A Fool’s Homecoming

Ah, April Fools’ Day…that one day a year where child pranksters and the less-than-mature adults among us plot to get the best of their unwilling victims. In my humor-loving family, we’ve had a few memorable April Fools’ pranks on each other over the years. Sorry, Dad.

This year, I think the joke was on myself.

Back in February, my friend and I saw an ad for the Fools’ Run in Kutztown and decided to sign up for the 10-miler. I was ecstatic to be back in my beloved college town once again, since it had been four years since my last visit. We decided to drive down the night before and book a room outside Allentown instead of making the two-and-a-half hour drive Saturday morning. We loaded up a cache of bottled water, two pizzas (for the traditional carb load), and our running gear and spent the night preparing for our race.

This race was very important to me for several reasons. Since my last visit in 2013, I lost almost 90 pounds! I wasn’t there to merely complete the race, but to get the best finish time I possibly could. This was my homecoming, and it felt like an important milestone to me.

When I studied at KU, I could only imagine being the fit athlete I am now. Back then, I was just relearning what it meant to be “normal” without the chains of CIDP. I was ashamed of my body, and the rejection from the guys I liked didn’t help. I figured they thought I was only this imperfect, fat body, and I didn’t deserve to be loved because I wasn’t skinny. Who I was inside didn’t matter…only what I looked like. And if Christian guys were like this, then there was no hope for me.

I wish they could see me now.

With all of this on my mind, I readied myself for the start of the race. There were probably at least 200 people there of all shapes, ages and sizes. I took off running, and quickly learned that a mile in southern PA feels slightly longer than a mile in the Susquehanna Valley. Maybe it was the hilly terrain, but then again, we have hills up here too.

The sky was overcast, with the sun peeking out for a few minutes at a time. The temps were in the 40’s and it was pretty windy. I wore my neon green nylon windbreaker, which I ended up taking off less than halfway through the run. The roads were wet from Friday’s rain, so I made sure to watch my footing on the tricky, tight downhill curves. Even though I hadn’t been training much outside, all of my cross-training at the gym had really paid off. My only injury was a shin splint on my left leg, which didn’t really bother me until after the race.

I was hoping to finish the race in an hour and 45 minutes, but the steep hills on the way back made me slow to a walk for a few intervals. Fortunately, I had enough energy to barrel down the final stretch and finish just before two hours. It was a really good time for me, and I felt so amazing afterward!

A few hours later, on our ride home, the muscle soreness started to kick in. Stretched quads are never fun, but they are a badge of honor. After all, there was a time when my legs didn’t work.

Some people say that runners are foolish. We willingly risk muscle pain, shin splints, side stitches, bad knees, and the chance to be hit by cars. We leave our warm beds to wake up at crazy times, brave the cold wind, and step out into the unknown. Are we fools? Probably. But we’ve also experienced the thrill of the finish line, the pride of a job well done, the runner’s high, the cheer of strangers and volunteers, and the comradery of other crazy fools doing what we love. And for me, 90 fewer pounds on my frame. That alone is worth more than any medal I could ever earn.

At the same time, I am learning to love and accept my body the way it is. Because nobody’s body is perfect. And because I’ve earned these beautiful calf muscles…and nobody can take that away from me!

Burn Out Bright

If you only got one shot

If you only got one life

If time was never on our side

Before I die I want to burn out bright

One of my favorite Switchfoot lyrics resonates with me today as I log another hour on the treadmill. I just learned a few years back that the term for my (permanent) CIDP remission is called “burnout.” I have no idea where the term came from, but I suppose it means there are others like me who have recovered. Needless to say, I am determined to burn out; to shine my light as a witness to my faith. To use my body to glorify the One who healed me-who gave me another chance.

Looking out at the snow-covered mountain that I’m always running toward, but never catch, I’m happy to be training inside today. Winter has come back with a vengeance, and I need to get in some miles before my first spring race in April. At least I only have to do a few today.

A few months ago, one of my racing buddies asked me to do the One City Marathon with her in Newport News, VA. That race was today. The thought of long runs in the Pennsylvania winter just didn’t sound appealing enough to sign up for a 26.2 mile race in the spring. Actually, the thought of a full marathon intimidates me ANY time of the year…but that’s a story for another blog post.

