A bit of a gross understatement along the lines of sometimes people do not agree on Facebook. For a long time, I was embarrassed by the deep extent of my emotional, nostalgic, downright cheesy streak. I have an excellent memory for important events in my life; one of my high school boyfriends and I still argue about which day who said what to who and which song was playing on the radio when it happened back in 1996. Every important event in my life has music linked to it, emotionally, embarrassingly so. I can clearly recall the Indigo Girls song that was playing the first time I kissed my now-husband, the Nico & Vinz that played on repeat while training for my first crack at IM Boulder, the Diana Krall that never fails to rip my heart wide open, the Journey song that made my ears ring in the bar down the shore where I first met one of my oldest friends, the Lionel Richie I played on repeat for months after my first silly teenage broken heart, the Lifehouse that got me through my divorce (I warned you, embarrassing), the Barenaked Ladies song that, twenty years later, still instantly transports me back to Blue Bell, windows down, off-key at the top of our lungs trying to cram all the words out. I remember things, I have a soft spot in my heart for friendship, for old loves, for whatever kind of family you build around you, I believe that the universe is not an accident. I know that plenty may claim that the whole idea of a universe and a bigger purpose is a tidy bunch of crap but that is not what I, personally, feel to be true.
I crashed my bike, that's where it began. I spent a couple of days in bed with prescription narcotics, wincing every time I breathed or itched or rolled or sneezed, not sleeping, laying in the dark, staring at the ceiling, thinking. When a doctor tells you to minimize time in front of tiny screens, it sure does open up a whole lot of time in life these days. (And all you brats get off my lawn!) What I was left with felt like another kind of rock bottom. I was done. Ready to throw up my hands, to open wide to the sky, beg, please, reveal the lesson already!
So I left. I felt taunted by the routines of my life (Monday swim lift Tuesday bike run Wednesday swim run...). I woke up two days after the crash, packed a bag and three hours later I was boarding a plane (Southwest points excellent for spontaneity). Eight hours after that I landed with a friend who lives near the beach. He didn’t ask any difficult questions but instead gave me a set of keys and pointed me in the direction of the sea. I slept a lot, I kept to myself, and in some quiet way, I figured out how to grieve so many things that have been lost, finally, to let go and leave it behind, there.
Another handful of days and airports and continents and oceans later, I ended up in Maui with a different friend, one who has been going through the same kind of rough patch over the last little while. The best kind of friend, the one that you can call and say, life is fucking terrible, and two hours later you get off the phone with a week of vacation booked in Hawaii. Off we went. I didn’t think about training for even one second. We cooked, we ate well, we slept, we explored, we soaked up the sun. I let my mind and body be still. I paused, I sat back. And I swam in the ocean every day. Not for fitness, not for exercise, not for a reason other than
I healed. A day or two in, we were exploring the north end of the island, taking ridiculous pictures on a cliff into the blasting wind and Julie said to me, in this picture you look like you are laughing harder than you have laughed in a long time. That’s what it felt like, the whole trip, like I finally remembered how to smile, to laugh, to be. There is something inside of me that has been twisting for months now and I didn’t even notice until it paused, struggled, and set itself free; the shocking emptiness, a diseased, dead tooth popped neatly from its socket.
I managed to catch a cold on the plane ride home and spent the next few days holed up in bed, still healing. Waiting patiently for my body to say: I am ready. What I’m learning, what I’ve lived is that life is a series of setbacks and comebacks, the critics have that right at least. I realized at some point that this entire setback has felt like failure. That is what I have been carrying around for the last six months. I am injured, I have failed. Worse, I am a failure. I have let people down, I have let myself down. But I can finally, tentatively, say to myself. Hey. It doesn’t have to be like that. This is not the real story here.
You don’t get to choose. Even though, I know, all the inspirational crap says otherwise. Everything that says that you are in charge of the future, you can design your life, you get to absolutely pick who you want to be and where your path will take you, it’s fucking bullshit. Because someone dies. Someone leaves. You crash your bike, you miss your flight, you break your ribs, you lose, over and over and over. Your story builds itself around you, despite best-laid plans. And you have two choices. To fight it, to rip into resistance. Or to accept the vulnerability of life and then, do what? I don’t know. I haven’t figured that part out just yet. But I know that there is a choice there. And I am making it.
Last week, I went and saw a physical therapist, slightly despondent that after two plus weeks of no training or exercise or even walking a little bit briskly, I was still in pain. Only a little bit frustrated that all the arm-chair quarterbacks who insisted that I was overtrained were wrong, because if eighteen days of rest doesn’t fix my body, what will? (I’m aware of how illogical this sounds).
We talked. And something she said steadied me. She told me to stop. Stop the massage, stop the core work, stop foam rolling, stop using the mobility ball the stick the lacrosse ball the belt sander, stop self-adjusting three times a day, stop doing 25 clamshells before bed every night, just stop. Step back. Let healing happen unassisted. Let the body do. I squirmed a little in my chair, unhappy and disbelieving, because if I want to heal I need to WORK at it, right? I need to be doing everything I can to fix the spiral of injury, seeing every doctor, doing work every day, strengthening massaging mobilizing activating, work. That's what I've been doing all spring, and as I said it, I could hear how it has exhausted, strained me. And she said, no. That the body needs a certain amount of tightness to work properly. That MY body is clearly trying to find this stability and every time I massage a muscle and loosen it up, it’s going to clamp back down twice as hard. And I am confident that I do not need to deconstruct this metaphor but it was a hammer to the head, cartoon-style, the lightbulb went on. My body is telling me, it is not time yet. I am not ready. So my wandering adventure continues.
I am a sentimental person. And it does not escape my notice or commentary that I am writing this blog post as I fly to Spokane to support my athletes racing this weekend, that I will roll in town pretty close to the exact minute that I crossed the finish line there for the first time, four years ago tonight. Ironman isn't for everyone. Right now, it may not be for me, and that has finally become okay. I think it will come back around. I think it may come back to me, if I let it go. The universe chimes. I believe in it. And I have to believe in a universe that wants me to find my way.
This weekend, I will swim in the lake. Maybe I'll ride, I might even run a few minutes on the roads of Coeur d’Alene. I’ll try and connect with all the reasons why this sport is where my heart beats, this incredible deck of indescribable emotion that we, as athletes, constantly try and fail to put into words. I'll continue this adventure I started when I went down into the road almost three weeks ago, the one that has already gone further to heal me than any amount of therapy, physical or otherwise. I’ll stay quiet, I will make peace with a body that I have fought so hard these last few months, and I will hope. Because even after all of this, I still have this. Hope.