It truly is hard to know where to start. I knew after my race some people would be interested in understanding why I had chosen to run, why it has taken so long, and what my plans are for the future as far as running goes. There were so many moments over the years where I wanted to start the journey toward recovery. Yet just the thought of starting such a painstaking path with no end in sight seemed so exhausting that I never really found the motivation to put in the time. It truly came down to the fact that I was afraid. Yes, here I am a man, father, and husband publicly admitting that I was afraid. I knew the work it would take, the countless hours if not years of therapy, dry needling and constant pain… and what for? The chance to run again? Was it even possible to be the athlete I once was and was anything short of that worth the effort of healing a body crippled over time? After seeing multiple specialists in vain, would my body, in time, heal itself enough for a normal nights sleep? I had two part time jobs paying right over minimum wage, neither with insurance. How could I afford such treatments? I had been sent to some of the best specialists in the world. All had different solutions. How could I get better from an injury that no one seemed to correctly diagnose? I was frustrated, angry, and bitter. I had spent all my time and money for nearly two years on trying to comeback, trying to find the right person who could guide me. But with each passing “specialist” not being able to help, gradually my hope and belief in a comeback slowly began to fade. After losing my contract I reached a point where it just seemed useless. I was angry, and burnt out on putting forth any more effort. I let bitterness take over, and for several years I just quit trying. I am ashamed that I let bitterness grow in my heart, and sad that I let it take away a part of my life that had brought me so much joy. One thing I had to learn over this period of time was that joy is a matter of the heart. Sometime circumstances cannot be changed. However, your feelings towards them can. An angry bitter heart can make even the wealthiest of men miserable. The same goes for a heart freed of these poisonous feelings. It can see joy though the pain and blessings in the times of hardship. Looking back I wish I could get those years back. I wish I had not learned this lesson the hard way. However all I can do is look forward and realize the blessings this time away has granted. I am grateful for the experiences and personal growth these struggles have provided along with my new perspective, not only on running, but life, family, faith and happiness.
Though it would be years until I was truly at a place in life to give running a start. My healing started with this one email.
Conversation started February 7, 2011 12:03am
Sorry I know we do not know each other but I remember watching you run when I was in high school. I am sure you get plenty of fan mail and I do not mean to take up much of your time or a reply. I just read the most recent article written about you and thought it was precious yet had a raw bitter-sweet tone. Though it might be odd and out of character for me I felt as if you might need to know this whether you want to or not haha :). I have debated sending you this since I honestly do understand just how creepy it might seem. However I also believe no one can be given too many complements. When I was in High School my team met you several times and each time you were nothing short of sincere, kind and inspirational. I will never forget how nice you were to all of us. Your kindness was made even more apparent by the fact that we really were not good at all yet you still took the time to speak and encourage each person who wanted to speak to you. Not only were you a national champion with a bright future you also were in college being followed by a herd of high school students which could press the nerves on even the most patient of men. I wanted to thank you then but was way too star struck. Though to you I am sure it seemed small your kindness was never forgotten. And that brings my ramblings to the point I was trying to make. Whatever God has in store for you I am sure you will touch people’s hearts even when you think you are not. Whether you are able to run or not your genuine kindness is one gift that can never be taken away and that is what people truly know and respect you for.
A month to the day this email was sent I met my wife for the first time and proposed. She knew the financial hardships I was facing and chose to leave school and join me. She worked two and three jobs to help make ends meet. If having someone love you unconditionally at the lowest part of your life is not enough to make you want to become a better man then I do not know what will. The next several years were far from easy but were enjoyable with her by my side. A few months after our year anniversary we discovered we were expecting our son Declan. The thought of not being able to play soccer with him, go on family jogs and just enjoy an active lifestyle together broke my heart and was enough to motivate me to try my hand at getting better. For the first eight months it was extremely slow going with trying to be my own physical therapist. Victoria was always supportive and we were gaining momentum even if it was slow coming. It was not until months after my son was born that a close friend of mine Brian Gibson referred me to a now good friend Don Reagan who was a PT worker for Mountain River Physical Therapy in Chatham VA. Seeing Don was just what I needed, after the first visits he made more ground than all the specialists I had seen overseas, and he was even able to convince me to start running again. He worked with me from the spring of 2013 to start correcting my problems. During this time he encouraged me to start jogging once again. However at that time true “running” took a backseat to Don working on my mechanical issues. It was not until late last fall with more than a little trepidation I actually started to truly run for the first time in years, and slowly I discovered myself falling back in love with the sport that had once been such a large part of my life. This time however it was much different. The boy who once ran to win was now a man thrilled just to fill the dirt under his feet once again. The simplest joys of running I had taken for granted were not only milestones but joyous occasions. Though I have not been training long and only have a month of any true workouts under my belt, thanks to the wisdom, patience and kindness of my coach Steve Magness. I found myself having a little anxiety. For everywhere I ran people started asking if I was “back”, if I was “ in better shape than before”. The truth of the matter is I am not sure if anyone can bounce back into better shape than before after a 7 year injury and only a few months of training, no matter how talented their coach is. However the thought that so many would expect the unrealistic started to weigh on me. I did not want to let down those who had been with me from the start (with no financial gain) when my goal was just to be able to jog with my son.
