Saturday, April 12, 2008

Why I Watch The Runs...

Nope, this isn’t a post about diarrhea or Irritable Bowel Syndrome. LOL It’s a post about living, being grateful, and honoring. :-)

When I was a “tween”, I dreamed of playing professional basketball. And, for any of you that can RECALL the 1970’s, there WERE no professional women’s basketball teams. Yet still, I dreamed.

I practiced the game of basketball nearly every day…sometimes several times a day when I could. Before the age of 10, my father purchased a basketball backboard with a rim and net and affixed it to the top gutter of our garage…he even “fenced in” the garage windows to avoid my NBA (Nothing But Air) shots straying into the glass and costing me my hard-earned lawn mowing money. The sound of hollow rubber bouncing off the cement could be heard long after dusk…right before my mother would sternly call me into the house to get ready for bed.

Part of conditioning work to play the game of basketball included running…this was the primary aerobic exercise available in my small village, where going to a “gym” was not an option. I would wake myself up, sometimes hours before school, to run on the dirt, country roads near my home…an act I found both freeing and exhilarating. As the cool morning air on the Plains brought a rosy-redness to my cheeks, I would run past the wheat fields…watching them change throughout the seasons from freshly plowed dirt in the spring to golden waves flowing in the summer winds. Running took me far away from any thoughts of discord in my home or the usual troubles of trying to grow into adulthood. It also took me closer to my goal of fine-tuning my game of basketball.

For me, running was simply a means to an end…a conditioning exercise to strengthen my lungs and heart so I could endure 48 minutes of fast-paced time on the basketball court. I would “push” myself until I fell exhausted…sometimes pushing my distance or run time to the point of vomiting. This exercise paid off for me when I found myself rewarded with a scholarship to PLAY basketball on one of the women’s teams at a state college.

At some point along my journey into adulthood, I stopped running…both figuratively and literally. After college, there was the occasional “pick up” game I might find on a city court or the community team I could join…where drinking alcohol and having fun with friends outweighed any free throw skills. Running no longer served an important purpose for me. I had not, after all, wanted to be a track star…just a basketball player…and I had achieved that goal. I slowly fell into inertia and running became something I knew I “could” do, but chose not to.

As I aged further into my life, gaining considerable weight from the conditioned physique of my college years, running became less and less of an option for me to attempt…and frankly, it became less and less of an idea I would even WANT to attempt…until my parent’s deaths in 1997.

When I returned home on those memorable occasions in 1997 to bury both of my parents and clear out my childhood home for sale, I would go down to the outdoor court where I used to practice my 3-point shots (there WERE no 3-point shots in the game when I played the sport, which only reveals my age even further!)…Once, I even drove along the dirt roads I had once jogged and sprinted upon…and a yearning to “run” pulsed through my veins. I vowed when I returned to Seattle I would resume “conditioning” my body and try to recover what had been lost through years of inertia and hard living. I started exercising more regularly and tried to drop off the tire of weight that was accumulating around my torso.

In 2000, I encouraged a friend of mine to join me to condition for the Seattle Half Marathon WALK…a 13.1 mile walk seemed doable as I was STILL not up to running/jogging any distances. We trained for this event most of the spring of 2001 and felt exuberant that November when we crossed the finish line and received our honorary medals for completing the walk…we felt so accomplished, we did it AGAIN in 2002…but THIS time with the goal of RUNNING the Half Marathon in 2003. And secretly in the back of my mind, I decided “if” I could RUN a half marathon, I could surely run a FULL marathon at some point in my life.

As most of you know, in the spring of 2003, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. I had been plagued with ghost symptoms of the disease for a few years before 2003, but I continued to “push” myself through pain/discomfort, sometimes to my own detriment. By the time the Seattle Marathon rolled into town in November, 2003, all thoughts of RUNNING the Half Marathon had vanished…yet still, I “pushed” myself to walk the 13.1 miles again…and paid the price with a 2 ½ month relapse following the event. In January, 2004, I was no longer certain I would even WALK again, let alone any distances. I was told to give up the lofty goal of trying to make the Half Marathon Walk that year (and any years to come) and simply concentrate on KEEPING whatever functioning I had at the time. And, as instructed, I “let it go”…gaining more and more weight from steroids and conditioning my body less and less due to pain and other symptoms.

In the spring of 2006, I changed neurologists…I began seeing Dr. She Who Will Not Be Named. As you have read in many past posts, Dr. SWWNBN and I have a most “unusual” doctor-patient relationship, which has worked out quite well for me. She is a spunky, face-slapping, get-in-my-face, yet compassionate and humorous neurologist…and I remain my typical noncompliant, challenging, sometimes medically complex, and “endearing” patient…the combination seems to flow nicely between us. Dr. SWWNBN is ALSO a marathon runner.

