Lisa used to ask me to run. All the time. Many times a week. We were teachers and shared a creative brain, our subject and our students. She'd transformed her body by joining a running group and loved to promote how talking with friends increases your talent as a runner. A mom of three beautiful daughters she lived for, her tale was similar to many- she just hadn't found the time to make her health a priority before. Suddenly, she was in the best shape of her life and it showed in her confidence and joy.
So, my story goes that I COULDN'T run. I had a new baby at home. I was a nursing mom with a toddler son who needed me. It was tough just to focus on my teaching career and do what I needed for my family. My wife worked at a very demanding job that was wrought with challenges. I was on my own a lot. Part of me was dying to feel empowered the way Lisa did- to glow like she did and to have more time with her. Life was pretty isolating at the time. I lived in a rural town outside of Ithaca, NY, and Lisa was my primary friend- the one who knew more about me than anyone else- man I wish I could have run with her. BUT, we don't always know when we are about to experience loss.
Lisa didn't show up to work on Monday. She'd been complaining about forgetting things and we had a million reasons why that would be true for a busy mom juggling her daughter's dance schedule, running and teaching. Her husband thought she was having nightmares. We all had reasons to think it wasn't a brain tumor- but that was exactly what it was. When my school found out what happened, my principal found me and covered my class so I could go to the hospital and see her right away.
At first, we thought it was ironic and she laughed about it. Her favorite saying was, "cancer matters" and she'd cock her head to the side and smile. It was her way of reminding me not to sweat the small stuff. After a rad haircut that buzzed the side of her head- leaving the brown and amber locks long on the other- she was biopsied. It all changed from there- but her saying was more true than ever. It was no joke.
In short time, Lisa was hospital bound. She lost her ability to speak, write, walk. She spent years in treatment and I did what I could to help her beautiful family.
The night of my first run was an evening tradition in Ithaca. It was called the Twilight 5k. I thought I'd need good sneakers, gum, music, all sorts of fancy things to make my tired legs move. But, I didn't have any of those things. I moved one foot and then the next. I ran past the volleyball players and the smoking grills, the music of picnics and a million reasons to run welled up inside of me. Be her legs. Be her legs.
I didn't have anyone to talk to, but I finished that race in under 30 minutes. The whole time, I conversed with her in my mind. I carried her in my heart. I realized how lucky I was to move. The idea of my isolation while she ran was nothing compared to her isolation now. I was the lucky one and I missed her with the core of my being.
Running became therapy. It helped me grieve. It encouraged me to take my life back and find my strength before my kids grew- to put myself first a little bit. In time, I got faster and my children stopped clinging to me and crying. They rode along my runs in a double jogging stroller and egged me on- made musical requests. My WHY transferred to a desire to be strong for them. To encourage fitness for them. To be as present as I could be as they grew- present in the way many mothers and fathers lose the chance to be. I am a lucky one.
If you are reading this, you are, too. You have a heartbeat. You can move or do something. Find your why.