As the weeks of consistent hard work started to stack up, slowly but surely my fitness level began to rise, and Steve and I felt we were ready for the next phase of training, a phase that increases intensity, adds some track workouts, and even begins to measure some base line areas of fitness by getting out there and dusting off the rust with some very modest attempts at racing again. So, then, we can start to fine tune our training. In order to get myself out of my comfort zone we felt there was no better way to start back than jumping in head first. Would it be pretty? … Probably not! But all new stories have to begin somewhere.
If there is one thing that I have had to learn the hard way these past 7 years is be careful who you surround yourself with. It’s easy to feel like you have a great support system and great friends when everything is on the up and up, but when you hit rock bottom (for lack of better words) you truly find out who your friends are. For me virtually everyone I would have considered close to me 2007 is no longer in my life, but for each and every departure of close friends, mentors and support rolls in my life. The Lord has been faithful to replace with stronger and more knowledgeable and caring people, people who not only took me for what I was when I was at the bottom but who have sacrificed to help me get back to the top for no better reason than they care for me and want to see me succeed. These people are truly invaluable to me, and looking back at my life in ‘07 I did not have a single person in my life who felt that way about me (who didn’t already have my last name). Now I have four or five close people who involve themselves in my life who are of no relation to me, a new family (Wife and Son), as well as incredible in-laws, and my own family of course. No one gets to the top alone, for every success story or “outlier” there are countless people behind the scene who have helped provide opportunities or support to that person who is receiving the recognition.
In many ways my elongated injury could be attributed to the fact that I had taken my support system to the limit, and I simply was not surrounded by people who could/would take me any further or help me when I became too hurt to do what I loved. Specialist after specialist couldn’t help me. Coaching was of little use to me because I couldn’t train. The things I needed the most in 2008, 09, and 10 were simply friends and a support system there to talk to, and encourage me to continue fighting as hard as I could each and every day. Unfortunately those were the three darkest and most rocky years of my life for personal relationships. To get better I needed to surround myself with knowledgeable people, and loving friends, for those three years both of those things were a sparse commodity. To get back to form I needed to become a different person, and to do that I needed help, I needed people who believed in me, and most of all I needed a reason to push headlong through the uncertainties of my condition and the physical trials of trying to come across a 7 year gap to not simply find what I once had, but so much more. In his book “Outliers” Malcom Gladwell takes a look at the opportunities that outliers receive, are able to recognize, and take advantage of that are milestones along their road to success. I had all of those things in 2007, not to the extent that some others had, but what I did have I lost over night.
This section though is not about the loss, it’s not about the first 10,000 hours I put in, and the opportunities that I had. It’s about stooping down with worn out tools and building it all back up, coming full circle and logging a 2nd 10,000 hours finding and taking advantage of a whole new set of opportunities. More specifically this section labeled “Blessings” is about those opportunities, or to be more specific, the people in my life that I needed to meet, to learn from, and quite simply to have in my life to not only get healthy again, but for the first time in my life start performing up to my potential. I can in no way take credit for finding all of these people. I can only give credit where credit is due. I serve a God who is faithful to provide even for a bitter angry man who could not see the opportunities he had been given. Each of these people in my life is precious to me, and I dare say that take away a single one of them and you would not be reading these words. Below are listed those people closest to me who have helped get me back on track.