only come from being broken down to absolutely nothing – and then finding just a little bit more residing within. It’s a language you simply can not speak until you’ve endured it for yourself. It’s in these moments of utter emptiness, that we discover exactly how full we really are.
I remember when I ran my very first marathon, right here, in Pittsburgh; I told myself that my goal was to conquer the distance, not race the clock. But this time, over a decade later, I found myself doing a bit of both.
I’d be lying if I said I enjoyed every mile and every moment of this race. The truth is, it hurt like hell and there were many miles, and many moments, where I just wanted to raise my arms up in surrender, wave that proverbial white flag, and step off of that unforgiving pavement.
But I didn’t… my friends would never have let me, even if I tried.
I worked so hard for this moment, and I owed it to myself to finish the race. I owed it to the friends who had chosen to run beside me, the ones who had invested in me with their time, their energy, their friendship, and their faith – to not give up this fight. And after everything that’s happened, and all that I have been through, I deserved my shot at Boston – even if it was the longest of shots.
The journey up to and through this day was never about breaking personal records or regaining my previous speed. It was a lesson learned in accepting all that has so drastically changed. A day by day discovery of what is and what is not, any longer, possible. A settling, a surrendering, and an eventual equilibrium within these new parameters. Finding balance and playing to my strengths. Rebuilding my endurance and, most importantly, making my physical body as strong and as sound as my mind had become.
It’s about having the mental fortitude to keep going – even when you’re sore, even when you’re tired. When you’re hot, hungry, nauseous, and emotionally breaking down. When your body is telling you that there is no justifiable reason to continue. When you train so consistently, week in and week out, yet your brain does the mental math and calculates with nearly 100% certainty that you most likely will not reach your ultimate goal. It’s what you do in THESE MOMENTS, when it seems like “all hope is lost”, that determines the very depths of your character.
For me, out there on the roads, it’s never been about the other runners – being better, stronger, or faster them. Because, in my eyes, we’re all in this together. The competition is never really between each other. The biggest battle is fought deep within ourselves. I had a lot of help this weekend, but I dug deep and I did the work. Anyone can run with you, but no one can run for you. Out there on that course, under that clock, when the going gets tough, it will always boil down to one single opponent. It always has been, and always will be, YOU vs. YOU.
Standing in that starting corral early Sunday morning, my friends surrounded me, amped up and ready to support. They asked me how I was feeling and what the plan should be for this day? My mind began to spin at the thought of what lie ahead, double-digit miles of uncharted territory since 2021. I took a deep breath and this is what I said:
“In the first 10 miles – don’t let me be stupid. The second 10 miles – don’t let me be a sissy. The final 10k – just be with me.”
As always, they did not let me down.
Now that it’s over, people keep asking me if it’s sunk in yet that I just qualified for the Boston Marathon?
I don’t think it really has – and I don’t think it really will until I’m standing at that Start Line in Hopkinton, as one of the many in that crowd of 27,000 runners, when that gun goes off and we start running all the way to that Boylston line.
I can tell you this though – I feel a whole lot lighter now. No more wondering if I can or I can’t? If I will or I won’t? How bad is it going to hurt, and can I withstand the pain?
The sun appears to be shining brighter now, the sky is a deeper shade of blue. I’m breathing a little bit deeper now, and these city streets feel more like home than ever before.
“I’m not here to be small, to compare, to judge (myself or you), to fit in or to be perfect. I’m here to grow, to learn, to love, to be human.”
About a month ago, at a routine cleaning, my dentist noticed that a small portion of gum tissue had overgrown in protective anticipation around a shifted tooth. This wasn’t really a big deal, as the tissue growth was obviously healthy and my brushing and flossing habits had kept the area clean. But this excess tissue still posed a risk, as bacteria can become trapped beneath it at the base of the tooth, allowing it to potentially infect or eat away at the root – so we scheduled an appointment to surgically remove it.
