Monthly Archives: September 2013
Today I chose to write a blog post out of the norm, for a cause that is now near & dear to my heart. I promise to return to my usual ranting & complaining next week 🙂
When cancer doesn’t affect your immediate world you don’t give it much awareness. You glance at commercials on TV featuring brave kids with their bald heads and for a moment feel bad, and then move on with whatever catches your attention next. “Would you like to donate a dollar to help end childhood cancer?” “No thanks” I’d respond, quickly swiping my credit card before I could be asked again. I would grab my purchase and head to the exit, semi annoyed that my transaction took two seconds longer than it should have.
And then suddenly, cancer is a part of your world. It appears, punching you in the stomach in a hospital waiting room. It makes you curl up on the floor, makes your eyes burn from crying, it makes you wonder how on earth life can be so unfair. You wake up the next morning with swollen eyes wondering if it was all a horrible dream.
Cancer became a very real part of my world this past winter when my niece was suddenly diagnosed with Medulloblastoma, a malignant brain tumor most often found in children. The last time I saw Emma prior to the C word we spent a Sunday skiing and ended the day sitting in the lodge sipping hot chocolate and chatting. As she jumped in her parent’s car I gave her a quick hug and a kiss and told her I’d see her soon. Never in a million years did I think that it would be in a bed in Children’s Hospital.
In what was a matter of days from our ski trip Emma went from a bouncy chatterbox to a zombie like body in a bed. I watched her slowly recover from a lengthy brain surgery, wishing there was a way that I could take some of the pain. I searched for signs that the Emma I knew and loved was still there among all of the tubes and bandages and hospital gowns. Until this moment I only knew cancer in adults, who were closer to death than birth. What does it do to a kid? How does it change who they are? Who they are going to be?
After recovering from her surgery Emma spent the majority of this past year in doctors offices & hospital rooms, sleeping, resting, fighting. She’s endured rounds of radiation and chemotherapy leaving her body weak and exhausted. While most kids her age are focused on learning to read and money from the tooth fairy, Emma’s life has revolved around cell counts and blood transfusions. All of it making you wonder why on earth these things happen.
The answer of course, is that no one knows why. There’s no answer as to why kids get sick and why horrible, mean people live on forever and ever perfectly healthy. That’s the shitty part- there is no reason. And while there’s no answer as to why it happens- there is an answer to what happens after. What happens is love. What happens is strength. Your family bond becomes tighter, stronger… a shield against evil. You learn to make hugs last harder and longer, to give more kisses, to say “I Love You” like a broken record. You learn the kindness of friends, and even complete strangers. You learn that suddenly you start to see good in places you never thought to look before. And you learn to find positives in the littlest things. Like days when it’s perfectly acceptable to sit and eat french fries covered in cheese sauce. Or when all the other kids are running around a playground, and you’re just sitting on a blanket together, talking. I guarantee you haven’t had a deep life conversation like the one’s I’ve had with this kid. These are the moments that matter. These are the moments that remind me that the Emma I know and love is still there, even among all the chaos and pain in her body.
This spring we got some absolutely wonderful news- Emma’s scans came back “NED”, no evidence of disease. The three most wonderful words you could ever hear. We heard them again at the end of the summer. And while Emma is nearing the end of her treatments, there is no crystal ball into the future. So we channel our most positive thoughts, we pray, and we enjoy every single day.
September (as it is now ending) is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. And with that, I’ve been asked to donate to childhood cancer several times this month. Now I stop what I’m doing and say “Absolutely”. And I tell the story of Emma, because I am the proudest aunt there ever was. Childhood Cancer awareness doesn’t just get a month of my life. I will think about it every single day for the rest of my life.
I chose to write this post today instead of one about myself for a reason. There isn’t a stronger person that I know. There isn’t anyone I respect more, look up to more, admire more. Whenever something seems hard or challenging to me, I think about all that Emma has endured in the last year. She is strong and brave and wiser than any kid I know. She is without a doubt, my little rockstar.
I try to keep my thoughts on body image out of my posts as much as possible. It’s an uncomfortable subject and it’s bad enough that I’m sharing my life weekly with complete strangers- let alone how I feel on a topic as awkward and personal as this one. As much as we all want to stand on our soapbox and demand that we love our bodies for what they look like, the truth is that I’m sure most of us go right home and instead stand in front of the mirror and criticize. Who doesn’t constantly play out that scene from Mean Girls in their bedroom?
Anyway, it’s been on my mind a lot lately. Maybe it’s because I’ve been immersing myself in so many fitness blogs and running magazines. I feel like all I see are images of women wearing a sports bra and gym shorts, with their hair pulled back in a sleek ponytail showing off their flat stomach and thin legs. I’d give anything to look like them when I’m working out. Too bad I look anything but.
