Hagg Lake Tri – I’m Coming For You…

FullSizeRender (35)When my husband told me to look at several race choices and pick one, as a way to celebrate my birthday weekend, there was one important piece of criteria the race had to have. It had to be an easy, relatively flat, bike course. I also didn’t feel ready for an ocean swim, so, no ocean, therefore, no sharks to worry about, was number two on my list. Weather was a lesser determining factor. Being from Arizona, cooler temperatures sounded a lot more inviting, than heat and humidity. Races in mosquito infested areas didn’t make the cut, either. Other than that, a beautiful course, nice downtown, shopping areas, good food and wine, hiking or other outdoor activities, all of those would be pluses. After looking at several races in many states and checking all of the bike courses, I settled on the Hagg Lake Triathlon. It appeared to have a few rolling hills with minimal elevation, a lake swim, cool temperatures, a beautiful race venue and it was in Oregon, one of our favorite states to visit. Portland has so many fantastic restaurants, and with wine country close by, it would be a perfect way to celebrate a birthday weekend!

We had our bikes shipped ahead of time so they would be ready for us. Race week, the weather was looking pretty rough from an Arizonan’s perspective, low 50’s and a steady rain. That’s winter in AZ. To the locals in Oregon, our gear bag contents probably looked ridiculous. We had enough layers, we might have been warm enough for snow. Race day, actually ended up being pretty near perfect though. It was in the low 60’s with cloudy skies. It looked like it would rain, but never did, and the sun actually peeked out a few times.

All of our pre-race activity went smoothly. We arrived early. Our bikes were there waiting and ready for us. Athlete’s Lounge was the sponsoring bike shop. They did a wonderful job taking care of our bikes.

IMG_6397Next was body marking. For my non-triathlete friends, body marking is when they write your race numbers on your arms and also your age on your leg. Race day was the actual day of my birthday, so for the first time this year, they wrote my true age on my leg. I remember how appalled I was when I did my first triathlon and they wrote my age on my leg! I soon realized it wasn’t so bad though, when during the race you pass people who are younger than you. It’s no big deal anymore. As they say, “Age is just a number, THEY WRITE ON YOUR LEG.”

My husband and I got our gear all set up in transition. We both noticed a lot of really nice bikes and that the field of athletes looked to be pretty experienced. Not that it was intimidating at all…  🙂

The only thing I didn’t get to do, which may have made a big difference in my race, was a FullSizeRender (37)warm up run. I have asthma and being able to run first really helps me with the breathing when I swim. Since we had to be out of the transition area early, that wasn’t going to work. Everyone was already putting on their wetsuits for the swim. We got our wetsuits on and headed down to the lake for the start of the race. We were unaware that we were allowed to do a warm up swim, but we weren’t by the lake early enough for that. At least we got a couple minutes to get in the water, which gave me a chance to be sure my goggles weren’t leaking.

Here’s where the story starts. That swim. I’ll never forget that swim. That swim made me think about not doing triathlon ever again. That swim made me think about never wanting to swim again, period! I had a triangle of three buoys to swim around. I was to do two loops. It started out ok. I choked a little, which I do from time to time. I ran into a couple people. That happens. I swallowed water. That happens, too. But by the time I was around the second buoy, the wind had kicked up the water and there were waves like none I’ve ever had to swim in before. The water was choppy. I’m used to swimming in a lake with high canyon walls, protected from wind, really. There are no boat waves, just kayaks and a few paddleboards. I’m a wuss, is what I’m saying! No matter how I turned my head to breathe, I got a mouthful of water instead of air. I choked several times. I couldn’t breathe. I tried to swim with my head up. I still couldn’t breathe. I stopped to catch my breath. I sat in the water watching  swim capped heads pass by, all seemingly unaffected by the turbulence that was causing me to lose hope that I could finish one loop, let alone, two. I rested a few times, and then tried to propel myself forward. Every time I put my face in the water, within not so many strokes, I was choking and out of breath again. I finally reached the second buoy. A boat was there and the man was yelling for me to turn, which is what I was going to do as soon as I got around the buoy. I wasn’t understanding that the wind had blown the buoy off course and I had swam farther than I needed to and he was trying to tell me I didn’t have to swim around the buoy, but could turn in toward shore sooner. Blame the slowness of understanding on lack of oxygen, maybe… There was another boat guy after the buoy. Winded to the point I felt my wetsuit choking me, I asked if I could hold on for a few minutes. I’m not sure how long I did hold on, but I did a lot of talking. I apologized for having to burp, because burping is what one has to do much of when they drink half a lake. He said he had seen worse. Poor guy. He was a good listener. I talked about quitting, about how I thought I was going to be last and how I had never quit and I didn’t want to quit, but I couldn’t breathe, and I still had another loop to swim. My stomach hurt from swallowing so much water. My wetsuit felt like it was choking me. I wanted that medal! I didn’t want to be last… Finally, he acted like it was time for me to get going. He didn’t try to influence me. He just listened and said he would be there if I needed him. So off I went toward that last buoy. It was so close to shore. I could go in and this whole horrible mess would be over with or I could go back out into the waves one more time…

IMG_0920It’s amazing how much thinking you can do under duress. I have a mug that says, “The Mind is the Athlete.” It’s so true. I had so many reasons not to finish the race. They sounded good to me at the time. Hey, breathing is a big deal! I really wanted that medal, though. When you train hard, you should get something to show for it, right!  How many people wish they had what someone else has, but they aren’t willing to do what it takes to get it? I thought about that in the water. I did NOT want to finish that swim! The only way I was going to get that medal was to stay the course, finish the race and cross that line at the end.

There was another very powerful thought that went through my mind. As I said, it was my birthday. Thanks to Facebook, my friends and family knew we we’re doing the race, so I was getting a lot of support from that. I had briefly scanned some of the posts as we were driving to the event. My mom had posted. In her post she said I was an example of courage and perseverance. Wow, the power of the words we speak! My mom’s words were power that day. No I didn’t feel courage at that moment and finishing that swim was the last thing I wanted to do, but I was going to be what my mom said I was. I rounded the third buoy and I kept swimming. If you think you’re hearing Dory singing, “Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming…” It’s me! I sing it all the time now.

