We’re heading out of town tomorrow for a week long vacation that includes two races. After that, I turn my focus to one goal: Ironman Mon-Tremblant 2014. There will be other landmarks along the way, but all will be part of the one year build up to this penultimate goal. (Yes I used that word properly. A race should never be the ultimate goal.)
I gain inspiration from many sources, most of which are well-known names, or at least, well-known among endurance sports enthusiasts. This week a name made the news that could not be ignored, no matter your hobbies: Diana Nyad. I watched her coming ashore on CNN (well, as close as they could get) and I was, like many, moved.
But I want to talk about another inspiration that more of us can relate to. The Nyad’s of the world are an extremely small and seemingly superhuman group. I think it’s telling of our American culture that we are increasinly finding no middle-class in health. We’re heading to the polarized world of either sick and overweight, or marathoner/crossfit champ.
Real health, real long term health, does not need to be found in endurance sports. They are simply a tangible way to set goals and reach for them, arbitrary as they may be.
Real health, real goals that ought to inspire us more, come from much simpler places. They rarely come with crowd fanfare, finishers medals, or television cameras.
That is why I want to tell you about another woman of advanced age who inspires me this week. A member of my congregation turned 85 while in a nursing home this summer. She was not in a nursing home last year. It’s not unusual for an 85 year old woman to be in a nursing home. This woman, however, was there due to unforeseen circumstances. As of May this year, she was in great health, and active. She drove every day. without incident. That was until a much younger uninsured driver with a suspended license caused a head-on collision that left each of them with two crushed legs, and the older victim with several cracked ribs and a broken collarbone.
Our heroine spent a good amount of time in the ICU, underwent a number of surgeries, and was admitted to a nursing home for rehabilitation, in two casts with pins in one ankle.
Do you know many 85 year old people who would fare well in a situation like this?
Over the summer, she went to therapy every day. She tracked her expected progress and intended to meet every expectation. In August, her pins came out, the casts came off and she began walking. Next week, she returns to her own home.
She inspires me because I see the opposite situation play out all the time. Many of her peers are incapacitated, and got there slowly. They suffer diseases of civilization, chronic, debilitating diseases. Some fight it. But many others just take it as expected. This is what aging looks like, they believe.
But not she. And I am not talking about a superhuman statistical outlier like Lew Hollander or Sister Madonna Buder. I’m talking about an average person who simply has the mind to say “I’ll get better.”
Soon after the accident happened, I was able to report to the church community that every one of her injuries could heal. And they have. But without her determination and expectations, she could easily still be laying in bed all day, lamenting what happened, but getting no closer to walking.
Her example is more common that a Diana Nyad, but unfortunately in my own experience, (and I’ve visited hospitals and nursing homes for 15 years) it is still a less common story. More common is resignation and living in the past.
All of my setbacks are self-imposed. Whenever I want to whine to myself, a good mental kick is to remind my fragile ego of the people I know, not just ones I’ve seen on television, or whose biographies I’ve read, the ones I know personally who take on the challenges of life with the expectation to do well, to heal, to walk again. I’m not saying everyone in a nursing home has given up and could be superhuman if they just believed in themselves. No, the reality of chronic disease is indeed too powerful. But even then I have seen the stark difference between living with hope for the next day, and well, barely living at all.
That’s who inspires me right now. Who inspires you?