When people see me pumping away on a treadmill, or pushing myself up the hills on Liberty’s campus one more time, they all assume I am a runner. When people see me run the Virginia 10 Miler with its cruel hills, they all assume I am a runner. I tell everyone, “I am not a runner,” but no one believes me.
They say to me, “You must really love running,” and I tell them, no in fact I do not. They point to the 735 miles I ran in 2014 and say, “Oh really?” To which I reply, “Yes, really.” If I could stop today, I would never run another mile again.
Understand, every single step I take, even when walking, I feel pain. Every mile I run hurts. I have never experienced the runner’s high, and I have never enjoyed my runs. I do all I can to take mind out of my body and forget that I am running. I blast audiobooks in my ears, I mentally work on my novels, or anything else I can come up with so that I do not notice I am running. Running hurts. Running is hard.
So why do I do it? Let me explain. In 2003, my son was born. At that time I was fat. Oh, most people that looked at me would not have known it. I have a large frame that hides my weight well. I was fat, and worse, I was fat with a failing heart.
At that time I could not walk the distance from my front door to my mailbox with out getting winded. That was maybe twenty or thirty feet. I saw the doctor for a physical and suddenly everyone was in a panic. You see my iron count in my blood was zero (yes, zero). My ejection fraction of my heart was below 40% (that is a measure of how well your heart is working, and that is a dangerous score). I had several instances were my blood sugar fell below rush to the ER and hope he survives levels. I was in chronic pain, and slept many extra hours a day just to make it through. All of my vitals were bad, and the doctors were unsure why.
I will not bore you with the details, but what followed was more doctors and drugs then I can count. There was talk of a pacemaker and being placed on restricted activities for fear of heart failure. Understand in 2003 when they were talking about this, I was only twenty-eight years old. I was looking at a life of drugs and fear. At one point I was taking ten pills a day. It got to the point where they started prescribing new pills to counter the side effects of the other pills. It was getting pretty darn scary.
I looked at my son, and decided that would not be the father he knew. He would never know that man. Most people that know me will tell you I am stubborn. Well, in this case that was the virtue that saved my life.
It has taken over a decade of hard work, lots of failures and set backs, but I sit here today typing this after losing fifty pounds, twice. I sit here typing this with a Black Belt in American Freestyle Karate, and belts in two other styles of martial arts. The last 5k I ran, I won for my age group. Oh, and I am off all my medication. ALL of it. That pacemaker? Still might be in my future, but my levels are almost normal level for now.
How did I do this? I am afraid to tell you, because the answer is so simple that most people will discount it but everyone should know, because it probably can help everyone reading this.
I forced myself to exercise. I forced myself to eliminate most processed foods. I avoid corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup as if it is poison, which it is. I try to eat a large variety of vegetables, fruits, meats, and fats. I eat smaller meals through out the day instead of major ones. I drink a lot of water, and only drink zero calorie drinks. I have cut that white garbage out that we call sugar, and try to avoid artificial sweeteners as much as I can. I prefer “no sugar added” to “sugar free.” Sure I use some artificial sweeteners, I still have a sweet tooth or three, but far, far less than most.
The results speak for themselves. My son only knows the man that can out run him, and all his friends. My son only knows the man that wins fights in karate matches. My son only knows the man that led him to the top of the mountain ahead of his entire youth group. My son only knows the man that can play basketball with him, and ride bikes.
I will always be diabetic, I will always have a weak heart, I will always have chronic pain, and I will always be one mistake from knocking my sugars out of control. The road in front of me is easier because I am healthy for the first time in my adult life, but it is not easy. Today I saw a box of Dunkin Donuts offered for free at a meeting, and did not touch a single donut. That is a huge victory. I cling to those victories each day. The fight really is one box of donuts at a time.
You see, I do not run because I love running. I run because I love my wife and do not want her to be a nurse or a widow. I run because I love my son and do not want him to be fatherless.
I run not because I am a runner, but because I am a survivor.
See Part Two: Runner of Steel