So, you’re lounging around feeling sorry for yourself. If you hadn’t done that last workout, maybe even cut back the intensity, just a little, you think to yourself, maybe, just maybe, you wouldn’t be in your room organizing your sock drawer.
Remember when you were a kid and you got sick. You’d look out the window to see your friends all playing in the next yard, looking like they were having the time of their lives. Meanwhile, you stared at them wearing your pajamas and eating the green Jell-o your mom was feeding you.
Twenty years later, there you are, looking forlornly at your goggles, bike, and/or running shoes. You notice they’ve gathered dust because you think it’s been that long since you worked out. All your buds are at the lake doing intervals, having the time of their lives, …you think.
Injury can be a black hole. At first, after the initial injury, you welcome all the extra time to fill. All those errands and projects you put off because you had\ no time, now you can do. Yes! There’s also the chance to sleep in, read that bed stand book, or watch TV. However, that lasts only a few days, if that long, for the truly active. Then the clouds begin to form, growing darker by the day. Moodiness can also settle into the previously happy athlete. Energy is growing inside with no place to go. “Someone help me! I’m drowning!”
Injury can be…The Swamp Dog.
Daylight has left all of darkness. A gurgle, and then a breath. Up from the depths, swamps of human toil and emotional waste, the swamp dog emerges, teeth bared, tongue wet with drool, searching for life and substance.
Back hunched, his eyes hungry, and heart calloused, the first steps are slow and cautious. Along naked streets, and sun baked buildings, the swamp dog searches out easy prey, thinning the herd, the unaware, the inexperienced, the slow, or the aged. Theirs, will be his.
The fog, thick as cloth, wraps around anything that moves. Breath steams from the swamp dog’s nostrils. Wisps of hairs on his mucus covered snout sniff the air looking for more meat to sink his teeth into. A tendon maybe, an Achilles, or hamstring. Maybe a groin, or tasty foot bone to crunch on. So sensitive is his smell in deciding which human to devour next, he can smell the individual trees of a forest, and the individual in a crowd. His eyes bead at the next victim, training in an oblivious state of endorphin heaven, and he pounces.
The runner grimaces, the cyclist cries out, and the swimmer feels the tearing of his flesh from bone, and is halted immediately. Each quickly reach to soothe the affected area, but it’s too late. The Swamp Dog has attacked and taken his due pound of flesh with him.
Bleak and destitute, tough and mean, the slime still dripping off his mangy coat, the past did not forgive him; so the future condemned him. The swamp dog is ruled by greed, lust, and hatred, trying to undo what can’t be undone. A debt hasn’t been paid. But he wants payment. Now, the weak owe him. Alone in his anger and hunger, he still wants revenge. He prowls on. …The Swamp Dog!
As someone who swims, bikes, and runs, with weights only being supplemental to my program, I can usually find another activity on which to focus. Pool running is a distant second simply because of the pure boredom of a black line and water to stare at. They are your only two distractions for this “sport.”
BUT, as is the case presently, if I’m not able to participate in my primary sport (running outside), pool running, swimming, or biking work only temporarily. They are bandages on the wound of not being able to meet up with the 6 o’clock group at White Rock Lake for a loop, not being able to banter about nonsense, feeling somehow connected to others and to my universe.
My injury involves a strained Achilles. Both of them. (Yeah, try that some time if you’re feeling particularly talented.) “Old man disease.” Though DAM (Dallas Aquatic Master’s) is excellent in terms of fitness and fun, it still isn’t running. Liana McStravick, the morning DAM coach at Baylor Tom Landry, is quite good at encouraging the injured, shy, or fearful. Though she doesn’t want to see me injured from running, she knows she’ll see more of me when I am. When she sees me limp along the pool deck after missing the previous two months, she grins. She welcomes me home like the prodigal son.
My biking buddies aren’t nearly as consistent. They are more diverse in ride location, and training. As a result, I can go almost an entire season before someone realizes I’m not around.
My running friends will stop asking about me, because they will be the first to know about the injury and how long it will be before I return. And I will feel even more isolated.
My wife, Janalou, will be counting the days until I can start back again, to get my adrenaline fix, because I drive her a little crazy. I will go through a period of feeling fat, gloomy, and lazy while hobbling around the house and coaching work outs, looking like just the picture of optimism and potential.
And after what seemed a life time, you’re given the go ahead to start back moving around again. The kid in you wants to burst out the door and jump in the yard, taking deep, full breaths of fresh air, before finding out who’s got the ball and where everyone’s meeting. Grab the goggles, honey! Straddle my bike, and strap on my running shoes, I’m tearing down the street to the nearest workout. I’m ready to go! “How far you going?” I’ll join you! “What pace you doing?” I’ll match it! You’re out of breath like a two-pack-a-day smoker, but you’re hanging in with your buds once again.
But before all that happens, I think I’ll have some Jello to help my Achilles. Welcome home! Glad you’re back!
You step to the line to race bringing with you your baggage of early morning runs, a false sense of courage that only a $20 entry fee can buy, and fate, an idea that you have as much right to win, or to at least do as well as anyone else. We prepare our life for a few moments, endlessly, and in detail.
But, what gives you this right? The things mentioned above? Hogwash! You have no right, no pre-destination to follow. You don’t even have the right to call yourself a runner, biker, or swimmer. Those people who do, are gods among men, were chosen in the womb, and now command attention after paying years of dues, punishing workouts, and gallons of sweat.
Just who do you think you are? Politicians, judges, celebrities, and sport legends can line up right next to you. Why do you think you should have even a breath of oxygen in such company, let alone the opportunity to exercise, or play under glorious blue skies to a finish line with people cheering your very existence?
Why? Because you can. Because you have been so designed, completed to be able to, and you stubbornly won’t accept anything less than at least trying. Because the stars and super stars are no different than you, except they get paid more. That’s all. Simple.
Can you feel the wind blowing in your soul? Do you know you’re growing old? Yes. It seems harder when a cold wind is blowing and the sky is dark and rainy; when gloom is the only friend you have while training; when the bad days far outnumber the good days. I’m grateful to have left on a gloriously hopeful April afternoon.
Whose duty is it to push back the clouds of doubt and the rains of criticism, but I? Who else could do the job better, but I? Who else but I could take the weather’s harshest attacks? I’ve signed on for this day and I will not quit until it is done, until the sun sets, dark covers me, and the moon rises. I will not quit, because I am not a quitter. Call me what you will, hurt me, and strike me down if necessary, but I will carry on. On, onwards, forever forwards. I may die tomorrow, but not this day, not now.
Miracles do exist. Watch DAM’s (Dallas Aquatic Masters) Liana McStravick teach a landlubber how to swim in 30 minutes or less. Watch someone take their first run around White Rock Lake. Or talk to a person after they did their first long bike ride. Miracles do exist.
Time to stretch. The road calls your limbs. The morning air is sweet, and sweat waits beneath your brow. Come, celebrate your fitness, your being alive, your chance to breathe and move, to think, thank, and consider the day before you.
Let not this day pass without opportunity to do well. The sun will roar its arrival to mark a day of deeds. Let it begin with us taking the first step toward excelling, raising the standard for all who will, no doubt, follow. Let us carry the torch that was begun in man’s infancy. Let us run!