I finished my slow 4.5 miles, swam laps for a while and picked up a few groceries before heading for home. As I glanced back to the aforementioned mountain, I saw a flash of white fly by. Although I’m not certain, I thought it could have been an eagle, headed toward the river. Yet another reminder of how much I’ve been blessed. I’ve been given wings to run and not grow weary!

Upon my return home, I received some sobering news: the 36-year-old daughter of my childhood neurologist suddenly passed away. I didn’t know his family…in fact, I was unaware that he had a daughter my age. He had relocated to New Jersey years ago, and his daughter lived in Brooklyn, but her obituary had made the Sun Gazette. Even though I felt sorrow at the news of his loss, I was glad to read that he was still practicing neurology. He is definitely one of the reasons I am still alive.

None of us know how long we have left on this planet. I’ve had several friends and loved ones pass way, way too soon. I’ve also seen others beat stage 4 cancer, and are still alive and well. Life is unpredictable.

The future is a question mark

Of kerosene, electric sparks

There’s still fire in you yet

Yeah there’s still fire in you…

When you reach life’s finish line, can you say you’ve given the race all you’ve got?

Off the Deep End

In the process of cleaning out my gym gear yesterday, I found several sets of swimming ear plugs and nose clips. I laughed to myself, thinking about how much I hated those nose clips. They never stayed on my nose, although they did keep me from snorting water. For some reason, I decided to keep them, because they remind me of how far I’ve come as a swimmer.

Ever since I was little, I’d jump at every chance I got to go swimming. I was terrified of deep water, so I’d always stick to the shallow end. Even in junior high, when we were required to learn to swim in gym class, I stayed in the shallow end. I did learn to swim, with not exactly the best technique, but I could propel myself through the water.

As I got older, and my body recovered from CIDP, I realized that I would need to overcome my fear of deep water if I was to ever realize my dream of diving or snorkeling in the ocean. The local YMCA opened in 2008, and I joined with the anticipation of swimming all the time. That’s when I decided I’d need those nose clips.

Obviously, I had no clue what I was doing. The freestyle I had learned in junior high was not very efficient because I was afraid to put my head in the water. Swimming laps was really tough, and quite frankly, I didn’t enjoy it. Eventually, I developed my own form of breast stroke that allowed me to feel more comfortable and graceful in the water. And yes, I did swim in the deep end…but I was terrified that I was going to sink somehow.

In 2015, I started thinking about doing my first sprint triathlon, but I knew my swimming needed a lot of work. Fortunately, the Lewisburg tri has a pool swim (as opposed to open water), so I thought it would be possible for me to complete it. A friend from my Weight Watchers group who was an experienced triathlete offered to critique my swimming and give me some pointers.

Let’s just say I needed more than pointers.

For starters, I wasn’t kicking from my hips, my breathing was all wrong (even though my head was actually IN the water), and I was basically a freestyle mess. I left the pool feeling as if my swimming would never be good enough to compete.

Did that stop me? No!

From that chilly spring day up until the date of the tri in August, I worked really hard on my swimming. I started training with a kickboard, which I absolutely hated, because I kicked and kicked and didn’t go anywhere. I did the drills that my friend gave me. My endurance was still terrible, but I started to feel a little more confident in my swimming ability.

Needless to say, the swimming was the easiest part of the triathlon for me that warm August day. The water was cold, but I was able to warm up in the dive (like 12 feet deep) pool before the race started. The fact that I was comfortable in such deep water was a testament to how far I’d come. Yes, it took me a while to swim those 6 laps, and I did have to rest because I was breathless. But when I climbed out of that pool, I think I’d felt the greatest sense of accomplishment ever!

In 2016, I discovered a technique called Total Immersion. It has changed my swimming completely! Now, I feel so much more graceful in the water, and my endurance has improved tremendously! I also learned that I can breathe every 4 strokes and be comfortable. My tri swim times have been slowly improving as well. Oh…and TI swim training requires NO kickboard! Did I mention my hatred of kickboards?

