I was recently out biking and I came across a young woman who was struggling to ride up a hill. And, here’s the thing: we’ve all been there. I can’t tell you how many hills I have wobbled up when I first started biking.
But, when it’s happening to you, it can feel like you are the ONLY one in the whole world who is facing that struggle.
As I passed her, I spoke some words of encouragement to her and she said it was her first time out, and, by the look on her face, she wasn’t feeling good about herself.
As I cycled, I thought, Man, I’d like to be able to encourage more people who are where she is: starting out on a path of trying to become more fit and feeling maybe a little discouraged or uncertain about what they can do.
Because, trust me, I get it.
During my recovery back in 2003, it took roughly 18 months before a doctor told me that it was safe for me to try to go out for a walk again.
My first walk was to the end of our 20-foot driveway. I barely made it back to the house, I was drenched in sweat and I collapsed on the couch and went to sleep.
But, I kept walking – unless I had a relapse that sent me back to bed, but I kept walking and I kept slowly – and painfully – adding distance. And, sometimes that distance was 5 steps, but that was a victory. If I was out there walking at all, and not in bed, it was a victory.
In 2007, I ventured to a health club in Chicago so I could walk on a treadmill inside instead of outside during the winter. I walked a very slow 30 minute mile and my heart rate topped 170. 170. I got off the treadmill and I wanted to cry. 4 years into that journey and I couldn’t walk any faster than a 30 minute mile AND my heart rate was way too high.
But, I kept doing it.
In 2010, I took my first bike ride in Vail Colorado. I was SO excited to be out on a bike. I made it a mile. ONE SLOW mile. I had to stop, get off the bike and sit on the ground for a few minutes because my legs were shaking and burning. Then I rode back home and collapsed on the couch. But, I kept getting out there. And, I focused on the joy of being out there and being on a bike and I stayed focused on my progress: could I ride even 20 yards farther than I did the day before? That was a victory!
I have struggled up more hills than I care to count. I have had to walk my bike up more hills than I care to count. I’ve been passed by cyclists more times than I CAN count.
And none of that matters. What matters is that I kept going and I kept getting out there.
And yes, now I can cycle mountain passes, but it didn’t start that way. Actually, cycling mountain passes wasn’t even on my radar. It wasn’t a goal or a vision or a dream back then. Frankly, I used to look at the people who did that and think “What in the world would possess someone to want to do that?”
And now I know the answer to that.
To me, it’s because I can. And it symbolizes how far I’ve come and how strong I am.
But, again, it started with walking to the end of a 20-foot driveway.
I’m 57 now. And I’m stronger than before I got sick at the age of 37.
It didn’t happen overnight. But, it did happen.
I don’t want anyone to give up on their ability to be active or to be fit.
Not everyone has to cycle mountain passes. That’s just my crazy jam. But what about being able to get outside and take a walk or play with kids or grandkids or play a game of pickleball – which I have to say is a new love of mine!
No matter what the starting point is, it is just the starting point. Keep going. And, believe in yourself. And, have some fun with it!
Going back to the young woman who was out cycling and feeling discouraged. A few minutes after I passed her I thought: Maybe that is one of the reasons that I had the experience with my illness – so that I could maybe provide some hope for others who need it?
I hope that you’ll help me spread this message by sharing this with someone who needs some encouragement to keep going.