Friday, July 10, 2015

My Toughest Workout

This is a follow-up to my post of last week (“I’m Still an Athlete – No, Really!”) where I discussed how my life really hasn’t changed, despite my disability – I’m just competing in a new sport called “Living with a Disability” – and  I talked about what my new workouts are. But I forgot the toughest workout, the one I face daily. Before I tell you about it, let me first tell you about what I’d previously thought of as my toughest workout.

Now, anyone who knows anything about running, knows there are lots of grueling workouts: hill repetitions, intervals, stadium stairs, etc. But there was one workout that I did when I was at Flathead Valley Community College that beats all of those. It was called “step-down miles” and it was the toughest workout I ever faced, in any sport. A cross-country race was three miles long, and the coach would use your average mile time to set up this workout. For example, suppose during a race your average time per mile was 6 minutes. Your step-down mile targets would be this: run a mile in 6:30; without stopping, run a second mile in 6 minutes; and again, without stopping, run a third mile in 5:30. This is still your average of 6 minutes, but the goal is to increase your overall average by forcing you to run faster than your average on that last mile. This is brutally hard. You’ve just run two miles at pretty much your usual pace, and now, when you’re most tired, you must run faster than you think and feel you are capable of. It requires reaching down deep inside and denying the pain and pushing through it.

Our coach would post the week’s workouts on Mondays, so we knew when step-downs were coming. On that dreaded day, I’d wake with a sinking feeling in my stomach, and I’d be nervous all day, waiting for the pain that I knew was coming. I’m amazed I learned anything in class on those days! That workout was the ultimate test of mental fortitude. At least I thought it was, until I had the epiphany of my new sport. And I now know that I have a workout that is tougher than step-down miles, and I face that workout every day. That workout is called “Not Giving in to Despair” and it’s even harder than step-down miles.

See, here’s the thing. I wake up every morning tired. No matter how long I sleep, I never wake up feeling refreshed. My muscles are sore and stiff, and it’s a chore just to get out of bed and get dressed. I face a day of trying desperately to conserve energy, and trying to keep myself occupied without doing things that wear me out further. Every day is the same – fatigue and pain. And I just keep getting worse. My condition is deteriorating, and doctors still don’t know what’s wrong. So I look at my future and I see nothing but more of the same: days of pain and fatigue, a life that is reduced to sitting at home in a chair. And it would be SO easy to just give in to the despair, to just give up. “My life sucks. This is not fair. I give up.” It takes all my mental fortitude, all my guts, all my everything to NOT go there.

I have to force myself to look at the good things I still have: a husband who loves me and takes such good care of me, my sister who takes me on wonderful road trips, friends who care about me and help me, the Metropolitan Opera Live in HD broadcasts that I attend with friends, my book club (and reading in general), my writing, and last but not least, GOD. I know that God is with me, helping me walk this road. “I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me” [Phil. 4:13] is more than a verse to me – I live it out every day. I have to. If I don’t, then I give up and give into despair.

Now, this is not to say that I never have days where I feel hopeless and sad. There are, most certainly! But when I start feeling that way I have learned to reach out to people who can encourage me and pray for me. And I fight through it. Like little Arya, in The Game of Thrones, who learned a valuable lesson from her fencing instructor: “What do we say when death comes for us? ‘Not today!’” – I say the same thing when despair tries to come for me: Not today!

It's a fight, it's a struggle, but God is with me and He gives me the strength to carry on. If I can do step-down miles, I can do this.