This guest blog is written by Kristi Lyn Reddy. Kristi Lyn is one of my clients in The Narrative Project, a business I run helping writers get their books done. In a coaching session, I discovered she was a runner, and subsequently, we’ve had the chance to run a half marathon together (and by together, I mean she ran fast and I brought up the rear). I asked Kristi Lyn to write a guest post a.) because she is a beautiful writer and b.) because she is a strong woman with an important message to get out into the world. This post is a powerful testimony to the human will. Thanks to Kristi Lyn for being an inspiration in SO many ways!
As I lay in bed, snug beneath my cozy blanket, visions of me in running gear fill my mind. Fresh air fills my lungs as I inhale with each stride gliding along the sidewalk heading towards the wooded trail about a mile from my home. Cars pass by, drivers gaze out their windows at me. ‘I should go for a run like that woman.’ A renewed determination fills me as I reach over for my phone. A swipe and a click and the Alarmy app opens. I adjust the time to wake me up an hour earlier than originally planned.
My sleep is fitful like every night. Never a good sleeper, naps evade me on a sunny afternoon while laying in the grass. Unlike my husband who can fall asleep just about anywhere at any time. Eyes closed, out. My alarm is sounding, I am reminded to get up and go for a run. My arm reaches over, my hand swiping the snooze option. Not once, not twice, but three times. There is a chill in the bedroom air. The heating system has not yet warmed the house. I imagine it is cold outside. My eyes stir and glance out the window. Rain.
I turn the alarm off and doze back to sleep. I will run another day.
For the past several years, I have wanted to be a runner. Dreamt of being a runner. Told myself I could be a runner. If only I would try. I, likely like many of you, knew in high school, I wanted to do anything, but run. Remember the Friday mile? My high school P.E. teacher, Mr. Smith, grandpa Smith to many of us, was the best! Thinning white hair, a mustache forever needing to be trimmed, with a stern face other than the twinkle in his eye. All week long he would remind us the Friday mile was coming ‘and this week, everybody, and I mean every-body is running it. The whole mile.’ Friday came, and us girls chattered in the locker room as we changed into our shorts, tees and running shoes. Each one of us non-runners contemplating our excuse. We sauntered out to the plaza in front of the gym where other students (runners) stretched, pre-run. This week, no different than the last, Mr. Smith timer in hand, encouraged us to do our best and run as much of the mile as we could. We all jogged out of the plaza and around the corner of the gymnasium, out of sight before slowing to a walk. If we were back before the bell rang, we would receive credit for running the weekly mile.
Fast forward a few years, I’m a young mother still carrying around the baby weight I gained when pregnant. Fonder, of step aerobics of the Denise Austin variety, I tried everything but running to lose the weight. (Well, that and not changing my diet.) A nudge somewhere within sparked the thought of taking up running. Every runner I had ever seen was thin. Long legs, muscular calves leading to toned thighs just below their short runner shorts. In my mind running was the epitome of being in shape. Slight hitch in my plan, I was living in an abusive marriage with a controlling husband. To keep the peace, I had honed several coping mechanisms. One of which was to never express I enjoyed something or that I wanted something for my own pleasure. To do so meant one of two things would happen. He would either step in and take ownership of the activity and do it with me, his way. Or he would squelch the activity altogether ensuring me he knew something better for me to do. Instead I needed to feign distaste and obligation in order to do things I wanted to do. I enlisted a fellow tenant in the apartments we lived in to be my jogging partner. To my husband I stated this neighbor was so out of shape and over weight that she begged me to help her do something. How could I say no, even if it meant spending time with someone I found utterly annoying (in all honesty I enjoyed every moment with this woman, originally from a small village outside Bombay, India). It worked.
One problem quickly presented itself, we both hated running. It wasn’t long before she grew tired of my running circles around the vacant parking lot behind the church across the street. She wondered if we could go to Green Lake instead to run with a bit more scenery. Deep down inside I knew this would never be an option. My husband would say, no. I begged off, telling her to go on her own. I would stick to the parking lot. Without a running partner, the dull parking lot quickly stifled what little motivation I had to run.
I gave up running before I truly got going. It was boring. My lungs hurt if I ran for more than 10 minutes. The cold hurt my body and the heat was unbearable. I was constantly out of breath. Never able to hit the runner’s stride that many spoke of, if only you got past mile 1 or 2 or was it 3? The point where you found your rhythm and realized you could run forever. Was that really a thing, or was it a myth? At this rate, I would never know. The simple fact was, I was not a runner. I needed to accept that. Besides my husband had begun to question my need for going across to the church parking lot each afternoon, now that my running partner was no more.