It also may be front of mind due to a recent trip to try on a certain white dress for a certain upcoming major life event. On the ride there my mom and I joked about how the dress would be falling off since I had been measured for it last spring. I envisioned it sliding over me, hugging me in all the right places, and all my hard work for the past year and a half showing for itself in the floor length mirror. As the consultant began to dress me I closed my eyes, lifted my arms over my head, and waited to feel perfection. What I felt was… tugging. I opened my eyes to see the dress stuck around the middle of my body. I turned red with embarrassment. For a girl who weighs herself daily, I was in shock. “I haven’t gained weight. I know I haven’t gained weight. There’s NO WAY I’ve gained weight” I said as she tugged and pulled. The consultant agreed to take my measurements again, perhaps the dress had been ordered wrong. I nervously paced around the room waiting for the comparison. She came back to confirm that yes I had been measured correctly the first time and… have I been running by any chance? Turns out all this training, running, triathlon-ing, and general badass-ing I’ve been doing has created some serious muscle in my dear old thunder thighs. I wanted to scream. I was mortified that this was happening. I felt cheated. I’ve been doing the “right” thing all this time-how could it be affecting me in the total wrong way?
As we waited for a seamstress to come in to assess the situation I began to draft a text in my head to my trainer telling her to stop my half marathon training plan. I imagined a summer next year without swimming, biking, or running. I tried to think of how I could keep the weight off without building any additional muscle. I cursed every squat I’ve ever done.
The first words out of the seamstress’s mouth when she walked in the room were “ I can spot the body of a runner right away!” And suddenly the defeat and embarrassment I felt began to melt away. Suddenly I felt a little bit of pride. I’ve waited for so long to hear those words. I sweated through 60 miserable pounds of fat to hear those words. I have worked SO damn hard to hear those words. I’ve earned every muscle and curve on my body, even if they come with some imperfections.
It’s so easy to get caught up on what the ideal body is supposed to look like, to confuse the difference between “healthy” and “skinny”. It’s also pretty easy to assume that once someone loses weight that person should automatically be eliminated from playing the “I hate my legs/thighs/arms/stomach” game. But the truth is that as hard as it is to lose the weight, it’s just as hard to fully accept the “un-perfect-perfect” body. I still look at my friends who wear cute little running shorts with envy. I still people watch and think “That girl is so perfect and I bet she doesn’t work half as hard as I do”. But you know what? I bet that same girl looks at someone else and thinks the same thing.
And while it’s disappointing that my legs will never be mistaken for hot dogs, I’d rather that than have rolls on my body in pictures. I’ve worked incredibly hard for these legs and for what I put them through on a daily basis- I guess they’re not so bad after all. I’m still learning to accept my body more for what it does than how it appears to me in a mirror. I’m so incredibly lucky to have the supports that I do to help me see that being strong and healthy doesn’t have a specific shape, and it doesn’t mean you have to fit into a certain pant size. They constantly remind me of the more important ways to measure these things.
In case you’re wondering how the rest of that day turned out- the seamstress’s exact words to me were “Don’t ever stop running” (As luck would have it she is also a runner and knew where I was coming from). So the good news is that half marathon training can continue. And we’re going to start my alterations early. Let’s cross out fingers that my dress and those damn thunder thighs find a way to coexist peacefully. 🙂
After a crazy whirlwind summer of triathlons, almost weekly road races, and actually finishing the infamous “longest-distance-I’ve-ever-run” Falmouth I was starting to feel a burn out coming on. I figured it was in my best interest to slow down for the fall. Maybe work on my 5K speed, run a few fun races with my buddies… nothing like the last few months of training I just finished. As anyone who knows me well enough can guess, it only took about a week before that idea went completely out the window. Like I’ve said before, I don’t do “take it easy” very well.
Can you believe it? This former fat ass,
half ass bad ass IS GOING TO RUN A HALF MARATHON! (fingers crossed). You may be saying to yourself “So let me get this straight- I just got done listening to you bitch and complain about how tired you were from training all summer and now you’re going to start training for a half marathon? I give up”. If you are having these thoughts while reading this- I hear you. And I won’t be offended if you stop reading 😉
When I sit back and think about everything I’ve accomplished so far, it’s because I had goals set for me. I need numbers, I need time lines, I need ways to see that I am making progress. Goals are what keep me going. They keep me in check. I fear that having time without any specific goals would lead to backsliding and let’s face it – I’ve come too far for that. A very wise man I know likes to remind me of the importance of having objectives and achieving them. Well my friends, meet my new objective.
It’s kind of ridiculous considering that less than a month ago I wasn’t sure I could ever handle 13.1 miles. Falmouth was so hard for me that after I finished I was convinced that I’m just not cut out for long distance running. But even then- there was something still so elusive about a half. So challenging, yet so rewarding. So bad ass. So cool to say. Finishing a half marathon? That’s like, what a real runner does. And we all know how desperately I want to feel like one.