The whole thing seemed so bizarre to me, so I questioned my dentist further as to why this had happened, and how we could prevent it from reoccurring in the future. The solution is actually quite simple – perfect the alignment of my teeth. As we went on to discuss the details of how we could, theoretically, go about doing this, my mind drifted away… to a hot summer evening, so very long ago.
It was 1980-something and I was sitting on our front porch steps, sucking on an orange popsicle. It was melting quickly, dripping its sticky orange liquid down onto my fingers. I remember seeing the stains smeared across the front of my shirt and realizing, for the first time ever, exactly why my mom divided the clothing in my dresser drawers between “play clothes” and “good clothes”.
That’s not the point though. The point is, as I polished off this disgustingly delicious orange popsicle, I began to chew on the stick. The sugar and syrup, that was used to flavor the popsicle, had seeped heavily into the wooden stick on which it had been frozen, and I was able to taste its lingering sweetness. I thought I could squeeze out more by chewing on it, but what happened when I did took me completely by surprise.
I bit down hard on the popsicle stick and, as the wood split in two, I felt a disconcerting SNAP! My bottom tooth flipped backwards inside my mouth, dangling by a single root. Blood trickled down my chin, splattering my orange stained t-shirt with drops of red. I was stunned. I sat very still for a moment, my head spinning in disbelief – but, as the realization of what had just happened registered more clearly in my mind, disbelief quickly turned to panic. I took off, screaming – running to find my dad.
He assessed the situation and, almost immediately, reached inside my mouth and extracted this dangling tooth with just the flick of his wrist.
I even got a whole dollar from the tooth fairy that night, as opposed to the measly quarter she usually left me for my previously lost teeth.
When we went to see the dentist the next day, he told us it was nothing to worry about. No harm had really been done… but, as my adult teeth came in, it seemed that the premature loss of this particular tooth had thrown off the alignment of all four bottom front teeth. Again, not that big a deal, right? It’s all cosmetic anyway. As long as I continue to brush and floss well, this minor imperfection causes no serious risk to my health or wellbeing. In fact, until this excess tissue growth occurred, I never even gave it a second thought. Who cares about a couple of crooked teeth anyway? Now, all of the sudden, some three and a half decades later, we were discussing how to correct them.
I scheduled the appointment to have the tissue removed… and alotted extra time within the appointment for them to perform the scans for invisalign. But, suddenly, I didn’t feel okay.
It took me awhile to figure out exactly what it was. An inkling of a feeling I just couldn’t shake, nagging at me, in the back of my mind, more and more, as this day approached. As I sat with my husband this morning, sipping coffee and eating breakfast, it finally occurred to me.
It’s my dad.
He’d had a similar experience as a kid. I don’t remember the exact details of the story, or how he went about telling it to me… but, amidst my panic and despite my tears, he’d removed the dangling tooth from my mouth. He was smiling at me, bright eyed, and looking amused. As he folded his big arms around me and picked me up, he told me about the time he popped out his own tooth while chewing on a popsicle stick. He showed me his own front bottom teeth, which I now realized were also slightly crooked, and then he said: “See? I turned out just fine, and so will you.”
My dad was a big man – 6’4” tall and, at his heaviest, weighing in at 390 lbs. He had a bit of a temper at times but, for the most part, was a gentle giant who adored children, animals, and loved my mom more than anything in the world. Despite his size and lifelong battle with obesity, he was a confident man. He dressed well, presented himself well, and refused to let anyone or anything stop him from enjoying any occasion, moment, or adventure. It was from him that I learned, and came to believe, that this world would be incredibly boring if we all looked the same. We’d sit on a boardwalk bench in Ocean City, Maryland for hours and just watch people. To this day, it’s still one of my favorite things to do. Not to judge or make fun of anyone – but to observe and appreciate the fact that we’re all so very different. We’re all beautiful, we’re all weird, and this is exactly what makes us all so interesting. We’re all so absolutely perfect – because of all our quirky imperfections.