The rest of the race, I just had to make the best I could of it. By the time I got back to transition, my bike was the last one, meaning I was the last one to get out on the bike course. The thing I feared the most, being last… I thought it would be like it has been in other races, I’d be able to make up time and pass people, but not so. The bike course that I initially chose for it’s easy rolling hills, well, I must have gotten mixed up with all the courses I had looked at. This one did not have easy rolling hills. I train on mostly flat routes because of issues with my knees, so not only was I not prepared for the hills, my knees were very unhappy with me. I also hadn’t had to use the gearing on my tri bike much, since I ride flat routes. That further complicated my race. We had to do two loops around the lake. The first loop, riders that were finishing their second loop passed me, but once I started my second loop, I was on my own on the course. It felt really lonely after a while out there in the woods. Then there was the stupid fall. It was just stupid! Of course, the support motorcycles show up out of nowhere and catch me on the ground. I did one of those things where you jump up, bush off, say I’m ok, and take off, too embarrassed to acknowledge the blood running down your leg. I was so glad when I finished that bike ride and got back to transition again. SO glad!

Many people had finished the whole race and were walking around with their medals on and packing up their gear to go home. Here I was just getting ready to start my run. I couldn’t believe it. I was really going to be LAST! I had never even come close to doing this badly in a race. Even in my first couple triathlons, at my age, I still came out around the middle of the pack for all ages on my time. Now I knew how it felt for those who do come in last, those who still have to push themselves to keep going to get across that finish line, even when they know they’ll be last. It was a horrible feeling! But I wanted that medal. I still had worked hard. I still had done the best I could with the circumstances at the time. I still had to fight to get to the finish. It was very humbling. The whole thing was, but I think I needed humbling, so that’s ok.

As it turned out, I did catch up to one other lady on the run. I wouldn’t have had to be last, if I didn’t want to be, but it sure didn’t seem worth it to pass one person and make her feel the way I knew I would have felt, so I stuck with her. We enjoyed the rest of the race and crossed the finish line together. We’re all better together, right! I do have to say, even though it was my worst race ever, the race director, the volunteers and the spectators that were left, made the finish line awesome. My husband had mentioned to one of the volunteers that it was my birthday. He told the announcer, who had called everyone back to the finish line as I was coming in. Everyone sang happy birthday to me at the finish line. Yes, I was a little embarrassed, but at the same time, it took some of the sting out of being last. And I got my medal! IMG_6415

I learned a lot from this race. I hope it’s the bad race experience that’s behind me and I’ll never live through again, but no guarantees on that. I’m glad it’s over, but at the same time. I’m glad I did it. It didn’t kill me. It did make me stronger. And Hagg Lake, I hope you can hear me. I’m coming back for you!

Thank you to Sherri McMillan and staff of Why Racing Events and all of the wonderful volunteers of the Hagg Lake Tri and Du. This is a beautiful race venue, a challenging course, and a very well run race! Everyone was awesome!

Thank you, to Don and Russell from VeloZoom, who took care of the AZ end of the bike shipping process and then Christine and Gary from Athlete’s Lounge who took care of our bike’s in Oregon!

#whyracing #whyracingevents #hagglaketri

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When Fear Runs Deep…

20140515_030355283_iOSI opened my eyes as I had already done many times throughout the night, waiting for the sound of the alarm to signal that it was finally the right time to be awake. It had been one of those nights. You know the kind I’m talking about, when your mind won’t get quiet and sleep evades you. It felt as if I had been semi-conscious for the last several hours. Nervous apprehension had replaced every last bit of excitement I felt the previous evening, as I had prepared for this morning. It was to be a big day for me! Another milestone was to be reached. Another step crossed off the list of steps I needed to take on this road to become a half Ironman finisher. My first 70.3 triathlon at the (young) age of 58 was a big deal, one I really was unsure that this body with all of its aches and pains could actually endure. Today was the day to put on that new wetsuit I had packed and go to the lake for my first open water swim. You should be hearing the theme from the movie, “Jaws”, playing in your mind right now.Jaws

Maybe it seems silly to you that swimming in a lake would be a big deal. I had splashed around in the lake as a kid. I even thought my little doggie paddle for a few yards every so often as I played, was actually considered swimming. As a matter of fact, I really thought I could swim, that is until I took my first real swim lesson two years ago. My coach at the time informed me that my doggie paddle was not “real” swimming. I learned that I actually had to put my face in the water! I found myself embarrassed as I was made to practice bobbing up and down in the water at a public pool, to blow bubbles out of my mouth and nose. I had to do it in front of “real” swimmers even! That was six weeks before my first sprint triathlon. Six weeks was not enough time for me to get this swimming thing. That first race was so hard! I was out of breath after the first 50 yards. I had to stop and rest each time I reached the end of a lane. I won’t say how long it took me to finish that little 400 yard swim, but let me tell you, I was slow!

A hamstring injury the week following that first race, kept me out of the pool for several months. That was followed by several months of swimming using the pull buoy, as I wasn’t able to kick. In spite of the injury and lack of proper training, I felt I needed to do a 2nd sprint the following year in order to keep my standing as a triathlete. I signed up for the same event I had done before. That swim was even worse than my first had been!

I really wanted to do this triathlon thing, so here’s where my current triathlon coach enters the picture. Swimming is her strong area. She’s been working with me just over a year now. Believe me when I tell you, this swimming stuff hasn’t come easily for me. I’ve worked hard and I’ve come a long way, but even recently at a master swim session, my coach was laughing over some weird movement I was doing in the pool. Somehow, she always manages to find something to correct, as a good coach should, I might add.

