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.