The first moment I would like to share came when I was nine years old. My mother, who was running marathons at the time, had a grave concern that I was going to grow up to be overweight, and thus decided to entice me to get fit with a bribe She offered to take me to New York to participate in an all-female 10K, but only if I could run the distance without stopping beforehand. The jog around Central Park was much more pleasant than the training runs, due mostly to the fact that my mom left me with some slower runners who were prone to take walking breaks. This moment in time taught me I could do anything if I tried hard enough, and that breaks make tasks much more pleasant to accomplish.
Jump ahead a handful of years to the summer when I was fourteen. While my grandfather had dairy cows, a couple of his brothers had beef cattle and Quarter Horses. I loved to ride, and would ride as often as I could convince someone to get me to a horse. I had ridden with my mom and dad, with my cousins and brothers, even with a few uncles, but never with my grandfather, at least not since I was an infant in his arms. That summer a unique thing happened, my grandfather took to the saddle one more time. With his older brother, and three grown nephews, he decided to revisit the days when he still used a horse to get the work done. The men all had saddles, bridles and young mounts. There was only one horse to be left behind, a thirty year old cattle pony which my mother had trained decades before. My mom, neglecting to ask me or the men for permission, found an old broken bridle and without much warning, hoisted me up on the beautiful, wise, saddle-less mare. I was instructed to let the horse do the work, hold on and try my best not embarrass my mom. Then off I went, chasing cows and jumping ditches right alongside my grandfather. I had never before been as humbled or proud as I was on that day; the day I learned to hold on, stay quiet and cherish the moment. Although my grandfather lived many more decades that was the last time he rode a horse, and the first time I really knew he was proud of me.
My next moment unfolded during the very first days of my sophomore year in college. Over the summer, I had worked at a camp in Alabama teaching girls how to ride. I had earned very little money at the camp, in truth only enough to cover the cost of unlimited riding lessons at college which I so desperately wanted, but which wasn’t covered by my student loans and grants. It was a hard year to work at a summer camp, record rains kept us fighting mud and humidity. Plus I had suffered a broken toe just a week into camp, causing me to limp through the remainder of the summer. To my horror, after a week back at school and back in an English, rather than a Western saddle, my knee was painfully swollen and a trip to the doctor was in order. As it turned out, all the limping from the broken toe had aggravated an old injury to the point where surgery was advised. However, surgery was not an option for me. Besides the fact that knee surgery wasn’t as nice and tidy as it is now; I didn’t have the insurance or funds to cover it. Riding was therefore replaced by physical therapy. Therapy taught me that I could overcome the obstacle of pain and find a replacement for my lost love of riding. After months of working with the school physical therapist, I became healthy enough to train for the New York Marathon.
So with a marathon completed, I moved on to my next challenge: US Marine Corps Officer Candidate School. In a mere seven weeks of the ten week program, I was left with tendonitis in all my toes, a torn muscle in my shoulder, a chipped tooth and various other minor injuries; all of which had not stopped my desire to be a Marine. But then flu-like symptoms, unexplained leg swelling and dizziness set in and I was done. I decided that leaving on my own terms rather than in a wheel chair wasn’t quitting, it was just recognizing that my body wasn’t suited for what my brain wanted to do. That summer I learned how to laugh instead of cry when I was in pain, even when the pain was from the heartache of leaving something behind.
There are so many more moments in time I could share, but I will finish with one simple moment that occurred today when I was able to exercise for fifteen minutes on my elliptical machine. Four years ago, I was advised by my doctor to take things slowly if I wanted to manage my fibromyalgia. When I asked what she meant, she replied, “Five minutes at a time.” I wasn’t even sure how a person exercised for only five minutes at a time, but I was determined to learn. I made a goal: have more energy when I turn fifty than I did when I turned forty. I have had to overcome a lot of frustration. I have had to find a place to start and then I had to start again and again. I have had to get creative and humble in my approach. First I bought a cane so I would no longer feel so helpless when the fatigue hit. Second, I bought a spinning wheel, for while I could not exercise without fatigue, and a strange feeling of guilt; I could spin yarn for hours and feel productive while doing it. Finally, I gave myself permission to find strength in my weaknesses and opportunities in my limitations.