The big day is just two months away- which is kind of nerve wracking when I think about how soon that is. I started my official “half marathon training” on my birthday. Clearly what better way is there to kick off the first day of being 29 than with the first day of a new goal?
So far my long runs haven’t been any further than what I’m used to, but they’re getting dangerously close to exceeding anything I’ve done before. I’m trying to make myself take it mile by mile instead of overwhelming myself with the looming fear of “how will I keep running for THIRTEEN… FREAKING… MILES?“
So while my schedule for the summer was a mix of biking, swimming and running, my fall will pretty much be well, a whole lot of running. Objective: 13.1 miles. It’s going to be hard, it’s going to be a lot of work, and probably painful. It’s going to be the biggest mental game I’ve encountered yet. And to all of that I say… challenge accepted.
I’ve been trying to figure out how to describe what finishing your second triathlon is like and although I am not a parent, to me it seems like what it must feel like having a second child. (My apologies if I’m completely off, I only babysit and have a bunch of nieces and nephews). Regardless; the second time around for either of these things you think you’re a little more prepared. The fear of the unknown is less daunting. You find there’s less preparation to do and for the most part, you have the gear and supplies necessary. So what happens when all that logic goes right out the window?
It probably doesn’t help that the triathlon landed in the middle of a long weekend spent at a beautiful lake house in New Hampshire. When the most important part of your day is a boat ride across the lake for ice cream, swimming, biking and running kind of get pushed to the back of the brain (Ice cream will always take precedent for this Bad Ass).
In fact, I pretty much had forgotten I was doing a triathlon until packet pickup the afternoon before. After grabbing our bibs & timing chips (and some awesome matching neon running hats!) we did a drive through of the bike course and HOLY HILLS. I had been warned that it was a hilly ride, and I had made it through Iron Girl …but this looked terrifying. I told myself “Been there. Done this. You’ll be fine”. And before the fear could take over, I turned my attention back to having fun.
The nerves didn’t really kick in until about 4:30 am when I found myself lying in the dark with my eyes wide open, trying to will myself back to sleep before the alarm went off. We packed up our gear and headed to the lake and I reminded myself over and over again “You’ve already done this, you know what to expect.” Unfortunately telling myself that did nothing for the English Muffin with peanut butter that was sitting on my lap, getting colder and colder.
We set up our transition area, I had my hair braided (now an official routine), and we made our way down the rocky path to the water for the start. And then the bomb dropped- they announced that the waves would be in increments of 25. Which would have been fine except for the fact that my trusty sidekick was #50… and I was #51. You’ve never felt a longer minute than the one I spent standing waist deep in water with complete strangers. Once I was in it took no more than 6 strokes before I was coughing up lake water. It was choppier than it had been my first time around, and the addition of men (obviously Iron Girl was just ladies) made it even worse. In a moment of panic I almost started to look for a rescue kayak, but was able to get it together and keep swimming. It wasn’t my best performance but I finally made it out of the water and booked it up to transition.
Unfortunately my less than stellar swim had used up a lot of energy (My swim instructor would be so disappointed in me!), so I was already tired heading out on the bike. And the hills were just as relentless as they had looked from the car. I felt like I could never catch my breath- even on a downhill I knew that meant there was another climb ahead. It was the little things that got me through that terrible bike ride: seeing my buddy patiently waiting for me on the side of the road, our cheering squad with big smiles and words of encouragement… even the bikers who yelled “Nice Work- you got this!” as they passed me. When I finally saw the dismount sign ahead I breathed a sign of relief, even though I had no idea where I would now find the energy to run.
And as I expected, it was incredibly hard for me to find that willpower. I was tired, so very tired, more tired than I had been at the END of Iron Girl (how is that even possible?). The run was just 2.7 miles, but in that moment it felt like a full marathon. I was exhausted and just ready for the whole thing to be over. It took some encouragement, a few jokes, and even a few guilty looks thrown my way when I wanted to quit- but I pushed myself across the finish line and became a triathlete for the second time this summer.
While my finish didn’t leave me feeling as speechless and emotional as Iron Girl did, I’m okay with that. I wouldn’t want anything to take away from how special that day was for me. It doesn’t mean however, that I am any less proud this time around. Before this year I barely ran, let alone swam or rode a bike. In just a short amount of time I learned how to do all three together, and then did it not once- but twice in one summer. As incredible as road races are- triathlons are just a whole other world. No matter how I felt during each individual event, there’s something in knowing that you just completed three sports back to back that makes you feel so incredibly bad ass. That’s why as much as I claimed during Mile 6 of the bike that this would be my last triathlon- after a shower and some food I was ready to start planning for next summer. We triathletes are a strange breed, aren’t we? 🙂