Fear.1I remember many of my early swim sessions with her. Every time I had to do a workout, I fought anxiety and apprehension. I remember times when I dreaded getting to the end of the lane and I knew she was going to have me do another lap, and then another and another. I was so out of breath at times, I felt lightheaded and even in a state of panic. There were a few times I even wanted to cry. Ok, maybe I did cry, but I sure couldn’t let her see that. I imagine I’ve made her wonder if I would ever make it as a swimmer. Even if that’s not true for her, it definitely is for me.

Confidence about my swimming had evaded me as much as sleep had the Strengthnight before this big day. I had volunteered to drive out to the lake that morning. A couple of my team mates were riding along. One was a seasoned open water swimmer. I didn’t know at the time, but our coach had given him strict orders to stay with us and keep us safe. Poor guy! Who would want that responsibility! The other team mate was a near neighbor, a.k.a., my “tri in the hood friend”. We had begun to do some of our training together. She was new to this open water swimming experience, as well. Even though she had been a swimmer longer, she was as nervous as I was. It’s funny to think back to one of our early swim sessions with our coach. I remember her commenting on how she would never be doing any open water swimming. Never say never, right!

 

It had been years since I had been to this particular lake. While the desert landscape was beautiful, the road is narrow as it winds up and down the sides of the mountains. The anxiety was building in my chest and my shoulders grew tighter with each hairpin turn. Of course, our conversation over how nervous we each felt only amplified the tension. I rounded a bend and had my first view of the water. The lake looked huge and the boats so small from our elevated vantage point. It’s good that I had passengers in the car that day, for had I not, I’m sure I would have turned around and high tailed it home!

When we arrived at the lake, several other tri club members were already putting on wetsuits. Trying to get a wetsuit over aged, loose skin that just moves up with the compression of the suit, well, that’s just an ugly story. Having to do that in front of others is down right, humiliating. I’m glad it took what seemed like forever to get the suits on. Anything to delay us from having to get in that water was okay by me. But alas, the moment arrived and it was time.

My “tri in the hood friend” and I had only planned on splashing around a bit to get used to the wetsuit, maybe swim along the shore a little, but certainly not go in over our heads. We were told we wouldn’t drown in a wetsuit, as it makes you more buoyant, but still, the idea of going deep was frightening.

Motivational-Quotes-40I’ll never forget the first time I put my face in the water. It was so cold, it took my breath away. It took several times of bobbing up and down before I could blow bubbles under the water and take a breath when I came up. We swam along the shore a little and stopped to stand up every 25 yards or so. There was security in knowing we could still touch the bottom. I think I was ready to call it a day after about fifteen minutes, but our seasoned team mate seemed determined to be sure we actually got in a little more of a workout. He was able to get my friend to swim out to a buoy. It wasn’t too far off shore, but it was definitely beyond my comfort zone. She was very pleased with herself over having done it and apparently she wasn’t satisfied with me not having the same experience, so now there was double the pressure for me to swim out to the buoy. Not wanting to jeopardize my “tough, old lady athlete,” status, I resigned myself to oblige their request. It was horrible! I forgot to breathe. I choked. I swam crooked and ran into my friend. Each of those things caused my heightened anxiety level to become a complete state of panic. My chest felt like it was being crushed and I couldn’t breathe. I stopped and begged for someone to unzip my wetsuit. Our seasoned team mate told me to keep it zipped. I had to get used to feeling that, as it happens to even experienced swimmers on occasion. I tread water for a minute and tried to calm myself until I could breathe. So much for the tough, old lady athlete! I did make it to the buoy once that day and as you can see, I lived to tell about it.

We had many lake visits over the summer, but there were very few that I

The mass start under Mill Ave in Tempe, AZ.

The mass start under Mill Ave in Tempe, AZ.

didn’t experience the whole gamut of emotions associated with my fear of the swim. It was particularly unnerving when I found myself panicking in the water just two weeks prior to my half Ironman event. That was an ordinary workout day, which didn’t include the hectic frenzy of bodies thrashing about, which is what takes place in a race scenario. I couldn’t imagine how incredibly terrifying it would be to experience that during the race.

One thing I have learned about fear, not that I would deny that I felt it, but the more you talk about it, the more you give it a voice, the more it grows, the more powerful it becomes. I couldn’t afford to talk about it, so I didn’t. That would only feed it.

Another thing that I had learned about fear, I had heard from a speaker one time. They shared an acronym for fear. FEAR is False Evidence Appearing Real. My fear was ungrounded. Sure, there was evidence. I had panicked in the water, MANY times! And it was terrifying! But it wasn’t real. The facts were, I could swim. I had listened to my coach. I had done my training. I had put in the hours, the distance, the time. And I hadn’t drown, not even “almost”, not even once!

FullSizeRender (18)

Packet pick up day! Some of our tri team mates with our awesome coach on the left. Less than 24 hrs. until the big event!

The week before the 70.3 Ironman event, I was amazed that I felt excited, rather than anxious, as I usually felt before a race. I mean I was really excited! Training for this had involved a lot of sweat and tears. I had gone from seriously doubting my ability to even do this, to knowing I would finish. My emotions were running high all week, so it didn’t take much to cause whatever I felt at any given moment to spill out. My coach said that was normal.  In spite of my carefully laid out plan for the morning of the event, it seemed as if everything was going wrong. I hadn’t been able to sleep the night before. I left the house later than was planned. It was raining. Two freeway ramps that I had planned to take to get to the venue were closed, forcing me to exit in an area I was unfamiliar with. I lost my wrist bracelet which I had to have to get into the transition area. Four different people working the race venue, had me running all over the park area to get help with the bracelet issue. When I finally got to the transition area and saw my coach standing there, I felt as if I would explode. She knew just what I needed. After she hugged me, she got in my face and with a gentle firmness, instructed me on what to do next. She was perfect! That minute or two made all the difference in the world to me. I had just enough time to get my transition area set up, stand in the bathroom line, get my wetsuit on and get in line for the swim start. My coach and team mates were there, along with my husband and one of my sons. My son read me an incredibly, awesome text which he had sent me that morning as encouragement, but I didn’t have my phone, so I hadn’t seen it. That made me teary eyed! Ok, everything made me teary eyed at that point, but his text was really special! I could feel slight undercurrents of frayed nerves, but I chose to block out any negativity and stay focused. My strategy was simple. I had borrowed it from the movie, “Finding Nemo”. Nemo and DoryAnd yes, I’m admitting that I even watched the movie that week before the race for inspiration. I was going to take Dory’s advice and “just keep swimming.”

