The Story of My Body series is currently published on Mondays and Fridays here at Contentedly Crunchy. Would you like to participate in this series? Email me your words and pictures!
I am your average athlete. I’ve never won a half Ironman or finished first in my age group in a full Ironman. I don’t have a tattoo plastered on my calf displaying my triumphs as a badass triathlete. I’m not a pro, setting records, racing the marathon in little over three hours. My wattages on the bike don’t double my weight. I can’t even do a pull-up. My noodle-y arms struggle to pump up my bike on good days. I haven’t master the technique of holding my tongue quite right while heaving my entire body down on the pump as I hold the valve. I’m rather ungraceful.
So what would possibly compel a person, like myself, to suffer through this insane endeavor of an Ironman distance of 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile swim? My decision to make that trek began three-and-a-half years ago.
I contracted meningitis in the summer of 2008. My son lovingly refers to that as “the time Mommy almost died.” Not really, but what did he know at age 6? My life changed that day as I lay writhing in pain, infection ravaging my brain and spinal cord. Little did I know the damage being done by this pesky infection. The storm brewing inside my brain unleashed in all its fury many months later, revealed an opponent beyond my ability to master or beat. I was broken.
Searching for answers and meeting with specialists filled my waking hours. Plagued by this never-ending hammering migraine of pain. Classified as “post-meningitis migraines,” a clinical anti-septic term by the medical community. Debilitating, daily migraines that don’t respond to medical treatments for 40% of patients who contract meningitis. Ringing in my ears are the words “there is no cure, you can live with this for the next 10 years of your life.” No cure. Typical medications are ineffective. Offerings of narcotic medications come plenty, but I had no intentions of being a drug addict.
I am falling. Darkness. I can’t breathe. This can’t be possible. No one can live this way. I’m in hell. My dreams fill with sledge hammers, ice picks jamming into my brain, my head shoved into a vice grip slowly being tightened. I wake up to this pain, reminded of those words ringing in my ears, “there is no cure.” Betrayed and forgotten, I am lost. I search for others only to find them: lost souls. Shells of individuals that once lived vibrant lives now disabled, debilitated, unemployed, divorced, depressed: alone.
What am I to do? Everyday I wake up in pain squeezing my every breath. Suffering. I refuse to ask the question why, it serves no purpose other than self-pity. Passively waiting for my brain to heal itself, which may take 10 years. No thanks. I lie in bed listening to the laughter of my children below. I can’t passively wait. I don’t sit on the sidelines of my life watching everything flash by. Urgency surges through my every fiber of being. Do something.
Exhausted from being a patient. Suffering showed me my soul. I witnessed the abyss. Suffering calls seductively to me, “ give up, quit, let go.” Pain has a way of causing a person to re-examine, doubt, and question everything. I will not quit. The black darkness of abyss has got nothing on me. I feel steel forming in my spine; will in my heart. I have boys to raise, a life to live. I will mend my brokenness. How?
I decided to do an Ironman. We all have reasons. Mine was to mend my brokenness and overcome. An impossible goal, I realize, as I found it difficult to walk around the block. I transformed when I swam, biked, and ran. Training made me feel alive again. Fleeting moments when I forgot that I was a patient. My eyes bright, my body alive and strong. I feel God’s presence surround me out in nature. Feeling invincible as I ran, able to overcome this disease, no longer a lab rat being poked and prodded. My suffering now had a purpose, training gave me a goal. Channeling my pain into training unleashed a direction. I suffered daily with this pain, quietly alone. Ironman provided an outlet to mend my brokenness.
Movement. 5AM wake up calls became my norm. I relished them, feeling empowered by the focus. Dark days of training were faced numerous times. My body objected to the regime, vomiting, dizzy, unable to function. There were many days that I was physically unable to perform the task. Dark days made me all the more thankful and joyful for the days I was able to move. Smiling and welcoming a run or bike.
Ironman mirrored my journey: a rather impossible dream. It was unlikely that I would make it to the starting line, let alone the finish. My body would quite possibly not endure the training. Reaching the start line would mean I might overcome this chronic illness; mend my brokenness. No longer sitting and suffering, but accomplishing a goal beyond being sick. It gave me a reason to continue fighting. To get up every morning, not succumbing to the pain. Heroic feat just to train for an Ironman, let alone finish. My boys became my inspiration, their smiling faces and bright brown eyes. Something forcing me out of the abyss of pain and into life. The start line might possibly be the beginning in my healing.
On August 31, I had the honor to race the Louisville Ironman with my amazing family and friends watching. I promised should I make it to the start line, I would finish. A little over thirteen hours later I crossed the finish line as an Ironman. I am forever grateful to my family, training partners, and Husband. I am forever grateful.