Truly Alive, Fully Awake.

From the summit!

July 5, 2013 by Bobbi Kahler | 0 comments

Celebrating the journey!

Celebrating the journey

On July 3rd, I decided that Independence Day would be a great day to attempt reaching the summit of Vail Pass.  As we started out on the 4th, I was a bit nervous, but I told myself that regardless of what happened, I was on my bike and that was a great deal better than being in bed.  When I got within about 3 miles of the summit, the hardest thing wasn’t the cycling; it was controlling my emotions (joy and gratitude).  I didn’t think that I could cry and cycle at the same time!  It was an amazing ride.  All these years, I’ve remembered those words from one of the doctors, “You have to accept that you probably can’t be an athlete again.”  When he spoke them, he meant them in kindness.  But, I am an athlete again.

When I reached the summit, Rick was there taking pictures.   It was so awesome to share it with him.  He’s been there every step of the way.  He was talking to another gentleman who was in his 70s.  He had obviously been biking for many years and he was one of the cyclists who blew by me!  Rick had told him the brief version of our story.  He offered his congratulations and we all talked for a few minutes.  As he prepared to ride back down, he said to me, “I hope this is just the first of many trips to the summit for you.”  So do I.  He offered a great vision for both Rick and me of living a life of health and fitness.  My sincere hope is that we will be out there biking and doing the things we love for our entire lives.

 

20 feet to go!!

20 feet to go!!

About a mile and a half to go!

About a mile and a half to go!

Soaking it in.

Soaking it in.

With my best supporter!  Rick, my husband.

With my best supporter! Rick, my husband.

July 1, 2013
by Bobbi Kahler
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Silencing my ego

In cycling, when I’m climbing, I am slow.   I persistently keep the pedals moving, but I am slow.  This bugs me – a lot.  Over the last few months, I’ve been traveling a great deal for work and my cycling workouts have diminished.  However, when I’m home, I go out and attack some hills.  I have noticed that somewhere I have started to equate being slow with being weak.

This false equation has gotten in my way.  It’s gotten in the way of my training and it has gotten in the way of my enjoyment.  A couple of weeks ago, I was out riding and I was in the final stretches of a tough climb when I was passed by some guy on a really sweet road bike and who looked like he logged miles on a bike every weekend.  My instant reaction was that there was something wrong with me and my ability.  This is a thinking trap and I know it!

The reality is that every time I go out for a ride, I get a little stronger.  Will I ever be a fast rider?  Maybe not.  My strength is in my ability to persist. To keep going when my legs are screaming and when my lungs are burning.  My strength is also in my ability to manage my emotions so I don’t panic or allow frustration to take over.

Last summer, when I was practicing on Vail mountain, I noticed that there were quite a few cyclists who would pass me as though a bear were chasing them, and then, a short distance later, I would pass them while they were sitting on the ground trying to catch their breath or recover.  (Of course, there were plenty of cyclists who passed me and were never to be seen again!)  Comparing myself to other cyclists is a particularly useless activity.

The fact that I try to remind myself of is that what anyone else is doing doesn’t matter.  I don’t know their route or how many miles they’ve done or what the objective for their ride might be.  What I know is my route.  And, not just the route that I happen to be riding on any given day, but the path that has gotten me to this place.  Given where I was 10 years ago, I consider it nothing short of a miracle that I’m on the bike at all.

That is what I am committed to remembering every time I am out for a ride.  How I do that is still up in the air as that competitive nature (just a wee bit of a competitive nature, mind you) likes to rear its ugly head to criticize me for not being faster and stronger.  Maybe there’s a mantra I could come up with that I can repeat as I climb.  (I’d welcome suggestions!)  Many years ago, there was a cyclist who said that while he was doing tough climbs, he would repeatedly say to himself, “Shut up legs!”  Maybe mind should be, “Shut up legs and ego!  I’m still climbing.  I will see you at the top!”

June 10, 2013
by Bobbi Kahler
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Risk hitting the wrong notes . . .

When people are learning something new, I usually hear them say something like,  “I guess this will be a process of trial and error and I’ll probably make a lot of mistakes.”  It reminds me of a question that I heard Sir John Whitmore ask at a Harvard coaching conference:  Is it really trial and error or is it trial and learning?