It was time and our group was called to enter the water. We swam out to the start line and waited for the horn to sound, and we were off! The hectic frenzy of thrashing arms, legs and bodies was just as crazy as it had appeared in the triathlon videos. All of the things I had feared, happened. I choked. I couldn’t breathe. I got kicked, swam into and slapped in the face – HARD. Someone grabbed my leg at one point and it felt like they were trying to pull me under, but I just kept swimming. I stayed calm. I was amazed at how calm I felt. I kept focused on the next buoy, then the next and the next. By the time I rounded that last buoy, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt, I wasn’t swimming by my own strength that day. Yes, I had trained for it, but I knew I had supernatural help. As it turned out, I wasn’t even the slowest one in our group, which amazed me even more, because I’m always the slowest one. My son and my husband said they were shocked when they saw me run past them, as they didn’t expect to see me for, at least, another ten minutes.

That’s the biggest part of my race story. The rest was just fun. Because of Ironman Runongoing knee issues, I had to ride easy on the bike, just fast enough to make the cut off time. On the run, I kept stopping to try to get what felt like rocks out of my shoe, but there were no rocks. It turned out to be a bigger issue with my foot. I had a killer headache, I think from lack of salt. I had dropped all of my salt, right up front on the bike course. I ended up walking a lot of the run portion, as a result of all of it, but I knew I would make the cut off time so I wasn’t concerned. It was hard and it was hot, but I had a blast! Crossing that finish line was a high that I’ll never forget! It stuck with me for a long time after the race, too!IronmanAZ70.3

I can’t tell you my story without sharing the most important thing that I’ve learned about fear. That is the fact that I don’t have to have it. I can choose to not fear. Real life experience has a way of teaching us things that become rooted deep into the fiber of our beings. That truth for me is that I have a big, powerful and completely, faithful God who always comes through for me. Even when life throws unfavorable things my way, as it has often, God has always, one way or another, worked things out for my good. Helping me with a little swim was easy! When fear runs deep, my faith is deeper still.

You didn't come this farWhat’s next? I’m not sure. I’m grounded from biking and running right now until my knees and foot recover. Yes, there is the thought that it would be really cool to do a full Ironman one day, but right now, it’s hard to imagine it being a possibility with this body. Of course, I’ll never say never, because we all know what happens when we do that, right!

“A Fall Apart Just Waiting to Happen”…

fall apart puzzelYep, that’s me!  You’ve probably heard people describe someone as, “an accident waiting to happen.”  Well, “a fall apart waiting to happen” is kind of the same thing.  I’ve found myself feeling this way on occasion lately.  You know, those days that all of us feel at some point, no matter how positive we try to be.  Not one of us walking on this planet is totally immune to negative thoughts and feelings that attack our mind and emotions. 

If you’ve read my blog, you may already know of the ongoing struggle that I’ve had with running injuries.   I talkedfall apart poster about the last MRI report in a post called, “Coping with Injury, a Photo Journal”.  I did have a little fun with that post!  It’s been about three months since then and I’m just starting to get back into a few easy workouts each week.  My body sure doesn’t want to cooperate, though.   Add the ongoing spine and sciatic nerve issues into that hip and hamstring mix, and right there you have what sounds like an old lady just complaining about all her ailments.  I sooooo, never wanted it to be this way!     

Gumby stretchesI’ve had some other minor health things creep in on top of those I’ve mentioned.  It’s so frustrating when you go to your Primary Care Physician and they have to send you off to other specialists.  I’ve got six different doctors I am seeing and a seventh I’m avoiding.  Well, maybe I’m avoiding the sixth one, too.   Regardless, I feel like I’ve been pieced and parted out in so many directions.  The healthcare system must think I’m like a Gumby figure and each doctor is stretching a different body part in their direction.  Gumby meltsFrankly, even with all the stretching, I’m just not that flexible!  And then you have all the specialist’s higher copays!  I’ll stop right there with that discussion.  The state of our healthcare system is not the hot topic than I wanted to get into today.  Let’s not make Gumby have a melt down!

The point is, I’ve had a few days when I wake up feeling like all of these little irritations and inconveniences have been combined together into this huge glob.  The ugly glob is present, just waiting to greet me when I open my eyes.  It sits on my chest, its weight causing pressure, its toxic gases filling my lungs, its fog clouding my vision and infiltrating my thoughts.  For whatever reason, this day, it’s difficult to shake off.   I feel consumed by it.  I stumble through the dark to the kitchen to make coffee.  The shadow follows.  Maybe the caffeine will help.  I turn on the Fear.1computer.  Maybe there will be something positive and uplifting in my inbox or on Facebook.  But before I can even have my first sip or sign in to anything, an all too familiar fear creeps in.  It’s been awhile, but I’ve felt this before.  Its fear of some impending doom, some catastrophe that’s just waiting to knock on my door.  My cell phone rings with an unknown number.  This is it that call I knew would come… 

Tell me I’m not the only one!  You’ve been there, too, haven’t you!  It doesn’t happen as often anymore, but there was a long season in my life, when this was the way I felt most days.  I would eventually be able to shake it off, but only to have the glob visit again the next day. 

One of my son’s has become very interested in cycling.  He joined a racing team and had his first race this past weekend.  I was photo (34)excited for him as we made the hour drive to the race location.  The course was about a mile loop that participants had to circle many times.  A good part of the course was out of our view, and the multicolored kit clad riders were going by so fast.  I had a hard time seeing my son each time he made his way past our vantage point.  Twice during the race, the announcer shouted over a speaker, “There’s been a crash on the course!”  Can you guess where I’m going with this story?  There it was that feeling of impending dome.  Thankfully, my son was not involved in either of the crashes and there were no serious injuries, but those minutes spent waiting to see him go by were pretty intense for a mom.