Late 2015, just before the Christmas holiday, I had my annual mammogram. Routine, nothing out of the ordinary. I go in, wear the uncomfortable gown, technician squishes my boobs in several angles. Hold my breath, take a pic. Done. She tells me I should receive a letter in about 10 days and to have a wonderful holiday season. A few days later my phone rang. The nurse on the other end of the call explained the Doctor wanted me to come back in for a few more pics and possibly an ultra sound. In shock, I didn’t even ask what they had seen. After hanging up the call, there was this feeling in the pit of my stomach. Not dread, not fear, just a knowing. I had cancer. I had lost my mom to breast cancer in 2005. She was 54 years old. Now, eleven years later, I would be diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 42.
The previous year, I had once again challenged myself to get healthy, lose a few pounds and over-all get in shape. I was working out at home (tried the gym, not for me), Beach Body videos, sit ups, push-ups. And eating a healthier diet. I was down 10 pounds and confident I could lose another 10 if I kept it up. I had shed the abusive husband in 2002 and met a wonderful man in 2003 that I married the year after I lost my mother. We had since had a son together and he had adopted my daughter from my previous marriage. We were a partnership. He was and is my personal cheerleader. The one person who always had my back and pushed me to do whatever I wanted to better myself and our family.
Cancer, the word, the disease, did not spark fear within me. Between my faith in God, and the strength of my family, I felt calm and prepared to win the fight that lay before us. I even felt thankful for it. Thankful for cancer. Unlike anything else, cancer would slow me down. Cause me to stop, be present, take stock of my life, my activities, my future, what was and what would be. Cancer would give me time. Time to rest, to focus, to prioritize, to determine what truly mattered. If I respected it, cancer would be a blessing. And it was.
Through it all, the Doctor visits, the surgeries (eight of them), the cancer (two kinds all things told), the chemo and the IV Herceptin treatments, I determined to exercise. Some days all I could do was bounce on my exercise ball. Others I went for a walk, did sit-ups, lunges and of course push-ups. Starting with 5 push-ups in a set several months before my diagnosis, I had advanced to 12 in one set. I would one day get to four sets of 30 push-ups in a day. Each day as I did some form of exercise, my heart filled with the strength of knowing I was staying committed to my health. On the best days, I jogged.
On the best days I jogged.
It began one sunny day in March 2016. About 40 days post-surgery I stepped outside for a walk to soak up some vitamin D while taking in the fresh early spring air. I needed a couple items from the grocery store and thought I would walk rather than drive. About halfway to the store, which was 1 mile away, a little voice inside my head chided me.
“What are you thinking going for a 2 mile walk 6 weeks post-surgery?”
“I feel pretty darn good actually,” I argued with myself.
“Um, what would Tom think if he knew you were doing this right now?”
I paused for a second, a skip in my normally calm breath causing me a moment of hesitation, bordering on fear.
“Ha, you almost got me there. Tom would be proud of me. He would say if I felt up for it, I should do it. If I hurt, I should listen to my body and rest.”
My self now silent, I walked on. I neared the intersection of N 130thStreet and Aurora Avenue N. The stairs leading up to the pedestrian bridge loomed in front of me. I wondered if I could jog up them. I decided I could. With a bounce in my step that resonated through my body and into my heart, I jogged up the stairs, across the bridge and down the other side. It felt great!
That day was the beginning of my running life. Not because I loved it. Not even because I liked it. Not because it felt good, in many ways, it did not. I would learn, running would never be because I was great at it or because of the high that many runners get. It was because I could. I could run.
I finished out my cancer treatment April of 2017. Soon after I signed up for a 5k run. And then the Sounders 9K, then the Husky 10K, then the Seahawks 12K and finally the Race For A Soldier 10-Mile run in Gig Harbor. Each race I pushed myself to jog the entire time. That was my only goal. How long it took, did not matter to me. What place I came in, furthest in my mind. No walking. I would run the whole way, not because I wanted to, but because I could.
I run because I can.
In 2018, I ran the Susan G. Komen 5K. After the other, much longer races, it felt very do-able. Almost easy. A little over zealous, I signed up for a half marathon with my writing coach and friend, Cami Ostman. Cami was training for yet another marathon and needed to run a half. I am happy to say I did it and I ran the entire thing, hills and all. I was thrilled. Sore as heck, but thrilled. I didn’t love it. In fact, on that day I determined I was done. I would not go on to run a marathon. I don’t love running. I love the idea of running. I love thinking about running. I love talking about running. I love how I feel when I stop running. I love signing up for a race with a friend and thinking that it will be the race where I decide I love running.
I am alive. I am healthy. My body has not failed me. Cancer invaded me. My body (and medicine) fought it, and we won. As long as I am alive, I will do things even if I do not love them in honor of my body and the life it affords me. When I am running, I feel most alive. I am doing something that does not come natural to me. Something I to determine to do, will myself to do, push myself to do. Not for love. I run because I can.