How do you know when someone has run a marathon? Do NOT worry, they will tell you! (Tap my medal) I just ran the largest marathon in the world, the TCS NYC Marathon!
(Pause) (Speak a few heartfelt words of yesterday and the marathon experience.)
I’ve never really been an athlete. Maybe in my head as a youth playing in the backyard I was, but never an athlete. Running didn’t appeal to me. In college I took the “easy A” course named Walk/Jog. Definitely self titled and the expectation was simple. Show up and walk or jog. That “easy A” turned into a solid “C” on my college transcript! You see, never an athlete.
I bought 3 pair of identical shoes to train for the NYC Marathon in, I named each pair to tell them apart. This is the story.
To start, let’s go back a decade. Tuesday September 6, 2005 at 9:30am. The room was pale gray with general medical posters on the walls. I sat on an exam table feet crossed, hands planted into the table. My wife sitting in a chair and to my left. My neurologist sitting straight across from me. The next words spoken changed my life forever. You have multiple sclerosis.
Multiple sclerosis. A chronic often disabling disease of the central nervous system. There is no cure.
For the next seven years MS had me. It progressed rapidly and with every turn I gained a new symptom. I used a cane. I used a handicapped placard. My feet and legs are numb. My vision blurs when I look to the left. I experience vertigo when I move my head. I have extreme levels of fatigue and cognitive dysfunction yet worst of all, I lose my vision when my body temperature increases. It’s known as Uhthoff’s Phenomeon. I would often hid in my house from the heat. I avoided interaction with the outside world. I was a prisoner of my own body, depressed, unhappy with my diagnosis, and I felt alone. I was removed from my position in the corporate world, my former colleagues moved on with life and I had a wheelchair (a wheelchair) in my garage. It was imminent that MS would place me there shortly.
By July of 2013, I had lost the last of my grandparents (my grandfather). I lost a close friend to MS unexpectedly, and the summer heat was in full swing. Unhappy, I went to my wife. We talked. I wanted to be better. I didn’t want to take all these medicines. I didn’t want to take the easy way out every time my MS flared by taking high dose steroids. I was tired but I knew I could do better. For my young daughters, I needed to do more. I needed to show them, by example, that no matter the hand we’re dealt, we can rise up and be better. I needed to be better than my MS.
My solution. I threw my cane to the side, in spite, and I walked on a treadmill for one half hour. I walked 1 mile during that time holding on for dear life. The next day came and I did a little better. By September, with cooler weather, I was walking outside daily without my cane. By November 1st 2013, 2 years ago from yesterday, I walked my first 10K in a time of 1:36:14.
I became really good at walking really far. I set a crazy goal for 2014 in an attempt to raise awareness for MS. I was going to walk the distance of a marathon every week for the entire year. I called it 52 in 52. 52 marathons in 52 weeks. By doing this I had created my own awareness and fundraising campaign benefiting the National MS Society.
Through my walking which turned to running, I managed to raise $2,500, finish the Pittsburgh 1/2 Marathon, and walk on a treadmill for 7 straight hours at my local running store. The treadmill did not stop and I did not get off. I went 32.84miles on that treadmill creating awareness while collecting donations. Then in October, I ran and finished the Chicago Marathon. By years end I had walked or ran 1,667miles. Which turns out to be over 63marathons and not the 52 I had set out to accomplish.
52 in 52 was about doing. It was about waking up every day and doing something. 1 mile or 26.2 miles, no matter. I just needed to take one more step forward. MS is progressive and unrelenting. It is there every second of every day. I needed to be just as progressive and unrelenting through movement, and I was. Through movement I discovered I felt free of my MS if just for a few moments. A freedom I am no longer willing to give up, a freedom I don’t take for granted, a freedom I will continue to fight for. Freedom, the name given to my 1st pair of NYC Marathon training shoes.
How do you top 1,600 plus miles in one year? Well, go big or go home. And big is the TCS NYC Marathon. And you’re right, I can run a marathon SO I planned to tell the entire world about it. Being a charity runner was a no brainer. I’d raise money, I’d tell the world. The perfect opportunity.