Blob.1I’m no psychologist able to say what causes a person to feel this way, but I can speak from my own experience.  That fear of impending dome, the feelings of some foreboding evil hovering nearby, just waiting to swoop down and pounce on my head, that kind of fear was learned over time.   The situations in life that were real, such as living with an abusive alcoholic and addict that did cause physical harm, actually being the victim at the end of a knife or sawed off shot gun, receiving those dreaded phone calls with bad news, living through an emergency medical situation with my body being the one transported in an ambulance or having to many visits to emergency rooms with people you love…  When it happens enough, you learn fear.  When you combine those real situations with the ones that you begin to imagine and then come to expect, well, there you’ve just created the ultimate Halloween cocktail!  And let me tell you, it’s a fear filled, seductively strong drink!

Fear isn’t something to be messed with.  Fear is destructive, even devastating.  It will hold you down, even suffocating your very last breath.  Fear keeps us in a dead, dry place.  It keeps us from really living.  It keeps us out of healthy relationships.  We won’t take the risk to care and love.  It holds us back in our careers; it keeps us from reaching our goals and even keeps us from daring to have any dreams to chase after.  It keeps us small, keeps us invisible and unnoticed.  Fear is an evil prison guard that keeps us locked in a very cold, damp and dark place.

Courage poster.1

So how do you get out of it, break free?  Like I said, I’m no physiologist, so what works for me, might not be the same as what worksBravery.1 for you.  First of all, you have to be able to recognize whether the fear you feel is the healthy kind that keeps you safe or if it’s a fear that’s debilitating to you.  If it’s hurting you, it needs to go!  Recognizing that it’s an issue is a huge victory in itself.  You have to recognize something is broken before you will attempt to fix it.  Even taking a risk to consider it might be an issue takes courage.  Be brave.

I have to break in for important practical advice right here.  If you are in an unsafe place, like an abusive situation, get out now.  I know it takes great courage to take this step.  It may require knowledge of resources available to help.  Know there is help and there are safe places to go.  There are agencies that can help online.  Find them where you are.  You have to protect your physical body from harm before you can work on your emotional wellbeing.  Please, be brave!

Once you recognize that fear is something that is hurting you, it’s not like you can just tell it to go away.  You can only do that when it first makes an ugly appearance.  Once you’ve allowed fear to move in and stay with you, you’ve fed it and allowed it to grow, it’s Cat couragenot so easy.  The truth is we all need help with things like this.  We were not meant to do this life alone.  Other people were put on this earth so we wouldn’t have to be alone.  I don’t care how independent you are.  It might be fear that made you feel a need to be such an independent person and if that’s the case, fear has just succeeded l in keeping you in prison.  I’m saying this, not to cause anyone to feel under attack, but as one who allowed the ugly life situations cause me to put on, “Miss Independent”, as a banner across my chest for a good number of years.  I remember one occasion just before entering into my third marriage.  I can still see myself standing outside on a dark driveway, screaming into the face of my soon to be spouse, “You’re not going to make me your slave, you’re not going to tell me what to do…!”  It’s amazing that he still married me after that little explosion.   My point is, don’t try to break free on your own.  Positive, encouraging friends with wise advice, churches or professional counselors, they are all there for you to get help.   Take the risk to join the human race again and connect with other people to help you.  This too, takes courage.  Be brave!

Since I wasn’t intending to write a book today, I’ll wrap this up.  My almost last piece of advice would be this.  When you first see Courage.1that glob trying to make another appearance, whether it be a little thought, feeling or a little action to pass it a tasty morsel and feed it again, immediately stop yourself.  You have to stop it dead in its tracks.  Don’t entertain it, not even for a second.  If you need help to do this, then make that call or send that text.  Fill yourself with all the positive encouragement and support you can get your mind, eyes, ears and hands on.  Your life is on the line here.  All of your relationships, goals, and dreams have one thing in common.  They need you to be healthy in order to have them to the full extent that they were meant to be had.  It’s worth the effort and you are totally worth it!  If you blew it yesterday, today is a new day.  Be brave!

Lastly, I’m no longer going to think of myself as “a fall apart waiting to happen”.  Yes, the health issues seem to continue, but I’m Strong and Courageous.1choosing to focus on the good.  I have supportive friends and family.   I know that I’m in the good hands of doctors who will do the best they can within our healthcare system; to do what’s right for me.  Best of all and what brings me the biggest strength, I believe I’m in the good hands of a loving God who is big enough to take care of me in this broken world.  Bad things do happen, but he works it for good on my behalf.  It takes courage to let go of control and trust an unseen entity with the details of my life, but my experience tells me, God is really good at what he does.  He’s always come through for me, every time!   I can be strong and courageous because I’m not doing this alone.  Yes, I will be brave!

The Second “J”

baby football playerProud mom here again to introduce you to the last, but certainly not least of my offspring.  Today I’m bragging about “JD”!  “JD” was my fourth born and yes, another baby over 9 lbs. delivered by C-section.  He had the most adorable round face with the kind of plump cheeks grandmas, aunts and complete strangers just had to kiss or squeeze.  It was the same with his short chubby legs.  When people would see him, the next remark after expressing how cute he was would almost certainly be something about his future career in football.