Why is it so difficult to allow ourselves the space to learn?   The need to be correct stifles our creativity and our performance.  As Benjamin Zander,
Conductor of the Boston Philharmonic, said:

“Beautiful music can only occur when the performer lifts his or her sights from simply not playing a wrong note to something more.  And it is only by risking hitting the wrong notes that learning results.”

Where can you risk hitting some wrong notes?

 

May 14, 2013
by Bobbi Kahler
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The Courage to Care for Myself

I had to learn an essential – and frightening – lesson in order to get well.  It came about eighteen months into the journey, when my new doctor, Barbara, was explaining to me the steps I would need to take.  Excited to have any sort of plan, I said, “Just tell me what I need to do and I can make it happen.  I can push through anything.”  She quickly replied, “That’s exactly what made you so sick.  What made you sick, will not make you well.”

Doh!  Yet, what did that mean for me?  I could look at almost every achievement in my life and point to the hard work, persistence and raw determination as my success factors.  If I couldn’t use those strengths, what did I have?  Who was I without those strengths?  They were a part of me.

Sadly, I wasn’t ready to – or maybe couldn’t? – let go of those strengths.  Another six months passed and another major relapse occurred.  Without any judgment, Dr. Barbara said to me, “Bobbi, you have a very clear choice to make: do you want to get well?  If you do, you simply have to try a new approach.  As it is, from this moment on, if you become really serious about taking care of yourself, you are probably facing two more years of recovery.”

It was a numbing moment.  I had always believed that no matter what challenge was in front of me, I could force my way through it and overcome it.  I was proud of that.  Now, it was, quite literally, making me sicker.  And, let’s be honest: did that mean I would simply sit around and wait for something to happen?  Definitely NOT a strength of mine.

What I learned over the next two years is that taking care of yourself is hard work.  For me, it was having the discipline to eat in such a way that I was intentionally nurturing my body.  It was having the courage to listen to my body when it was begging me for sleep and rest.  I say courage because there were plenty of people who were surprisingly judgmental when I said I needed to rest.  I had to stay focused on what I knew I needed to do, instead of being distracted by trying to earn the approval of someone who really didn’t understand all that my body had been through.  Winning the approval of others used to be important to me.  It hurt when someone that I barely knew felt compelled to criticize me for resting.  I didn’t know it at the time, but essentially what I was learning to do was to give myself permission to care for myself, even when that meant that I had to put myself first.  Putting myself first is not something that I was taught to do or something that felt comfortable.  If I was going to survive, however, it was essential.  It is also at the heart of personal change.  We often put ourselves last, which undermines our goals and efforts to change.  I also learned that caring for ourselves is not selfish; caring for ourselves is absolutely necessary if we want to have the capacity to care for and help others.

As I got deeper into my recovery, I also learned how to gently challenge myself.  I was afraid at first.   How would I know when I was ready to try running again or biking?  What if I tried it and I suffered a relapse?  Fear.  What a paralyzing emotion.  Eventually, however, it became more painful not to try than the fear about a relapse. I found the quote by Anais Nin and let it inspire me:

“There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful
than the risk it took to blossom.”

April 21, 2013
by Bobbi Kahler
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Ten years ago, I didn’t know today was possible . . .

As the anniversary date of my collapse approached, I wondered how I would feel when it arrived.   In addition to feeling joy and gratitude, I am also completely overwhelmed by the thought that ten years ago, I didn’t know today was possible.

We always hear people say, you are going to be ten years older either way, so you might as well get started working on your dreams, but what about when you can’t even see the possibilities?  Or that you are told that possibilities don’t exist. Or when the clouds are so dark that all you have is faith and hope that things might be better?

I think one part of the answer comes down to the courage of the first step and then the discipline of every step after that one.  I remember when we found Dr. Barbara (eighteen months into the process).  She explained to me how I needed to alter how I was eating (for starters, I had to start eating breakfast and a high protein one at that).  She then prescribed 18 different vitamins and supplements that I was supposed to take every day, multiple times a day.  I cannot swallow pills, so this was quite daunting.  As I looked at the list, I asked her, “And, you think this will help?”  She replied, “It is your way forward today.”

The supplement bottles filled a 13×9 cake pan.  But, if they were going to make me well, I was going to take them.  Since I can’t swallow pills, we broke them open and mixed them with grape juice and called them my “vitamin cocktails;” they were the worst tasting cocktails that I’ve ever had, but I drank them.