Sure, there were times, growing up, when I’d felt insecure about myself. In middle school, I was scrawny, flat chested, and stick thin. My high school years were spent counting calories and learning how to exercise, in fear of “getting fat”. That’s all the football players and cheerleaders at my school seemed to talk about, as I spent my study halls in the gym with them, lifting weights and running. My friends and I began to experiment with makeup, covering up the annoying acne outbreaks that came as par for the course, as we navigated puberty together. Several of my friends got braces, but the thought of doing so never even crossed my mind. It wasn’t something I was concerned about. Until now.
Now, all of the sudden, an hour before my dental appointment, I told my husband, with tears in my eyes, that “I don’t think I want him to fix my teeth.”
It’s something that reminds me of my dad when I look in the mirror, and any time I see a photo of myself smiling wildly, bright eyed and having a good time.
A short time later, I was driving to my appointment, listening to the radio, when the lyrics of a song confirmed this reasoning for me. The song is relatively new, and the artist is one whom I admire. The soulful lyrics he wrote touch my heart in a very personal way, due to the sudden, unexpected loss of my own father back in 2017.
“How do I say goodbye, to someone who’s been with me for my whole damn life? You gave me my name and the color of your eyes, I see your face when I look at mine. So how do I, how do I, how do I say goodbye?”
Dean Lewis, “How Do I Say Goodbye”
I’ve spent the last several years of my life learning how to accept things as they are, to look for beauty amidst this predominantly ugly world, and how to appreciate something in absolutely everything. Whether pertaining to people, places, circumstances or situations in which we find ourselves, it’s not the “perfect” things that matter the most, but rather, the imperfect ones that I have come to love and appreciate. The parts of you and of me that are capable of breaking down barriers, crumbling facades, and eliminating pretensions. The things that make us most human are the exact same things that level the playing field of life, enrich our experiences, strengthen our relationships, and possess the power to connect us and change us in the most profoundly universal ways.
Not everyone feels this way, and that’s okay.
For some, this life has to knock you down a few more times before you realize the magnitude of these very simple truths. For others, embracing this concept begins with simply remembering who you are, where you came from, unraveling the experiences that shaped you, and refusing to correct your own crooked teeth.
“What you weren’t prepared for. What you didn’t expect. What you couldn’t see coming. The blind-side. The black smoke. The descent. It will gulp your tears, drain your blood, and wipe your entire slate clean. Game over. That’s when you bite back, tear your gaping heart wider, and start again. You start again.”
We have officially entered the “taper time” period of my training plan – a time when we continue to work, but at a much lower intensity. Our primary focus is now on injury prevention and maintaining current fitness, rather than reaching for that next level. It’s so exciting to realize that, in less than two weeks, I will be lacing up my Asics and running the Pittsburgh Marathon. It will not be as fast as the previous marathons in which I have run, nor will it be easy because of my now slower pace. Realistically, it may actually prove to be harder than anything I’ve ever run before. But I know this going into it, and I accept the challenge.
I’ve worked hard for this moment, this opportunity to see, for myself, if things will ever be the same. I can tell you now, already, that they absolutely will not. It has taken quite some time for me to come to terms with this fact, and it will take experiencing this marathon, firsthand, in order for it to truly sink in.
It’s been 23 months since my skydiving accident. I’ve undergone 3 surgeries, 4 months of disc regeneration treatments, 6+ months of physical therapy, as well as 1-on-1 personal training. Despite all the things we’ve done, intended to repair my body and restore my ability to run, it seems that some damage simply can not be undone. While some sadness, understandably, follows this realization, I’ve actually begun to process it quite well. The end result is not a feeling of bitterness or regret but, rather, of gratitude and even a bit of relief.
If ever you find yourself in a similar situation, where life has given you a period of quiet, of alone time, to reflect on your own life and reconsider your future – I hope that you, too, can say thank you. Because it was never about constant forward motion, or hitting every external milestone in time. It was always about the journey you took deep with yourself that mattered the most. How you chose to bloom within the quiet moments – the ones where you left the common path, tuned out all the noise, and began to create your own way, all on your own.
