Bobbi Kahler

March 23, 2013
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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
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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
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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?

March 8, 2013
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Biking through the gate

When we first moved to Colorado in 2010, I was no longer sick, but I had not recovered any of my strength.  Colorado is an easy place to be active!  Everything, however, was hard.  Walking along the bike path left me out of breath (of course, we were living at 8000 feet).  The first time I took my bike out, I made it less than a mile before I had to turn around, and, worse than that, the first significant hill I faced kicked my butt.  I had to get off the bike and push it up.  It seemed that while I was no longer sick, I was also no longer an athlete.  That hurt.  A lot.

I kept working at it: the walking, hiking and biking.  Everyday getting a little stronger and going a little farther.  One day, I decided to start my way up the mountain.  I knew I wouldn’t make it to the top of Vail Pass, but how far could I go?

As it turns out, I made it eight miles, which took me to the campground.  Right after the campground, the road gets really steep.  There’s a short stretch – maybe a quarter of a mile – where it looks like the road goes straight up!  It was daunting.  What made it more daunting were the cyclists who were either pushing their bikes up or who had simply collapsed on the side of the road.  I decided to save that challenge for another day.

A week later, I thought I would try it.  I made if half way until I literally couldn’t make the pedals move any more.  I, too, collapsed on the side of the road, gasping for air.

Three days later, I was up for more torture.  I thought: why not today?  I rounded the curve at the campground and dug with everything that I had for the gate.  I think that I passed others who were lying on the ground, but I can’t be sure; I was too busy gasping for air!  But, I kept pedaling.  Every rotation of the pedals hurt: my lungs were burning, my legs were on fire, and I was becoming afraid that I might throw up.  But I kept the pedals moving.  I reached the gate!  In one fluid motion, I threw my bike down, walked a few steps away from the other folks who had stopped there and dropped to my knees, struggling to breath.  I wanted to act all cool but the lack of oxygen not to mention the lack of ability to hold myself upright and the acute fear I was going to throw up all over everyone sort of got in the way.  Instead, I sat there on my knees.  Once my breathing became manageable, I looked around at the view and at how high I had climbed and I began to cry.  Not out of pain, but out of accomplishment and all the miles traveled since the original diagnosis seven years earlier.

Unfortunately, my climb to the gate didn’t leave a lot left in the tank!  While my spirits were soaring on the ride home, my body was spent.  Ironically, even though I made it to the gate, what stuck in my memory was the extreme effort that it took and the pain and fear that went with it.  For the next year and a half that gate became my wall.  I didn’t even try to make that climb again; instead, I turned around at the campground every time.  It became a symbol for what I couldn’t breach, so I didn’t try.  I just accepted the limitation.

Until one day last summer.  I was out for a ride and I made it to the campground more easily and a bit faster than I had been.  (I should mention that the ride to the campground itself is a climb.)  I was getting ready to turn my bike around and head back down, when I thought, “I hate that damn gate!” and instead of turning around, I kept pedaling.  And pedaling.  Past the others who were walking their bikes, past those who – and I knew their pain – were sitting on the ground, gasping, and finally, past the gate itself!  I didn’t have to stop to gasp and recover.  I was still pedaling.  And, I felt strong and I was picking up speed.  I rode a mile past that gate before stopping to look around and enjoy the view.  And, once again, cry.  The gate was no longer my limitation.  It was simply a short stretch of the ride that was difficult.

I have now made it to the cul-de-sac (at right), which is four miles past the gate and which contains a lot of climbing (gains inSAMSUNG elevation).  I can’t say that it is easy, but I can do it.  There are stretches that seem so steep and long that I can’t look at the whole stretch at once.  It’s too daunting.  Instead I find some rock or bush or tree about 20 yards away and I tell myself, “Just make it to that rock,” and once I make that rock, I find the next landmark. And, I keep pedaling.

My next goal is the top of the pass.  I have another five miles to go.  Rick (who is a veteran of the pass) tells me that the next three miles are no worse than anything that I’ve done and then I’ll face about a mile that is really tough – about the same as the campground just longer – and then the last mile isn’t bad.  He’s supremely confident that I can do it.  As I’ve been using my bike trainer and working on my cadence (rate of pedaling), when I am near the end of my workout, and I start to get tired, I imagine myself finishing that last mile and stopping at the top of the summit.  How will that feel?  What will it feel like to stand on the top of a mountain and know that I rode my bike up it?  What will the view be like?