It’s hard to believe that where I am today started with that cake pan of supplements and vitamins.  To me, it underscores the importance of beginning, of getting started.  I believe that if we have the courage and faith to start then we will end up being delighted, surprised and awed by what we can achieve and where we can go.

April 15, 2013
by Bobbi Kahler
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Brush with death . . .

April 15,  2003.  The first doctor we consulted after my collapse thought that I had heavy metal poisoning.  He prescribed a series of chelation therapy treatments.    April 15th was my first treatment.  Rick and I were excited; maybe this would help.

I arrived at the doctor’s office and I was hooked up to an IV.  I sat there for four hours as the concoction entered my bloodstream.  The chelation agents work to strip all heavy metals from your blood and system.  I’m not a fan of needles, but I was reading my book, Lincoln’s Virtues, to pass the time.  After about three hours, I began to feel sort of weak, but, of course, when wasn’t I weak at that time?

Finally, it was over and I was unhooked.  By this time, it was lunchtime and the doctor had left.  As the nurse, Rick and I walked down the hall towards the receptionist desk, I began to feel a little lightheaded.  As Rick paid for the visit, I decided to step outside, thinking that maybe the fresh air would clear my head.  Unfortunately, it got worse and I became very dizzy.  I stepped back inside and tried to reach out and grab Rick’s arm.  I couldn’t quite reach him.  By now, everything was spinning, off balance, and going black.  I whispered, “I feel dizzy.”  And, then everything went black and I sunk to the floor.

Everything was still black, yet I was aware that someone was cradling me, elevating my upper body.  I was also aware that I was completely drenched.  I had the fleeting thought, “Who the hell threw hot water on me?” before sinking into the warm, welcoming darkness.

I became aware of someone taking my blood pressure.  I have exceptionally good blood pressure.  It’s so good that whenever I’ve had it taken, the nurse always comments about how good it is.  As I was lying there, still curiously drenched and resting in the utter blackness, I was fully expecting the nurse to make the same type of comment.  Instead, I heard her say, “Oh.  That can’t be right.”  The other nurse said, “Why?  What is it?”  The other nurse said, “It’s 50 over palp.”  I didn’t know exactly what that meant, but I knew it wasn’t good.  At that point, I could tell that Rick was holding my left hand.  I heard him say, “She’s sweating so bad.  She’s burning up.”  I could hear how worried he was – and he’s never worried.  That concerned me.

The nurse who was holding me said, “I think she’s coming to.”  The blackness slowly cleared, my heart was racing and I was – in fact – burning up.  They got me back to one of the patient rooms where I rested for a bit.  The doctor was called back from his lunch and he checked my vitals.  By this time, he pronounced they were “close to normal enough.”

We later found out that this doctor had been sued multiple times due to patient deaths during his chelation therapy.  When subsequent doctors heard of this experience I had, each one said that I was incredibly lucky to be alive.  It all could have ended that day.

I don’t think that either of us really wanted to face that reality immediately.  Instead, we stayed focused on trying to find a doctor that we could trust and doing all we could to help me recover.  It was a full two years later when we discussed how close I came to dying that day.  I don’t think I will ever forget it.  (And, I did not have heavy metal poisoning.)

It’s odd in some ways.  The day that haunts me more is the following day, April 16, 2003.  That was the day I went back to the doctor’s office for the vitamin I.V.  The chelation drugs remove all heavy metals, including minerals and vitamins that your body needs, so you have to go back for replacement vitamins and minerals.

At the end of the treatment, I felt so good.  I felt like I actually had life in my legs.  I hadn’t felt that in so long that I was thrilled!  Maybe this had worked!  It lasted for about four hours and then slowly the feeling of life, of energy, began seeping away.  I wanted so desperately to hold onto it.  It seemed so cruel – this glimpse of feeling healthy and strong – and yet it was surely slipping away.  And then my legs went back to feeling dead; every step I took I had to will my legs to move. It reminded me of the story that I read in Junior High, Flowers for Algernon.  It was so frustrating and painful to know that the brief respite from the fatigue was ending and I was slipping back into the shell of my former self.  Inside, I was crying out that I knew the real me was the one that had energy and life and strength.  On the outside, I appeared calm and accepting so I could be brave and strong and not make it any worse for those around me.

That is the day that haunts me, that scares me the most.  Not the day I almost died.  When I am riding my bike or hiking or skiing and I feel strong, I often whisper a silent prayer that it won’t be taken away again.  I silently promise that I will take care of this gift and honor it and cherish it forever.