The parts of your journey where you felt so lost, like you were failing or falling behind – the moments when it seemed like nothing was working out, or ever would, the way that it should. All the times you got knocked down and were forced to prioritize rest, to begin a process of self-reflection, to have no other choice but to change – these weren’t your setbacks, they were your breakthroughs. And, as you move forward, I hope that you, too, have the courage to do things differently. To be the kind of person who takes the risk and leads with their heart. The one who shows up with ruthless dedication to personal growth and the ability to enjoy the hell out of every moment along the way.
I hope you have the courage to never let comfort or apprehension convince you that you’re better off standing still. I hope you come to trust the part of yourself that knows there’s more out there for you – the part that’s easy to silence when you’re trying to live by “the rules” and the expectations of a world that has bred little more than dissatisfaction and sadness.
I hope you have the courage to trust the part of yourself that seeks freedom from trends and liberation from boundaries. The kind of courage that enables you to go after whatever makes your soul genuinely happy – to pursue the things that inspire you to not only wake up, but to get up, every morning.
I hope you find things in this life that ignite you and deepen your understanding of the world, as well as those who reside here in it.
I hope you have the courage to fight for a future that inspires you, even if it doesn’t look the way you thought it would. The kind of courage it takes to change the parts of yourself that no longer serve the greater good of your entire being, and the courage to trust the strength and beauty of the person that you are becoming.
As race day approaches ever closer, I am feeling humbled and so incredibly grateful for all of the time that I have had to spend investing in myself – physically, mentally, and emotionally. For all of the progress that I have made, and the functional abilities which have, slowly but surely, been restored by my body. But, most especially, for the people who love me. The ones who have helped me and supported me from Day One. For my husband, going above and beyond our marriage vows, into a world he never asked for, nor did he deserve to find himself in. For bathing me and dressing me – even washing and styling my hair. Helping me to change my bandages, change my casts, attend my Doctors appointments, and hours long surgeries. All the cooking, the cleaning, the mental health upkeeping. All the things we tend to take for granted, until we are unable to do them for ourselves. And the people who have cared enough to extend themselves, despite the busyness of their own lives – the ones who’ve offered up their support in the form of kind words, encouraging messages, sarcastic remarks and hilarious memes. For my Doctors, my physical therapists, my chiropractors, my personal trainer, and the few who have chosen to run by my side in this upcoming race… THANK YOU. I am at a loss for words to describe exactly how much this means to me. Please know that it’s A LOT.
“There are doors that open, allowing us peeks at the past. Brilliant reminders of what could’ve been. Every now and then our travels take us over the same stretch of road along our journey – it’s at those points, when the universe offers a second chance. It’s our responsibility to take it or let it pass by.”
Everybody has a story… but never in a million years could I ever have predicted mine.
People who have been following my journey often tell me that I’m “an inspiration”, and that’s great – but it’s tough, too. To everybody else it seems like I’m recovering so fast and doing so well, but it’s still a daily battle that I have to fight. When you’re not on a roller coaster, it seems like a really fast ride. But when you’re IN IT, dealing with it firsthand, it’s a lot rockier than you might think. Sometimes it’s nice to be an inspiration to others, I enjoy lifting people up and helping them to believe in themselves again. But sometimes I still struggle to uplift myself. Somedays are just hard. It’s been a wild ride.
Throughout the hundreds of miles logged in order to arrive ready and able on race day, I’ve learned some very valuable lessons. I’ve come to realize that, like all personal growth journeys, it’s bit of an inside-out approach. By eliminating limitations and resistance on the inside, you can absolutely run longer distances on the outside. It’s here, in the lonely, sweat stained, tear soaked moments, where judgment transforms into acceptance, self-doubt into self-love, and running, inevitably, morphs into flying. As I have been preparing my body and my mind to run this year’s Pittsburgh Marathon, I wholeheartedly believed that it would be for the last time.