One of my dreams when I reach my goal weight is to get my SCUBA certification. Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to dive the Great Barrier Reef, and someday I hope I get the chance. For some strange reason, I’d also like to learn to surf (first, I’ve got to improve my sorry boogie boarding skills). Sometimes it takes a while for us to reach our dreams, but we should keep on pursuing them! Never give up, and don’t let fear keep you from trying new things. You might just find a new passion!

The Art of Being A Misfit

I’ve never been popular. Ever. In fact, I’ve always been kind of a…geek. In elementary school, when everyone else was playing with Barbies, I was obsessed over rocks and seashells. I proudly wore my Petra Unseen Power tour shirt to school in junior high, to be incessantly mocked for my faith and choice of music. As I started to feel inadequate, I became more withdrawn and afraid of people. I didn’t really care about style or fashion until my mid-twenties, and of course, being overweight didn’t help matters. Even in the church world, I couldn’t fit in–never in youth group, and definitely not as a single, 30-something female with no kids.

It is a strange feeling to never have a true sense of belonging. But yet, it is liberating to march to the beat of my own drum. Maybe that’s the artist in me. I don’t even really need to TRY to be original…it just happens. Unfortunately, the new or different isn’t always accepted, and others try to push me into their mold.

This is for those of you who feel like you never fit in. Don’t try to be like everyone else, because you’ll never be happy being anyone but yourself. Be creative, and don’t worry if your work isn’t accepted. The right people will be blessed by your being true to who you are.

Goal!

Goal!

When I was 9, I played AYSO soccer on a team called the Rockets. Since I wasn’t the most aggressive kid, the coach put me on defense. One particular game, an opponent kicked the ball toward me, and in trying to stop it, I somehow spun it into our own goal. That’s right–I scored a goal for the other team. Needless to say, despite our winning the game, I didn’t get to go out with the other kids for ice cream that day.

Unlike that display of, um, athletic coordination (or lack thereof), most of us don’t accidentally reach our goals. In fact, sometimes it takes a lot of hard work.

In 2009, I was about 28 pounds away from reaching my Weight Watchers goal. I had lost 70 pounds over 4 years, and thought I could make it the rest of the way on my own. Why not? That goal was so close…I could almost taste it! I had the knowledge and experience to get me there. But I was very wrong. I reverted to my old way of eating, and when depression hit, I buried myself in food. Without the support of others on a weight loss journey, and the accountability of the scale, I regained everything I had lost–and then some.

I once again had become that person that I had tried so hard to leave behind.

In January of 2014, I realized that I couldn’t be fat and miserable anymore. I set out to change my lifestyle and attempt to lose the weight for good. Before me was a daunting task–I had 115 pounds to lose–practically another small-framed person!

I changed my eating habits and started exercising again. In April, I started racing again, even though I was well over 200 pounds. As I lost weight, I ran more, and my 5K times gradually got better. My energy and endurance improved, and I started to feel better about myself. My progress was slow, and I had setbacks, but I kept pressing on toward my goal.

Now, it’s January 2017. I’ve lost just over 81 pounds, and I have 34 more to lose. I feel like I’m in the last couple miles of a half-marathon. I can’t see the finish line, but I know it’s there, and I’m getting closer to it. I know the reward waiting for me is greater than the struggles I face getting to the finish.

The problem is, the finish line isn’t the end. Once I hit my goal weight, I would like to maintain it for the rest of my life.  I will have to continue the pattern I set in motion three years ago. Sure, there may be days when I feel like I can’t eat one more apple. There might be the occasional lapse in judgment when I can’t control a craving. But I have to remember why I started this journey in the first place. I hope that I will always recall how awful I felt at my heaviest when I’m tempted to binge.

It’s going to be hard work, but it’s going to be worth it.

Speak Life

“I wish I could wake up every day with the energy and joy and enthusiasm that this girl has.”

I was stunned. Not often do you get such an unsolicited compliment from a total stranger. But this wasn’t just some total stranger. This was the lead singer of my favorite band.

Of course, being so floored, I responded “Green tea pills,” because, well, they give me energy. And it was the first thing to come to mind.

It all started on a rainy, 40 degree day in February, 2014. My favorite band was performing that night in Williamsport, and I had a VIP ticket–my family’s Valentine’s gift to me. I had taken the day off from work, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to concentrate. Plus, I was scheduled to be at the concert around 2 to meet the band.

