As I sit here tonight, some of my friends are preparing to participate in a half marathon tomorrow morning. I’m sure they are nervous, excited and wondering if they have it in them to complete all 13 miles. I’ll be there at the finish line, cheering them across. Last weekend, some other friends pushed themselves farther than they’d ever gone and completed the Double Bridge 15K, here in Pensacola. I was screaming and yelling as each one came around that last corner, with tears in my eyes. Tears of pride, because I’ve grown close to them and I know their stories of both successes and failures. Tears of joy to see the happiness and accomplishment on their faces. Tears of sadness, because I miss that feeling so very badly.
A few years ago, I was a runner. A very slow runner, but a runner nonetheless. I had found an article about the Disney Princess Half Marathon and decided one day, that I was going to do it. I trained and found that even though I wasn’t great at it and certainly wasn’t fast, I absolutely loved it. My brain is always running a mile a minute, in 50 different directions and I can’t ever seem to slow it down. Running was my time to be on my own, think about things that needed focus or not even think at all and just zone out with my headphones. The 5Ks I did in preparation were so much fun. You can not explain the atmosphere of a race until you experience it. Everyone is so happy and excited. There’s always that one person you automatically race in your head and try to beat to the finish line. I have an entire collection of race tshirts on a shelf, that I’ll probably never wear again, but that’s ok. I earned them.
As preparation for the Princess Half, I decided to try the Double Bridge and prove to myself that I could run 9 miles nonstop and not get picked up by the bus. That race was the hardest thing I’d ever done physically, besides giving birth to my children. At mile 8, after I was already exhausted, we all came to the second bridge that looked as big as the Sunshine Skyway at that point. I felt like I was in slow motion and running through jell-o, trying to get across. Sheldon had run the 5K and finished already, so when I came down off the bridge, ready to turn the final corner, he was there waiting, with a bottle of water. He gave it to me, grabbed my hand and we ran across the finish line together. I will never forget that moment, as long as I live. I had a goal and I completed it. The only time I’d ever done that before was because of a bet. Sheldon and his friend told me I didn’t have it in me to complete 90 days of P90X because I’d never stuck with anything in the past. It was harsh, but they were right. It was 11:45pm sometimes, but I pushed play and did it, proving them both wrong in the end. By completing the Double Bridge, I had nobody to prove anything to but myself, and it felt great when I finally did.
Two weeks after the Double Bridge, I was at the start line of the Disney Princess Half Marathon. I was so scared, I thought I might throw up my energy bar. The gun went off, fireworks exploded and 20,000 people of all shapes and sizes, took off. It was the most amazing feeling I’d ever had. At mile 6, I came around the corner and was on Main Street, in the Magic Kingdom. I looked ahead, saw Cinderella’s Castle and immediately started crying. All of the memories I held of that place came rushing at me at once. Memories of my childhood, of my teen years, of my children growing up, Christmases spent there after my parents split, Christmases spent after we’d been in Alaska and finally came home, all of it. There I was, in that moment, running a half marathon right through the castle. It was hard to believe.
I reached mile 10 and my body hit a wall. I didn’t think I could take another step. I didn’t WANT to take another step. When completing an extreme physical challenge, the hardest part isn’t physical at all. It is truly getting past the mental blocks of wanting to quit, feelings of past failures, thinking they’ll happen again and wanting to say, “I can’t.” Something clicked as I was walking and I realized that I didn’t train for all of this time, just to walk to the finish line. My goal when I started was to run as much of it as I could, complete it and not be last. I sucked it up, and ran through EPCOT, out of the gate, grabbed Sheldon’s hand and we completed a 13.1 mile race together. I cried so hard. I mean-ugly cried and it was beautiful.
Right before the races, I’d started having pain behind my knee that wouldn’t go away. It got worse as the months went on and physical therapy, cortisone shots, rest, ice, anti-inflammatories, nothing helped. It still stayed swollen as a grapefruit. My doctor decided to go in and do exploratory surgery. He told me it would just be a scope and clean things up since nothing had shown up in the MRI. When I woke up, I was told I’d never run again. My cartilage was so worn away, my knee cap had rubbed away part of the thigh bone. I was absolutely devastated. I cried every day for over a week. A year and a half later, I still cry when I think about it too much. Walking, swimming and teaching dance fitness classes are all I’m allowed to do for the rest of my life. Watching 80 year old men run to that finish line last week just about killed me. I usually try to think positive, but all I could think was, “How can he be able to run 9 miles and I can’t even do 1? Not fair.”
There’s always going to be someone who has it a lot worse than I do. That’s what keeps me in check and what I have to remember. Some people can’t walk, let alone run. That’s what brings me out of my pity party. I teach classes now and that makes me happy. It brought me out of a very dark place a year ago. I’ve seen people go from never stepping foot in a group fitness class, to getting licensed to teach because of me. People who have never liked to exercise in their lives now go through withdrawal if they can’t sweat for a day and a half. It is amazing and I am so grateful because that is what keeps me going. I’ve never had the chance to make a positive impact on the world. I don’t have a degree, I don’t have a high paying, important job, my kids are almost grown and it gives me purpose again.
Thank you to anyone reading this, who has been part of this journey and has helped me recover. Congratulations to everyone who has set out to accomplish a goal and not given up. I am so proud of you and honored to be along for the ride.