The NYC Marathon provided me an opportunity on the largest marathon stage in the world. I would run for fellow individuals with MS. I would share their stories and how they have inspired me. This marathon was for Deb, Nancy, Dick and Eliz. My running was having a positive impact on others in my MS Community. It was giving people opportunity, through my running, to meet their challenges with their MS. I am inspired by these 4 individuals and their MS journeys.
Nancy fills my heart with her perpetual smile and has such an inspiring ‘can do’ attitude. Dick is my Gustapo. Any time I have a negative thought or I feel sorry for myself he is quick to start off with his catch phrase “now listen here buddy”. Eliz is the vibrant youth I still see in my aging self. She is uplifting, willful, and refuses to allow MS to put up barriers for her. And my dearest Deb, she past away this spring due to MS complications. Unknowing, our last conversations were about this marathon and how I’d share my experiences with her as I trained and finished. She had this calm contentment that any Buddhist monk would envy.
Throughout the year our marathon journey landed our story in a couple local magazines and at several speaking engagements. I raised $4,000 for the National MS Society. I even ended up on a relay team that ran across the United States from L.A. to NYC this summer. Training for NYC allowed me the opportunity to face my biggest MS fear, the heat. Of the XXXmiles I ran during my 20 weeks of training only 6 miles were run inside on a treadmill. There were too many 5am runs, some darkened vision days, and flared MS symptoms but the mission was accomplished with plenty of ice.
Everything about the TCS NYC Marathon screams opportunity. It truly has been an opportunity of a lifetime and I thank the National MS Society and the NYRR for the opportunity. Opportunity, the name given to my 2nd pair of NYC Marathon training shoes.
A marathon isn’t just a race but a life altering journey. Completing the marathon yesterday was a journey that spanned 2 years and 4 months. Approximately 3,000 miles of learning how to walk
again then run. A journey that took 78 doctors appointments, 3 MRI’s, a nerve conduction test of my legs, and too many physical therapy sessions to even count. Yet in this journey I have found my most powerful mantra.
No Balloons, Just Ice Cream.
I say “No Balloons“, because there are no balloons at my finish line. Typically when I’m walking or running it begins and ends without much notice, never any fan fare, and typically our dog doesn’t even get up to greet me at the door upon my return. Secondly, there are no balloons because there really isn’t a finish line. My MS is always there to some degree. I’ve learned that I need to be always there. Always moving forward, taking one more step on an infinite journey. No Balloons because tomorrow will come, I’ll travel home, I have my wife, my daughters, my 4 inspirations, and this medal. I’ll wake as I always do with my MS, drop my daughters off at school and go for a run. No Balloons needed.
Now, it’s “Just Ice Cream” because of my daughters. They frequently ask, Dad, ‘can we go get ice cream?’ Often I would say, ‘No.’ Then they would then reply with the simplest of words. “Why not?” To my daughters, ice cream is ALWAYS possible. It is these two words, “Why not?”, that make everything possible. It’s these two words that proved the world was round. It’s these two words that created the light bulb, the telephone, and sent people to the moon. Why Not? everything is possible. “Just Ice Cream” represents the possibilities of going from a cane and handicapped placard to running the largest marathon in the world.
You see, No Balloons, Just Ice Cream.
Over this marathon journey I have realized that my MS is not going away any time soon. It may very well stay with me the rest of my days. The hardest part of the last decade was coming to terms with the fact that I have picked up an unwanted partner in my journey called life. Along the way something else has happened. I have embraced my MS and look forward to its challenges. I look forward to finding solutions and overcoming its obstacles. It is in this “reframing” of my thought process that has taken me to the name of my final pair of training shoes. “Live” is their name. They represent the fact that I am no longer a person who is stricken with MS or an MS patient.
This 3rd pair of shoes represent the fact that I am an individual LIVING without limits. I am a husband, a father, a son, a brother, LIVING for each moment. I am an individual LIVING with MS.
Let me close with a simple thought. Everyone will face adversity. Acting upon it, will create one helluva story. How will you write your’s?
THANK YOU for allowing me to share mine. Again, thank you!