This past Saturday I was traveling back home from Newark and I was going through security early on Saturday morning.  The TSA agent was very friendly and he was attempting to be cheerful with some other passengers who were having none of it.  He looked at me and he said, “Now you look like someone who is happy with life.”  We had a nice little conversation and a laugh together.  As I walked away, I thought he really has no way of knowing just how true that statement is. And as I continued walking, with legs full of life, I felt the deep gratitude that has become my constant companion.

March 27, 2013
by Bobbi Kahler
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Truly Alive, Fully Awake

In February of this year, I began a new habit of working out on the bike trainer, which is down in our sun room.  It was late afternoon on a Sunday and I was in the midst of my second workout on the bike.  It was brutal.  I felt sluggish.  I decided that I might not be able to maintain the speed and cadence that I wanted, but I was going to finish the hour, as I’d planned.

Because I was feeling sluggish, I was a little down.  Maybe I hadn’t really re-gained my inner athlete; the athlete that I knew myself to be but still felt like I had somewhat lost because of the illness.  As I pedaled, my I-Tunes playlist cued up Eye of the Tiger.  I began to pedal a little harder.  Images of lying in bed for months flashed in my mind.  The playlist clicked to Gonna Fly Now, the theme song to Rocky.  A new image replaced the old ones: the image of me pedaling my way up the final stretch of Vail Pass.  My eyes began to blur with the emotion I felt.

I kept pedaling.  Hard.  The next song started, Daughtry’s, What About Now?  As I listened to the lyrics, “What about now?  What about today?  What if you are making me all that I was meant to be?” I had a clear flash of what was immensely important to me: reclaiming that inner athlete, the athlete that I know myself to be.  Becoming stronger than I’ve ever been.  Becoming my best self.  It was more important than all of the little distractions and the petty worries that I had.  The next song was Kelly Clarkson’s, Stronger, and then, as I realized I was past my hour and had worked harder than I had in years, it was Beyonce’s, Halo, that ended my ride.  I sat on my bike slumped over the handlebars, spent but energized, and cried.   I looked up and saw the sun setting behind the mountains, dazzling in its beauty, and I felt like I was truly alive, fully awake.

I knew that something important had shifted for me.  The days following that ride, my energy continued to build and things started happening: new opportunities came my way, my writing for this blog (and my other one on coaching for managers) began to flow.  I had more ideas than I could keep up with.  My workouts were strong.  I saw more beauty in my surroundings.  I felt more connected.  And . . . happy.

That day on the bike, when I had such a clear vision of what was immensely important to me, I tapped into a core value that became an intrinsic motivator, which is a building block of change.

What speaks to you so deeply and strongly that you have to answer?

March 23, 2013
by Bobbi Kahler
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Exposing the illusion of barriers.

“Fears, like barriers, are often an illusion.” — Michael Jordan, Hall-of-Fame Acceptance Speech

A clip from Facing the Giants (on Youtube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zHPhVTw3YgM),  beautifully illustrates how when we remove — or are forced to remove — a self-limiting barrier, we can do far more than we imagined.  This clip also illustrates the value of having a coach there with you!  I hope you check it out!

I find it thrilling when I break through some self-imposed barrier.  Not only is that rewarding, but it almost always opens up a new possibility.   I was out cross-country skiing today and it was a bit brutal!  We are in the midst of a winter storm, so it was cold, windy, snowy and visibility was poor.  I skied out to a hill, it’s called Brick Hill.  The front side of it contains switchbacks and skiing up it will definitely get your heart rate up!  But, I like the challenge.  What I don’t like so much is the back side of Brick Hill; it is straight down and is steep in places.  Skiing down steep hills has been scary for me (probably because too often in the past I’ve ended up in a heap in a snowbank!).  So, what I’ve done this year is that I’ll ski up the front side of Brick Hill and then turn around and ski back down it.  I’ve gotten pretty good at going down the front side.  Today, for whatever reason, I thought maybe I could use my newly honed skills and success with the front of the hill and ski down the back side of the hill.  So, I skied to the crest of the back side of the hill and without giving myself time to reconsider, I started down.  It was fun!

As soon as I reached the bottom, I started thinking about the other hills on the course and how easy those would likely be by comparison.  In fact, I started skiing up and down hills, having a blast!  The one slight problem is that I was having so much fun I forgot that I had to ski — into the very stiff wind — all the way back to the Nordic Center!  By the time I made it back, my legs were trembling, I was frozen — and thinking about next time and where I can go next!

