Saturday, July 5, 2014
You never know when you will be inspired--or by whom.
This morning, I went to the local running store to pick up my race packet for tomorrow's 10K. While I was there, I ran into the owner of the store. I asked him how he was feeling and if he was back running. He shook his head.
About 5 months ago, this avid runner and supporter of the local running community was closing up shop for the night when he collapsed. He was rushed to the emergency room and was found to have an aortic dissection. An aortic dissection is when there is a tear in the aorta, one of the large arteries that carries blood from the heart to the body. There are many causes for aortic dissection, including genetic factors. I asked the owner if it was genetic and he said that yes, his father died from a massive heart attack, and his nephew, age 27, died suddenly last year of heart related causes. He never had himself tested, because, as he put it, he felt a sense of invincibility because he was a runner, because he had completed all types of challenges, and most recently was training for an adventure race in Belize. He had done some training with the Navy Seals and was pretty much able to keep up with them, and so he felt like he had nothing to worry about. Interestingly, the race was scheduled for 5 days after he became ill. He was ready to roll, training was complete. What if this had happened while he was in Belize, in the mountains, on the course? Certainly it would have been a very different outcome.
Luckily for him, the local paramedics got him stabilized and to the emergency room, where he was treated and later cared for in the ICU. Many cases of aortic dissection progress so fast that treatment is futile. And that's what hit me when I was talking with the owner-- he said to me that he is lucky to be alive. Truly! Yet when I was talking with him, I didn't get the sense that he felt completely lucky. I missed that spark in his voice. He just seemed kind of flat, and even admitted to me that he's just lost his mojo. I asked him if it helps, being around runners in the store and at races, and he said it does, a lot.
I haven't been able to stop thinking about our conversation since I left the store. All the what ifs in my head. All the stupid aches and pains and minor injuries that we, as runners, complain about. What if you suffered a health problem so severe that you could NEVER run again? And for this guy, what about the irony of owning a business that caters to runners and being told you can never run again? A community of people that you belong to, all participating in an activity that you have done for your entire life, that you love, that you can never do again? And yes, he's alive but what a sacrifice he's had to make, giving up an activity that we all know gives us so much joy, so many rewards, not to mention health and fitness. And now, a new found fear of mortality.
And that's the other thing. We as runners all push our limits. We push each other to push limits. So how much is too much? When you read stories about runners who drop dead at the finish line, does it make you pause and think about your own mortality? Do you think about your own health? Or do you think that would never happen to you? I have to admit that I think that! I'm a woman, I'm fit, I eat right, and I've been running most of my life. I have been told that I'm at very low risk for cardiac disease. And I push my limits because it does make me feel invincible. When I get hurt, it reminds me that I'm human and that I need to reevaluate my goals, reevaluate what it is I'm doing here.
Because yes, at this point in my life, I run because I can. But I also run because I want to push my limits. To prove that I'm not old. That I can still do this stuff. But today's conversation was a reminder that I also need to take care of myself. And be grateful that I can run.
You know, everything in moderation. It is my mantra.
As for the owner of the running store, my heart is broken for him. I don't care what a brave face he puts on, he's hurting inside, and it shows. I hope with time, he'll be able to accept what fate has handed him. I can only imagine how hard that must be.