I discovered this side hobby of hers in conversation one day in 2006 and began following her many “runs” (there’s that word again…hehe…) since that time. To date, she has run somewhere around 11 marathons…the full 26.2 miles…and lives to tell about it. I have even lined the streets of Seattle during her 2006 and 2007 marathon runs, waving her onward (and of course, yelling obnoxious greetings!)…while leaning precariously on a cane. I am truly amazed at her tenacity AND her ability to find the time in her busy practice to travel to other states, RUN 26.2 miles, and return on Monday to see patients…all done with ease, grace, and a smile. When I can, I keep track of her running locations and times of each race, usually sending encouraging emails in my feeble attempts to spur her onward.

Early on in my “marathon stalking” of Dr. SWWNBN, we exchanged emails following one of her races, and I commented on how exhausted she must have been (it was a race in an area of somewhat high weather temperatures)…she replied with her typical humor, but also added that she had “almost quit at mile 4, but then I thought about my MS patients, and I kept running”. This comment caused me great pause.

We have never formally discussed between us MY rationale for “marathon stalking” nor HER rationale for running…and it is unlikely we EVER will. We just don’t “go there” on that level of communication with each other. But I have always sensed Dr. SWWNBN doesn’t simply run to accumulate finisher medals. Among many reasons, I “sense” she runs because I CAN’T…many of her patients CAN’T…and she runs because she CAN.

In this same vein of thinking, I follow her marathon accomplishments closely because I CAN’T run a marathon and I never WILL run a 26.2 mile marathon. Not because I don’t WANT to or aspire to…I CAN’T…and no amount of “pushing” myself, thinking positive thoughts, eating healthy, or Voodoo will EVER make me able to run a full marathon…I HAVE MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS. MS has limited my goals to aspiring to WALK 26.2 blocks…some days, it limits my dreams to simply being able to walk 26.2 yards.

On the days Dr. SWWNBN runs her marathons, I wake myself up (most of these races begin at 7:00AM and occur in places OTHER than Pacific Standard Time!) and concentrate on her run. I imagine the exhilaration I used to feel running through the countryside near my childhood home…I imagine those places along her course where she considers stopping…where the pain or weather or road conditions feel too much to conquer…and I psychically send her positive energy to “keep going”…to keep running…for her, for me, for her patients, for anyone who CAN’T run with her because of various neurological or physical conditions. I send unconscious messages to that part of her being that says, “I CAN, I WILL, I DO”…because she runs for me and her efforts encourage me to go ahead and DO the things I still CAN, while I still CAN…before MS whispers the message, “You WON’T” in my ears.

Dr. SWWNBN may believe I am a crazy stalking patient…as I said, we’ve never HAD that conversation and probably never will. And I won’t argue the fact I AM most likely “crazy” on some level. LOL But I think on another level, we both remain a “fan” of one another…a “fan” who stirs the air and stokes the fire of dreams and desires that burst into flames of accomplishment…a “fan” who quietly, yet firmly tells the other, “You CAN, you WILL, you DO”.

I know I am grateful for her medical skills that HAVE kept me walking during the past two years…for her encouragement and telling me, “You will not surrender to MS”. And each time she runs a marathon, I am reminded of this encouragement…


Diane J Standiford said...

I too played basketball. I too ran but not marathons,though both my brothers did. (My leg always gave out on me for some reason...)LOL
We have too much in common. (I did the Seattle AIDS Walk...don't recall how long it was.)

TickledPink said...

Linda, your post made me cry like a baby. MS robs us of our dreams and aspirations along with our physical capabilities.

My doctor is much like yours. He runs for MS every year and does other walks/runs. I never thought about why, but this man lives, works, eats, sleeps, breathes MS. He must do it because we can't.

I'm not a real athletic person. My passions run more to the arts. I used to be quite an artist, but work and raising a family pushed that passion to the back burner. Then last year I had a flare that decided to mess with my hands.

I totally freaked, wondering if I could still draw. I tried, and I could, but it wasn't the same. The fine details escaped me. My hand just won't cooperate.

So now I try and draw for pleasure (and paint) on a regular basis. Not even to complete anything, but just to enjoy the act of it, the connection with the passion I once had...

Because one day it may be gone completely. Stolen in the night by MS.

MS does all the robbing and other evil deeds and we are the ones who get life in prison for it. Go figure.

Miss Chris said...

Once again I'm reminded that there actually are some compassionate doctors out there. You are fortunate to have found one. Better luck next time for me though.

J Patrick Leer said...

Linda, Thank YOU for sharing. This was powerful.

Caregivingly Yours, Patrick

Steve said...

What a terrific post!