“JD” lived the sweet life as a baby, too, getting lots of attention from his oldest siblings.  Even his sixteen month old brother would entertain him by talking to him, making faces and giving him toys or a pacifier when he’d fuss.  He was a very happy baby and almost always smiled and laughed.  It’s funny how some memories can stick in your mind.  I can still see that smiley round face and hear him giggle.  Excuse me for a second.  I just need to stay in this moment a little longer…

There was no, I mean absolutely no stopping “JD” once he learned to crawl and walk.  He was a “no fear” kid!  We lived in a big old farmhousefarm house back then, which made it hard to keep up with him.  In keeping with the football player image, he was not just built with a sturdy frame, he was strong!  He could easily move chairs around and would use whatever means was available to get whatever it was he wanted.  I have a series of pictures I took of him getting into things.  He’s in cabinets, on top of counters and tables, in the kitchen sink and there is one of him standing up on a table taking down my laundry room curtains.  Once, I even found him lying on the top of the five foot chain link fence that was supposed to keep him safe in his outdoor play area.  Of course, he’s laughing and smiling in every picture.  He made it very difficult for me to reflect that firm tone in my voice, indicating when he was doing something he wasn’t supposed to be doing.  I remember thinking often, “It’s a good thing you’re so cute!”  The “no fear” thing had its down side though.  I don’t remember how many emergency room visits we had with “JD”, but there were several.

You know how most babies and small children fall asleep when they ride in a car.  With all the activity involved in his busy day, hide and seekwhen “JD” would stop moving, no matter where he was, he’d be asleep instantly.    That old farm house had a set of stairs in the front and the back of the house, as well as big closets and cabinets throughout.  It was a great house for a game of hide and seek for our family of six.  One evening as we were playing the game, we lost “JD”.  We couldn’t find him anywhere.  All of us became concerned as we searched every nook and cranny of that house, calling for him with no response, not even the sound of his laughter.  We knew he was in there somewhere.  Finally, someone discovered him.  He found the perfect hiding place in a cabinet where linens were stored.  There he was, behind a pile of towels on the back side of a deep shelf, sound asleep.  We can laugh now, but we sure weren’t laughing at the time.  I hope I don’t get in trouble for saying this, but even as an adult, he still falls asleep when he is forced to stop moving and always falls asleep in the car.

“JD” didn’t have the same challenges that my other children faced, but that doesn’t mean that he had it easy as he got older.  I hate to say it, but “JD” probably got pushed to the back burner, so to speak.  He was the easy going, roll with the punches kind of kid who didn’t make noise or stir up trouble.  We had enough noise going on in our family that he kind of got lost in all of it.  It was like when he crawled to the back of the shelf in the cabinet and was lost during our family game; only this game wasn’t so much fun.  He certainly was there and needless to say, he certainly experienced the effects.

“JD” is very sensitive, caring and loving.  He feels emotion very deeply.  He’s much like me in the sense that he doesn’t often voice dogs smilingwhat he’s feeling, but we know something is there.  He’s a great listener, too.  He accepts people as they are and he forgives when they hurt him.  He’s the kid that will come up and hug his mom unexpectedly, for no reason.  I love that by the way, “JD”!  When you meet him you will still find him, always smiling.  His great sense of humor makes him a “life of the party” type person with a wonderful ability to make people laugh.

I didn’t give “JD” the heads up about this post and he doesn’t read my blog, so I won’t get to gushy and risk embarrassing him.  I don’t think he even knows I have been writing about his siblings this week, so this will probably be a surprise to him.  I’ll send him a link though; because “JD” has to hear how incredibly proud I am of him, too!  And “JD”, I love you with all of my heart!

#NaBloPoMo

Digging Deeper, Whatever It Takes!!!

runningI got the MRI results of my Cervical Spine and now know the reason for my latest round of aches and pains.  This one happens to be a literal pain in the neck!  I have three bulging disks and two more disks that have bone pressing against the nerve root.  Doctor reviews regarding the impact of this on my running are mixed.  I’ve heard everything from, “no more running”, “try cycling instead” and “no running for 6 to 8 weeks”, to “maybe after another week you can run a little”.  So, the co-pays continue to mount and it seems I go from appointment to appointment.   It’s a daily struggle against the disappointment that would try to bring me down.

If you think you’re getting weary of hearing my about my woe’s, I think I’ve got you beat.  I would much rather be writing about exciting events and joyous occasions!  I was greatly anticipating being able to put my first full marathon experience on paper.  That was supposed to have been next weekend, but I guess that’s on hold, once again.

Until this week, I had never watched a whole episode of “The Biggest Loser”.   I’ve seen bits and pieces of the show when the loser logocontestants weigh in, but I’ve never seen all the work that was involved to achieve these dramatic and impressive weight losses.  This particular episode happened to be the start of the new season.  As contestants were chosen and placed on teams, those who were on Jillian Michael’s team, seemed to express more emotion, both positive and negative.  I soon found out why!

These poor contestants weren’t given the opportunity to “ease” into their training.  They knew that it wouldn’t be easy, but they had no clue as to how difficult it would be until they were passing out and rolling off the tread mill into a heap on the floor.  Most of them were throwing up in buckets that were readily at hand, as if the need Jillian Michaelsfor the buckets had been anticipated.   On top of the complete misery and high level of emotion that the contestants felt, there was Jillian Michaels, screaming in their faces.  And I mean screaming!

I can think back to some of the workouts my coach assigned that I thought were tough.  I only remember once when I thought I might throw up.  It was on mile 16 of my farthest run yet, just before the stress fracture in my hip.  I think the heat just got the best of me that day.  One other time I was doing a hard speed workout and as the pavement ran out on a dead end road leading into the dessert, I was afraid I might pass out.  I wondered how long it would take for someone to find me out there, but those experiences seem like nothing compared to what these show contestants were facing.

I have to say that I’m thankful for a coach who doesn’t scream in my face, telling me that I’m wasting his time!  I’m not sure that I would respond so well to that.  However, a couple phrases that Jillian said, or rather screamed on the show, did make me think.  The phrases, “How bad do you want it?” and “Dig deep”, have been rolling over in my mind all week.

Of course, I can apply these phrases to running.  I really do want to run a marathon, at least one at some point.  I’ve been working pretty hard to try to accomplish that, in spite of the string of injuries, but certainly not as hard as these contestants.

But more importantly, I’ve got bigger goals in mind than running a marathon.  More than half of my life is probably already over.  Jillian 2Those years are gone and I can’t get them back.  My biggest goal is that my life would count for something.

