Here I am, served up on a platter. What I care about, that which is important to me, doesn’t matter.
Guilted existence, fear and obligation. Complete denunciation of my passion, happiness and aspiration.
Living is not defined by breath and blood flow. It is purpose, experience,exertion- not taking it slow.
Death comes in many modality. Seizures, arrhythmia, complacency, conformity.
Physical death is guaranteed and inevitable. No matter the challenge, this is my life-freedom to choose, while I’m still able.
Physical passing does not perplex me. It’s the prospect of having choice removed, passions abandoned, my right to be free.
This path is mine for the choosing. I will fight to the death to protect my free will, my joy, my life, no matter the bruising.
Courageous. Inspirational. Fearless. Powerful. or Fearful. Stubborn. Powerless and Insane?
Life has a way of challenging us. It’s all a matter of perspective. If you can persevere, if you can find the strength and unlock the resilience that is buried within you even in the darkest of situations, you can overcome anything. At least, that’s how I see the world. I believe that every situation can be viewed in a number of ways and the acuteness or impact of any given scenario is always relative. That is, the severity of the emotional response or (impact) of the same event can vary from person to person. Each of these responses is valid, for we are all different living different realities with different pressures, experiences and co-dependencies. Deep, (I know) but what does it all have to do with running?
In the last month, I have been labeled courageous, inspirational and fearless. I have also been: scared; completely powerless; buckled in moments of utter weakness; and wrapped up in self-pity. I have been called stubborn, selfish and insane. The same set of circumstances. Fluctuating emotions. Differing responses from different people.
On 11 April, I ventured out with thousands of other runners in the hope of achieving my goal of completing a marathon. As for most of my competitors, making the start line was the culmination of months of sacrifice, time and effort. In my case, it was an investment made by my family, my coach, my training partners, my friends and me. When I say sacrifice, I don’t just mean words, I mean acts.
My family decided to make my goal- the goal of finishing a marathon, as their goal for the year. They came to cheer when they could. Understood when I was unable to attend a soccer game or cross-country carnival. They: put physical and support in place so that I could have the time to run; made financial sacrifices; and of course encouraged and travelled with me to watch me race. They lived and continue to live every step of this goal with me.
My coach didn’t just write a program. He chaperoned me for most of my runs (whether on a bike, by running beside me, or watching on) so that he could be there to respond if I had an epileptic seizure. He modulated and graduated my program to make sure that we stayed at a training intensity and level that I could handle. He negotiated and sacrificed family time so that I could achieve my goal. He did this and continues to do this in the full knowledge that no matter my level of commitment, training, application or sacrifice, it can all go to buggery in a heartbeat. That’s a huge self-less leap of faith.
Similarly, my friends have buffered the stumbles, helped me to maintain perspective, stay true to my path, and offered their time and patience. They have provided physical support or travelled to cheer me on at my races and placed importance on my passion. These are friends that share a love of running, and friends that have never been runners themselves. Some established friendships. Some new ones that have blossomed more recently. RMA has been the conduit for many of these. I have felt the love and am eternally grateful for it.
Despite all these blessings and sacrifices, as well as my own resolute application to my goal, one thing was made acutely clear to me on that mild Canberra morning- no level of sacrifice or support can get you over the finish line. You have to do this yourself. On this occasion, I could not and did not (it still rips my heart in two to say that and acknowledge it). What I realised in that moment is that running- just like life- is about the process. It’s about the doing. The outcome is never something we have complete control over.
I love to run or perhaps, it is that I fear the loss of it so profoundly that preserving my ability to continue running, brings out the fight response in me. Whichever it is, there is no doubt it is a fundamental component of my life. I also protect my free will with a desperation that I cannot quite explain. It is pivotal to me that my ability to choose and to forge the life that I want for myself be preserved no matter the obstacles. In truth, the alternative petrifies me more than physical death. If I have to choose between an existence without risk and a life filled with it, I choose the latter. Insane or courageous? Truth.
The weeks following my seizures have been tough. Tougher than: the disappointment of not finishing; my failure to honour the sacrifices and support of those that got me to the start line; and the physical consequences of my turns. Indeed it is fair to say that I have accepted and moved on from my failure in Canberra. It is after all, familiar territory for me. Every time I line up, every time I train, every time I run, I realise and accept the risks. Not in some abstract way, in very real terms. I have failed and got back up before. In my mind this was no different.
What a difference one run can make. As I round the corner and entered Hyde Park last Sunday I was filled with complete and all consuming joy. I felt euphoric. I am still filled with such elation that my chest hurts to think about it and I am overwhelmed by emotion. None of this has to do with time or pace. It has everything to do gratitude. Sometimes, you don’t know what you have until its gone. Sometimes what seems like darkness is merely a shadow or a prelude to a darkness that you never envisaged. However, the light is always that much brighter when seen emerging from its depths. This is what the SMH Half felt like to me. A big bright light of hope emerging from despondency, powerlessness and anger.
In the weeks prior to the race I had been told that: I needed physical investigations into my heart; as a precautionary measure I should stop running; I would need a plethora of invasive brain and heart tests; and most significantly, I could not drive (at least for the foreseeable future). In real terms this has meant that I have been unable to get my children to and from school, to their activities, myself to training, or manage routine daily chores without relying heavily on others. The most basic of tasks have become extremely cumbersome. As I am unable to run alone, the logistical impositions and reliance’s on alternative transportation coupled with the needs of my family weighed me down and have had me question everything. If I was reliant on others before, the situation was multiplied tenfold now.
So I want it to be clear that as I stood on that start line, I wasn’t fearless or courageous. On the contrary, I was scared. I was scared that I wouldn’t finish. I was scared that a failure to heed the warnings of my neurologist and cardiologist to stop running would prove me a fool. I was scared that I would disappoint those that champion me and support me. Most of all however, I was scared that my powerlessness would be reinforced. That this would be my last race. That running would be stripped out of my life. I am still scared. These fears are constant and remain with me. However, since Sunday, I have the memory and joy of crossing the finish line to reflect back on as a symbolic victory over my body, my seizures, and my life.
Several things have been brought into sharp focus for me in the last month. The first is that I do not fear death or physical harm to me personally. Certainly not enough to alter my life’s journey. Second, I am profoundly afraid of mere existence or a life without meaning. I need to feel like I’m moving forward, making a difference and pursuing that which brings me inherent joy. For me, this is my running. Finally, I love my family and would do almost anything for them but to forgo a life without purpose or meaning would be a dishonor and a disservice to them. As I said from the outset, we all have our struggles and our responses- the way we feel them, the way we react to them, are similarly divergent. To many, what I have just said is insane. To others, it sounds courageous. To me it’s neither. I am scared therefore I am not courageous. I understand and am decisive therefore I am not insane. Passion and love in all that you do RMAs. To me existence is not living. I need to live.