 

March 16, 2013
by Bobbi Kahler
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The fuel for persistence

In the recent post, Biking Through the Gate, I mentioned that Rick had asked me what made me keep going, despite all of the uncertainty.  As I wrote, I didn’t have a clear vision of what might happen.  What I did have, however, were pieces of identity that I just couldn’t give up.  One piece of my identity, that was fostered by my mom, is that I NEVER give up; I can achieve whatever I set my mind to.  And the other piece is that I had always been an athlete.  On the darkest of days, lying in bed barely able to walk to the bathroom, the memory of playing tennis, of running, of weightlifting haunted me.  I would have dreams where I was playing tennis only to wake up and realize that the body I was inhabiting wasn’t capable of that.

The distance between where I was and where I had been — and wanted to be — was so massive.  At first, this distance was so discouraging that it was almost heartbreaking.  One day in October of 2004, I was out for a walk.  I had worked up to walking six blocks where there was a church with wide steps leading up to the doors.  I could sit on the steps and recover before turning around and heading home.  I was sitting on the steps of the church, exhausted and debating whether or not I needed to call Rick on my cell to have him come and get me.  I was deeply sad.  By this point, I had gained some weight and some “friends” had taken it upon themselves to let me know that my clothes were too tight and that I was unprofessional.  As I sat on the steps, thinking about that criticism and how exhausted I was after walking a mere six blocks, I felt frustrated, angry and hopeless.  As soon as I identified the emotion of hopelessness, which was almost instantly, I became angry at myself.  Yes, things looked bleak.  But, was this really who I was?  Did I give up?  Was this how I would face this challenge?  I was ashamed at myself in that moment. It then occurred to me that I had increased the distance I could walk from room-to-room to six blocks.  How did I know how far I could eventually walk?  The answer, if I gave up, wasn’t going to be satisfying.

The situation I was facing was simply the situation.   It sucked.  I couldn’t wave a magic wand and change it.  I had to work through it.  What I realized, sitting on those steps, is that I had to change the way I was viewing the situation.  I could either continue to mourn what I couldn’t do or I could learn to celebrate every step more that I could take today that I couldn’t take yesterday.  From that point on, every time I went for a walk — no matter how short it was — I viewed it as a victory.  At least I wasn’t in bed.  (And, on those days when I couldn’t get out of bed, I thought of it as giving my body the rest it needed so I could be stronger the next day.)  Every time I was able to walk a little farther, even if it was only a half block farther, I celebrated it as a victory.  At some point shortly after this epiphany, I started repeating to myself as I was walking, “I am an athlete and I never give up.”

I believe that that mantra and what it represented to me, my very identity,  is what kept me going.  There was no challenge that was more important to me than my identity.  Of course, I had no idea then how long the road would be — and that’s probably a good thing!  I recently saw a quote by Henry Ford that sums it up quite well:

” I am looking for a lot of men who have an infinite capacity to not know what can’t be done.”

I had a choice that day on the steps of that church:  I could focus on what I couldn’t do or I could focus on what I could do.  By focusing on what I could do, I have not only removed the limitations that I faced that day back in 2004, but I have become more of an athlete than I have ever been before.  The picture of what is possible has forever changed.

 

March 12, 2013
by Bobbi Kahler
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Learning to cherish what I have

It’s amazing how we don’t always truly cherish – not just appreciate – what we have.

Two years into my illness, having spent most of those days in bed, I had gained weight and lost a lot of strength.  This was difficult for me.  I was accustomed to being a nice size 4 (never mind that I essentially had to starve myself to maintain that!).  One day while at my doctor’s I was complaining to her that I had gained weight and how much I hated that and how my body had really let me down.  She allowed me to rant and then she paused, looked me squarely in the eyes, and said, “Have you ever once considered being grateful to your body for doing what it had to do in order to keep you alive?  That’s  a miracle because with what your body went through, you should no longer be here.”

What an amazing way to look at ourselves and our bodies.  Not as something to be embarrassed about or ashamed of or critical of, but as something to be grateful for.  Beyond that, our bodies and ourselves are something to be cared for.  What do I need to feel strong?  To feel healthy?  To be fit?  To be happy?  To feel joy?

I’m still working to fill in more of those answers.  What are your answers?