What makes it a remarkably motivating thought is that for the first eighteen months after the collapse, my only view was what I could see from my bedroom windows in Portland: my neighbor, Andy’s roof line.  No disrespect to Andy or his roof line, but it wasn’t inspiring.  I watched seasons come and go and come again.  I remember thinking at one point: Will this be all I ever see?  There was no way for me to know it then, but there were so many more vistas for me to see.  Rick asked me recently why, with so much uncertainty, did I keep going.  As I reflected on that question, I knew that I didn’t have a specific vision during that time but I had something more important to fuel my resolve, which I’ll share in an upcoming post.

March 6, 2013
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Close call that changes it all . . .

 

Ten years ago today, I woke up, tired.  Again.  With my usual self-recriminations I told myself to quit being such a baby.  Lots of people get tired.  I made it into the master bathroom and pulled the kitchen stool that I had commandeered months earlier, over to the bathroom sink to begin the process of brushing my teeth.  A few months earlier, it had become too much effort to stand up long enough to brush my teeth.  Then it had become too difficult to raise my entire arm to brush my teeth, so, in my efforts not to be a baby, I had come with an ingenious process of sitting on the kitchen stool and supporting my weight with my elbows on the edge of the vanity.  Now, all I had to do was raise my forearm to my mouth to be able to brush my teeth.  Brilliant!  Until this day ten years ago.  I sat on my kitchen stool, rested a bit from the strenuous walk from the bedroom, and stared at my right forearm, commanding it to move.  Nothing happened.  As hard as I tried, I could no longer raise my forearm up off of the counter.

That began our odyssey.   It was a journey that would take about eight years in its entirety.  It began with the first eighteen months where most days I couldn’t make it out of bed.  Rick would bring me all of my meals so that I could preserve the precious little energy I had; saving that for trips to the bathroom that covered less than twenty feet but which felt like twenty miles.

In the first six months, we consulted many doctors.  One of the many that we consulted was very compassionate.  He was the only one that was remotely helpful.  Unfortunately, he didn’t think there was a lot that Western medicine could do for me.  He told me that based upon his research and consulting with other doctors, he believed that I probably had less than a 3% chance of ever really recovering.  And, as far as being an athlete again and running or playing tennis, I was gently encouraged not to dream that big.  Those wouldn’t be options for me in the future.

A year after that prognosis, and with the help of an amazing naturopath and an even more amazing massage therapist (thank you Kim Payne!), I began walking outdoors again.  My first “walk” was to the end of our driveway, which was maybe thirty feet long.  My second trip was to the end of our block (three houses away), where I had to sit on the curb to rest before returning home.  I was grateful to be outside walking again, but it felt so discouraging when I compared it to the runner I once was (eight miles, every other day, in under an hour).   Which is when it occurred to me that it didn’t really matter what I could – or couldn’t do – in the past, all that mattered were the next steps that I could take.

Ironically, in all this time, I never missed a single speaking engagement. I would rest for the entire day and Rick would drive me to the event so that I could preserve whatever strength I had.  I remember standing in front of an audience talking about “Pursuing our Passion” and loving every minute of the experience, yet I was also aware of the sweat that was pouring down my back with the effort it took me to stand.  As soon as the event was over, Rick would help me to the car, where I would collapse onto the seat, unable to raise my head from neck rest.  I didn’t want to let anyone who had hired me down.  It never occurred to me that maybe I was letting myself down.  Or, as I re-read this paragraph, maybe I simply loved what I was doing and I believed so much in what I was saying that it would have felt like I was letting myself down by not speaking?

Forward to today.  Ten years later, I hike almost daily here in the Rockies, I am a road cyclist, I cross-country ski, and I’m a pretty good Disc Golfer.  I have learned a valuable lesson: last October, I had a brief scare where I was feeling some unusual fatigcropped-Riley-on-a-hike.jpgue.  Instead of thinking, “How can I push through this and ignore it?” I asked myself, “What do I need to do to care for myself and protect my health?”  That question led to some tough decisions, but I learned that nothing is really more important than health.

This summer I will bike to the top of Vail Pass.  It’s a tough climb, but last summer I did the majority of it; I only have about five miles left to go.  I will take a picture from the top – once I can stop crying from joy.

As this anniversary approached, I started to feel energy about resuming my writing and starting a blog.  Without dwelling on the illness and the journey back to health, I do want to explore it to some extent.  My sincere hope is that others who have faced or are facing a similar experience will find hope in the stories.  Like my previous writing, I plan to explore things like hope, resiliency, strength, self-leadership and persistence (and whatever else shows up!).

The other word that came to mind as I was writing this posting is love.  I have always known that the love that Rick gave me during this time was priceless.  We weren’t yet married and I know that many people in his position would have left.  Instead he was the gentle, strong, loving man that I fell in love with.  Together, we found ways to have fun and enjoy our time.  We also experienced love from all of our very dear friends in Portland who were there for us with kindness, support and true caring.

I hope that you’ll check out the blog and tell others about it.