The problem of obesity is at epidemic proportions in our country and the producers and coaches on “The Biggest Loser” want to bring change and make a difference.  Obesity isn’t the only thing that is rampant in our society.  There are plenty of other social issues that need to be addressed.  It’s going to take many people who want to make a difference and bring change.  I think the reality is that it will take every single one of us!  And I believe that every single one of us would say that we want to make our life count for something.  But how bad do we want it?

I’m not here on this swirling planet, just to exist, please myself and have a good time.  I want to make a contribution somehow.  I’ve got ideas that I’ve thought about, but haven’t done much with.  Years ago, I put some things on paper, but that’s about as far as I went.  They aren’t things that I can achieve on my own.  On my own, I don’t have what it takes to make it happen.  It’s bigger than me.  As a result, these things are left undone, unaccomplished and myself, unfulfilled.

I can hear Jillian screaming at me now.  “What are you afraid of?”  I think my answer is much the same as the contestants on the show.  “I’m scared of failing”, “afraid of the pain of the workouts” and “not being able to eat bear claws again”.  Yes, you heard that right. A contestant seriously said she didn’t want to give up bear claws.  In case you don’t know, “bear claws” are a sweet, flakey and delicately, delicious pastry!  I’m afraid I am not quite ready to give up sweets either; however eating sweets isn’t what’s holding me back from my goal in this case.

How bad do I really want it?  Am I willing to dig deep and probably endure pain, as the contestants on the show had to?  Am I willing to do whatever it takes?  I mean really do WHATEVER it takes?  Inconvenience myself, make sacrifices, take criticism, overcome obstacles, throw up and expose my ugliness in public?  Do I REALLY want it???  Or will I just keep on existing, pleasing and taking care of myself, sitting on the couch all day eating bonbons or bear claws?

It’s true!  Change starts with a choice.  It’s got to be more than a resolution we make for the New Year.  It has to be a thought out, purposeful decision to take action if you want to bring change.  As Jillian Michaels described the exercise that one contestant was supposed to be doing, she said, “It’s as simple as hand, foot, hand, foot”.   The exercise was called the “bear crawl”.  Jillian broke it down into tiny movements, one after another.  You just have to move one hand, then one foot, then one hand and one foot.

Jillian’s instruction to do one movement at a time was simple, just like I try to live my life, one day at a time.  If I look at the whole big picture all at once, I can be overwhelmed and terrified.  Well if that’s the way I live, what am I missing?  Why haven’t I achieved my goal to make my life count for something and to make a difference in this world already?  I mean, I’ve already lived half my life.  I’ve wasted my own time!

attack dog Jillian told me what I was lacking.  She said, “I want attack dogs, pit bulls, fire breathing dragons, on my team. “  I’ve lacked the “attack dog” spirit.  I’ve been more like a tiny, playful, furry, cuddle up, lap dog.  I’ve liked my creature comforts, but I’ve lounged around long enough.  It’s time to dig deep! It’s time to do whatever it takes!  Who’s with me?

Thanks Jillian!

My Grown Up Christmas Gift

HopeIt’s with utmost respect and honor that I bring you today’s blog post.  I want to share one of the most valuable and precious Christmas gifts I have ever received.   It’s a poem written by one of my own.  My son gave me permission to share this with you today.  It wasn’t his intention to share this normally, very private, thing with the world, but it’s such a beautiful thing that, how can the world not get to experience it.  The back story to this, are years of addiction, many rehab programs, and several seasons of recovery followed by relapse.  Not that the journey is over, but this time feels different.  There is new life and hope that hasn’t been felt before.  I’m proud of my son and the positive steps that he is taking toward his new and wonderful future.  Together, we share this private moment in time today, not to exploit a man’s suffering, but to bring hope to other moms, dads, brothers, sisters and family members of addicts.  My son’s heart is much the same as mine, to help and love others.  Here is our gift to you.  May this season of hope live on in the New Year.  Merry Christmas!

 

For the Family

How can I even begin to express

About this time last year I was undoubtedly distraught, surely lost,

Senseless direction, heading nowhere, the trail had long since gone cold

Solid ground so ever elusive

The fear of death was becoming reality

I had abandoned all hope and lying to myself and everyone else in the process

Sick of pain and sobbing in a drunken stupor, I knew I couldn’t deny the truth

I was robbing myself of a life rich with meaning and warm hearted affairs

So I did what all good gangsters do and I called my parents, E.T. phone home

An answer, always an answer, as close as man can come, to divine love

They listened, always listened; I knew I had to get back to the desert

The place I once believed to be my problem, these people, these mountains, these

plastic possessions

Technology, pornography, dystrophy, all around me

But what I’m getting at ain’t so easily said, but seen out of your own two see’ers  instead

I got lost

The stupid story of the prodigal son haunts me like a rake does a garden gnome

And every time I was welcomed back, grace with a warm blanket of unconditional love

I am warm in my family’s arms

Fingers not so stiff and bleeding

I am charged with intense emotional uplift in the arms of my blood

Not so lethargic and glum, the fog lifts a little and I can finally breathe some

I am delighted to be born into such a solid rock of a household

Homesick and uprooted I am shaky and alone

I am blessed with a family who could never see me how I see myself

Distasteful, wasteful, hell in a bucket

The true meaning of the holidays is this

Family

I hope I’ve expressed in some way what I’m so desperately trying to say

I have the best family

From it stem the strongest roots

And I am so grateful and so floored to have made it back

If I’d had the choice to choose, I would have sold myself short

I am a man among angels

You see right through me

Thank you

 

The Bumble’s Story

Wow!  I almost have no other words to say in light of all the tragedy that we’ve seen happening during what is supposed to be a joyful season.  We have indeed, seen unthinkable and horrific events unfold before our eyes.  I am not attempting to address what has happened, nor relate these events to my story today.  I just can’t help but express the heaviness in my heart for the families involved as I begin to write today.  My prayers for those who are hurting so deeply are united with yours and the prayers of this nation.