Let’s back up a bit. The month before, I had restarted Weight Watchers, and had lost a little weight. Even though I was still “morbidly obese,” I was starting to feel a little more confident about my body. I knew I would be getting a professional photo with the band, so I wanted to look good. I even went to get my hair done.

At the same time, I had been struggling with my ability as a songwriter. For some reason, I couldn’t get inspired, and I felt frustrated. With this weighing heavily on my mind, I wanted to ask the guys for any advice they could give me. Little did I know I would walk away with something far greater.

In the end, I decided not to ask about songwriting…maybe I was too nervous. It didn’t matter anyway. I had just been given the greatest compliment of my life.

How could Jon Foreman have known my struggles with self-worth? I don’t know. But it didn’t matter. I felt validated. My life…my spirit…my personality…it all meant something. Maybe I did have something worthwhile to offer the world.

That one sentence changed my life.

Today, I have lost a total of 81 pounds. I have completed two half-marathons, two sprint triathlons, and a ton of other races. I am rediscovering myself as a songwriter and musician with a new YouTube channel. Now, I’m finally getting the confidence to put my work out there, even though it’s scary.

You don’t have to be in the limelight to have an impact on another person’s life. Speaking words of hope and encouragement to someone might have a greater meaning to them than you may ever know. In the same turn, discouragement can have a far-reaching destructive effect. Proverbs says that “life and death lie in the power of the tongue.” We have the power to speak life–to cultivate the good, the hope, the joy in someone’s spirit. When that happens, it creates an amazing chain-reaction in the world, and people notice! That will win far many more souls than fear and cold-hearted religion ever will.

Speak life into someone’s soul today.

Here’s Your Sign!

I have a small sign on my desk at work. Actually, it’s a magnet, but none of the magnetic surfaces on my desk are in my line of sight as I’m looking at my Mac. So, I have it propped up against my monitor.

It reads “Nothing tastes as good as thin & healthy feels.”

Across from me, in my peripheral view, are a Pepsi machine and a snack machine. Thanks to half a year of drinking almost purely water, the soda machine doesn’t bother me. My temptation lies within the chocolate-coated, cream-filled, cheesy triangular goodness next door. And I won’t even go into when some well-meaning co-worker delivers a box of freshly-baked, glazed-to-perfection circles of dough.

Is your mouth watering yet?

Anyway, lately, with the holiday season, I’ve been ignoring the sign altogether. Looking at it only makes me guilty as I fish out another quarter to feed my “sugar monkey” from the vending machine. It reminds me how I SHOULD be tracking what I eat. I SHOULD be training at the gym. I SHOULD be ignoring the Christmas cookies and candy that are accumulating everywhere I look. I SHOULD be packing healthy snacks to reach for instead of letting my emotions and sweet tooth control what I eat.

And yet, my sugar monkey squeals in delight as I tear open a bag of mini Oreos. The stress of the day melts away, for only a moment. But that stupid sign is still there.

This week, I somehow managed to renew my focus back to a healthy lifestyle. I’ve been to the gym the past three nights. I track every bite I eat. I munch on fruit and lean protein for snacks.

Today, as I was peeling an orange, my eyes were drawn to the sign…and I realized that what it says is true! My body feels so much better when I fuel it with good, healthy foods, and spend more time being active. In fact, I feel wonderful!  And that sweet, fragrant orange tasted great!

So why do I regress sometimes? Why do I choose to ignore the progress I’ve made, and lose my focus on attaining a healthy weight and a higher level of fitness? I don’t know. But I do know that it starts with only one little decision. I choose to skip the gym and binge-watch My 600 Pound Life (ironic, I know) while eating whatever’s lying around. I choose to take that peek into the donut box…and then a whiff…and then a bite…and then a whole donut. Or two. Or three.

Maybe that’s why it’s so vital to have a reason why you want to make a lifestyle change. Everyone’s reason is different, and you may even have more than one. Whatever that reason is, it has to be important enough that it keeps you from going too far astray. That cookie seems insignificant compared to completing a marathon, or avoiding a potential hereditary health problem, or fitting into a smaller size of jeans.

Maybe I need to reexamine my motivation when that sign starts to become invisible.