Friday, June 4, 2010

Falling down

I’m a runner. I’m not fast, nor graceful. I am not a thing of beauty and strength on two legs. I’m a runner who sometimes falls down. I have plenty of very good excuses why I fall, but that doesn’t stop it from happening.

You would think running is easy: left foot, right foot, repeat as necessary. But thanks to a stroke, my left foot often responds to the call to go forward by saying “Who me? Sure, yeah, I’ll get right on that…” And down I go.

The beauty of falling down often is that you learn it’s not something to be afraid of. It hurts, yes. You end up bloody and bruised, but the first steps up are the hardest. After that you’re mostly just embarrassed and a little ashamed you did something so silly. I learned that falls on concrete take longer to heal than falls on dirt, so I run in the woods.

There’s a tree along my route in the woods, one I used to hate but now I love. The tree stood as a marker. My first goal was running to the tree, then past the tree, and then to the tree, past the tree, and back to the tree. The tree talked trash to me in the beginning, long taunts of “You really think you’re going to make it? You’re already panting. I’ve stood here longer than you’ve been alive little girl. I’ve seen would-be runners come and go, and you’ll go. Trust me.” I cursed that tree for standing just ten feet away from where my breath ran out, just steps from where I had nothing left but acid in my veins and two collapsed lungs.

But after weeks that turned into months, a magical thing happened: I did run to the tree, past the tree, and back to the tree. Suddenly my tree was a symbol of what I had accomplished, a sentry standing firm over the spot where I proved I could do it. After that, the tree only told me good things, and when I fell it told me to get back up and try again.

My tree often repeats a Japanese proverb to me “Fall down seven times, stand up eight.” When it thinks I need it, it quotes Batman Begins “Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.” When the winter ice makes it dangerous to visit my tree, I think about it missing me. As a writer I can be forgiven that flight of fantasy and I’ve often walked out to see that tree in snow and icy conditions when running is a very dumb idea, just to wrap my arms around it and remember how it felt to run to the tree, past the tree, and back.

Maybe you don’t fall down in the woods. Maybe it isn’t a tree that taunts you but a Big Mac. Maybe the voice inside your head belongs to someone who loved you but hurt you a little too. It doesn’t matter, falling down works the same way for everyone: it hurts but you get back up, brush yourself off, and start going again. You’ll probably limp for a few days. People will see your bruises and cringe. None of that matters. Fall down seven times, stand up eight.

In the mood to share? I’m always happy to hear about how someone picked themselves up from a spectacular fall.


Michelle Butler on June 4, 2010 at 9:22 AM said...

Wow, Rachel! What an inspirational piece. It's a great way to start my day, which happens to be my birthday, so I expecially like the ode to perseverence message.

I'm also so amazed and impressed that you are a runner as a stroke survivor. The exercises that my sister has always enjoyed the most are ones with an aspect that help her mobility - e.g. cycling or swimming. Just imagining her running blows my mind.

Anyway, you've shared a lot of inspiring images. Best wishes with your running. Are you signing up for any more races? You did a 5K for the first time recently, right?

Rachel Kleinsorge on June 4, 2010 at 1:53 PM said...

Happy Birthday, Michelle!

I promise my first runs were not pretty, but I kept getting up again, and I'm happy to say it does get easier. Not every stroke survivor has my odds, I was 29 and semi-healthy before the stroke, but it's amazing what can happen when someone is determined.

I haven't found another goal race, but I'm always looking. If you know a good 5K, tell me! :>

Michelle Butler on June 5, 2010 at 1:41 PM said...

My sister was 5, so she was very healthy. She leads a great life. She definitely still has some physical disabilities, but she has said dealing with it gets easier with time.

In terms of 5Ks, some friends have told me that the Susan G. Komen one (which was today) is very friendly. Other friends have done Turkey Trots (on Thanksgiving Day) and liked that. Actually, I've never heard any of my runner friends criticize a run so much that they would recommend not doing it.

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