When Mark Nepo asked us to pair up for an exercise at his writing/spiritual retreat in Santa Barbara, I turned to my new friend, Bill. At the start of the retreat, we corralled ourselves together in the same row of seats with his service dog, Forest, and my service dog, Malcolm.
Mark asked us to think about a time when we had worked really hard to move towards something, but in the end, that wasn’t the thing that we ended up getting.
“I used to be an endurance runner,” I told Bill. “Actually, I was a personal trainer and marathon coach, and I had run 14 marathons up until I was first diagnosed with cancer in 2008 … but I’ve permanently lost 60% of my lungs to cancer treatments … I now live with 40% of lung capacity for an average woman my age … so, all that training ended up being just to get my body strong for cancer … 11 minutes shy of qualifying for Boston.”
My eyes met Bill’s, and he lit up smiling right back at me.
“I used to be a runner too, before the accident,” he said. “Actually, when the accident happened, I had been training for the Bay to Breaker’s and I was reading a Runner’s World Magazine that I had just bought at the gas station where we stopped. While I was sitting in the passenger seat reading about the Bay to Breaker’s, we got hit.”
We were both runners. We started telling stories of the places we had run, our favorite races, and everything that we missed about endurance racing – planning our run schedules, meals, traveling across the country to run, scribbling the date on the insole of my new running shoes, lathering up my feet with Vaseline and Aquaphor. The exhilaration. The solitude. The wind. The cold. The heat. The running.
“I’ve been told that I won’t be able to run marathons again,” I said. “I still jog short distances every once in a while, but to me, that’s not running.”
As I spoke, my downcast eyes traced the outline of Bill’s shoes, followed the outline of the small wheel that supported the foot platform on his wheelchair, and then skipped back over to my own rain-soaked sneakers.
My feet were wet, because I could walk.