I will repeat, I “almost” have no words to say, but I do have a few.  It’s not that what I am going to say is easy or all that joyous, but it’s important to me, so pull up an ice block for a few minutes and lend an ear.

One of my favorite Christmas specials is “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”.  I grew up watching it every year.  I remember many years ago as an 18 year old, working “adult”, (well before the days of the DVR), I had a boss that let me have a long dinner break from work so I could go home and watch the show.  Yes, it was that important to me.  Even now, many years later, Rudolph has this special place in my home every Christmas.  photo

While the story of Rudolph offers many good life lessons, today I want to focus on the Bumble’s story.  In case you aren’t familiar, the Abominable Snow MonsterBumble was the Abominable Snow Monster of the North.  Everyone knew and feared the Abominable Snow Monster.  Rudolph’s father, Donner, taught Rudolph the dangers of this monster as a very young buck.  The prospector in the story, Yukon Cornelius, was always cautiously aware of the possibility of encountering the monster in his daily search for silver and gold.

Today I’m thinking of what the Bumble represents, but not in the cute, cartoonish way he is portrayed in the Christmas special.  There is no way that I would ever begin to make light of the situations that are on my mind today.  The fear that Rudolph was taught or that Cornelius had, can’t possibly even begin to touch the reality of what I’m talking about today.   Today, I’m talking about some other monsters, the monsters of addiction and alcoholism.  You see, these monsters have robbed some of my family and friends, people I love, of portions of their life.

This morning I walked out of my bedroom to find my husband already up, eating breakfast and browsing the web.  He informed me that our youngest son had posted a picture of our family on Facebook.  The picture was from about 18 years ago.  Oh my, the things your kids do while you’re sleeping!  My son had gotten all of the family albums out and apparently found this particular picture to be entertaining and posted it.  Entertaining, it was indeed!  Once I got past being horrified by the look of my enormous hair, I was brought to tears as I scanned the sweet faces of my four children.  They were so adorable!  I had a moment, so surreal.  How fast they grow up!  The picture had been taken before life had robbed them of the fun and innocence of childhood.

In the years since that picture was taken, I’ve gathered many stories to tell about how the abominable monster has reached out to grab those I love and attempt to snatch their very lives.  The battles waged against this monster have been bloody and fierce, neither are they over.  As many of you know, this is a lifelong battle that is fought everyday by millions of you.   Today isn’t the day to go into details on the specifics of my stories.  We’ve heard enough negative this season.  Today, I think we all need to be encouraged.

You see, the Bumble story has a happy ending.  Just as those who daily fight the monster of alcohol or addiction, Yukon Cornelius had more than one encounter with the Abominable Snow Monster.  One time he used the tool that he worked with on a daily basis, his pic, to make a “do it yourself iceberg”.  He was able to escape certain harm at the hands of the bumble and float away to safety, because Bumbles sink!  There finally came a time when Yukon could no longer run and hide from what he feared and he had to face his monster head on.

Remember Herbie, the elf whose dream was to be a dentist?  Yukon and Herbie devised a plan to save Clarice and Rudolph from being Abominable Snow Monster 2eaten alive by the Abominable Snow Monster.  Herbie made pig noises, because we all know that Bumbles will gladly turn down reindeer meat for a pork dinner.  He was able to lure the Bumble out of his cave and he and Yukon courageously faced that which they feared the most.  Yukon was spastically swinging his pic as Herbie oinked and they were able to bait the Bumble away from the cave so their friends could be safe.  Unfortunately, they backed the Bumble up to a point that appeared to be certain death for Herbie, the Bumble and Cornelius, as they all fell over the edge of a deep crevice.  The lives of Rudolph and Clarice were now safe, but at the cost of their friend’s lives.

The scene shifts to Rudolph and Clarice mourning the loss of their friends.  Were they ever surprised as the doors of Santa’s castle Toothless Bumbleswung open and in walked Cornelius and Herbie, followed by the Bumble!  Cornelius proclaimed that he had reformed the monster!  And Herbie the elf had started his new practice as the North Pole Dentist, by pulling the monster’s teeth.  The Bumble no longer had the power to eat reindeer or pork!  The reformed Bumble then helps to make the tree in Santa’s castle complete, as he places the star on the top.

Why do I like the Bumble story?  Because, it’s a story redemption and hope!  The Abominable Snow Monster that everyone feared was reformed.  No one imagined that he could ever be anyone different than what he was, but it did happen!  Yes, it’s just a make believe child’s Christmas story.  I know that, but “hope” is very real.

There is another Christmas story which is the basis of my hope.  Hope was sent in the form of that little babe lying in a manger.  I think that story is much better as it’s read by Charlie Brown in another childhood Christmas special.  That baby didn’t stay little and powerless.  That baby was sent by love to bring light to a dark world.  I believe that love has the power to overcome any monster we face and certainly, the evils of addiction and alcoholism!  That perfect love chases away that which makes me fearful.  Yes, the God of limitless love is my hope.

That hope is the gift that I use as a tool in my life, this life that I’ve learned to live just one day at a time.  That powerful hope is also the weapon that I use to fight the monsters that make me fearful.  It’s the one thing that I’ve been able to hang onto in the very dark days of this journey.  When all else has been ripped from my hands, hope is still there.  No, all of the struggles are still not over, nor all the battles won.

HopeI posted this picture last week.  The word “Hope” is written free hand in pencil by someone I love.  It was written on a piece of manila folder and was sent to me from a prison cell as a Christmas card several years ago.  The person who sent it had no idea how much it meant to me.  This person is still struggling to this day.  Though it breaks my heart, I still have hope.  This one hasn’t made it to the side of victory in this battle yet.  I said, not “yet”, but I know many others who have.  There is a victory side in the days to come.  I just know it.   As I posted, last week, hope is my gift.  “I’m a mom.  I will never give up my hope!”  For that reason, I can still have a joyous heart this Christmas season.  Merry Christmas!