I’ve done everything I can in order to make a full recovery, and I have no regrets. Honestly? I’m not even that sad. When it comes right down to it, you control what you can control, and then you move on. It’s as simple as that.
It’s funny. I used to be obsessed with running. Now it’s just one small part that makes up the whole of who I am. There’s so much more to me and so much more to Life than running seemingly endless miles, continually reaching for that “next level” of fitness, wondering if, come race day, I’ll even be able to measure up? I used to be obsessed with running stronger, running faster, running longer… now, I am humbled and just so very grateful to be able to lace up my Asics and run at all.
So, in these months of training leading up to the Pittsburgh Marathon, I’d already said my emotional goodbye to running the marathon distance. But, as it turns out, I’m actually being given one last chance to realize my dream.
Several months ago, my Doctors submitted all of my medical documentation to the Boston Athletic Association in regards to my injuries. There was a lot of correspondence, back and forth, as they clarified the specifics of my injuries and what the impact is upon my body, most specifically, in regards to my ability to run. The B.A.A. responded with their decision to accept me into their Adaptive Program for Runners. They informed me of my new qualifying standard, should I have the ability to attempt it in Pittsburgh. Initially, it was still a bit of a stretch and, up until about a month ago, I’d pretty much counted myself out because the likelihood of obtaining that time, with these injuries, on a course as difficult as Pittsburgh’s was, realistically, slim to none.
But, since the beginning of March, my progress in training has gained some serious momentum. It seems we’ve finally determined a specific training schedule that works quite well for me – forcing my body to work heavily 3 days per week, while reserving the remaining 4 days for active rest in order for me to adequately recover. Because of this, my marathon prediction time has been significantly reduced! With just 32 days left until the marathon, ME qualifying for BOSTON is actually becoming a very real possibility.
Make no mistake, it’s still a stretch. I won’t be breaking any records or setting a new PR. And I’m very well aware of how, when you’re struggling, time can slip away from you very quickly – pushing whatever goal you may have had, far beyond your reach. But my will has a way of showing up on race day. I will be surrounded by friends and family, determined to support me, win or lose. And, for the first time ever, I have no attachment to the end result. It is what it is. It will be what it will be. And, while it may not be what it used to be, the love of the run will never be lost on me.
“I hope you have the courage to let it be what it will be. Allow it to fall apart if it must. To be brave enough to believe your happiness is possible in a life you had never considered.”
My birthday is in July. I will be 45 this year… which, in a way, could be considered the halfway point of my entire life. This thought has occurred to me more than once, over the past few months, as I have become acutely aware of so many people who have recently passed away. A few have made it as far as 90 years in this life – but, sadly, the majority of them have been much closer to 65 or 70, than they have been to 90.
Therefore, to me, my 45th birthday seemed like one I might like to commemorate in a much bigger way, especially considering everything that has occurred in my life these past several years. So I’d been brainstorming adventures and started to make plans with a friend. Rock climbing and bungee jumping in Oregon. Sounds incredible, right? And I’m sure it would be… if I were not still compensating for the multitude of injuries I sustained in that skydiving accident nearly two years ago. The truth is, some things can’t ever truly be fixed. I know this now, in no uncertain terms. It’s taken some time, but I’m okay with it now. I’m handling my differences better than I ever have, and I’ve come to value life in a way that I just didn’t before. The ability to walk without pain, and the fact that I am now able to run again… I will never again take these simple things for granted. I appreciate my life and my physical capabilities more now than I ever have. If ever I lose this great gift, which the force created by a bungee jump upon the weakened areas of my spine could realistically do, I honestly don’t think I would want to continue living… and that’s a risk I’m no longer willing to take.
So I messaged my friend, informing her of my decision not to follow through with our plans. Her response surprised me.
“I think that’s very brave of you.”
In a recent session with my therapist, I discussed my decision not to jump. “This will likely be the ONE regret I have, looking back, before I die…” I said, “…that I didn’t go and do this before I broke my spine.”
I went on to explain how this is the one thing that scares me even more than skydiving and how, now that I understand the risks to me, with my particular spinal injuries, I will no longer have the opportunity to face it and, therefore, overcome it.
His eyes softened with understanding, as they often do, but in the hours after our conversation, it occurred to me that this decision isn’t even worthy of my regret. In fact, it’s no longer a fear I even consider worth facing… because, to what end would facing this fear supposedly lead? Am I any different now than I would be after I made this jump? Perceptually, perhaps – but realistically, no.
The biggest questions people have before such an activity are: “Will I be able to go through with it? Will I be brave enough to make the jump?”Questions that needn’t ever be asked of me – because the answer is, and always will be, without a doubt, a resounding YES! I have proved this to myself, time and time again throughout my life, with any and all of the “extreme” activities that I have wholeheartedly participated in.
I used to think bravery was figuring out exactly what your fears are, then choosing to face them head on, one by one, overcoming them all, until they’re all gone.
Now, I think it’s better to decide what’s even worthy of being faced – what makes you better for the act of overcoming, and choosing wisely, for yourself, in which direction you believe you should go.
They say that “Hindsight is 20/20”, but there’s so much more to it than just that. The past and the present are in a constant dialogue. To be conscious of this fact and have the courage to act is where the magic is; where we find ourselves powerful beyond measure, able to tip the scales of Life’s great balancing act, level the playing field onto steadier ground so we move more confidently forward, into the future, refusing to allow our history to repeat itself.
There’s still so much I do not know and am striving to understand but, as I continue on in my personal growth journey, I think it’s safe to say that I’m finally beginning to understand what it really means to be brave.
My therapist has often reminded me that words matter. More specifically, it matters, how we choose to speak to ourselves. Are we using words that support and build? Or phrasing them in a way that breaks us down?
It’s no secret that I’ve always been hard on myself. Much harder than I am on other people. In situations where I offer other people grace, I’ve oftentimes refused to do the same for myself.
“I know better.”, I would always explain. “Therefore, I should be doing better.”
Making exceptions for myself had always seemed like a cop out, because I know that I am capable of so much more. In reality though, it’s not a sign of weakness to give yourself some grace. In fact, it actually requires higher wisdom and greater strength to master that very fine line.
This skydiving accident, with all my injuries, subsequent surgeries, and long road recovery has most certainly taken its toll on me, both physically and mentally. I am now learning, more and more, that you can absolutely be firm, yet kind to yourself at the very same time. And in this sacred, delicately balanced space, the most personal, transformative growth will occur.
So, picture it: I was lying on the floor at the gym yesterday with my personal trainer beside me, demonstrating the lower abdominal exercise he was asking me to perform. And, in this moment, as I struggled to perform just a handful of reps of an exercise which I’d previously not been strong enough to even attempt yet, I caught a glimpse of the defining muscles in my thighs.
“Oh, hello.”, I said, as I reached down and touched my quad. “It’s been awhile since I’ve seen you like this.”
Nick laughed, but readily joined in. “You strong and beautiful girl. It’s so good to see you again. We’re going to do great things together.”
“Just like we used to do.”, I continued, patting my quads affectionately. “Remember all those miles we ran together? So many marathons, in so many states! You were my strongest asset – and you soon will be again.”
“We’ve come a long way already.” Nick laughed. “Keep putting in the work!”
We laughed at ourselves and high-fived as we finished up the exercise, all while the incoming class participants looked on, a bit confused. But the magic of that moment was not lost on me. It followed me home. And, as I stepped on the treadmill in preparation for a 2+ hour long run, our words continued to echo in my mind.
When the cumulative fatigue set in and the muscle spasms gripped my paraspinals, I was forced to slow my pace down to a walk – but the thought of quitting never even entered my mind. Instead, my thoughts were full of all the good, strong, positive things which we have said in our training sessions these past 4 months. And that’s when I realized, once again, how very right my therapist has always been.
It may seem like such a little thing, but it’s the little things that often mean the most. Like the way you choose to speak to yourself… because the way you speak really does matter.