Monday, May 31, 2010
Almost every time I crawl on that bike it happens. I spend the first few minutes adjusting my headphones, picking out my play list, getting comfy in the seat, then warming up my legs for the long ride on a bike that goes nowhere. Round and round my legs go, on the easy setting to get things started. After two, maybe three songs, it’s time to get serious. I lean forward and pump up the resistance. With every beep I feel the pedals resisting my feet just a little bit more.
Then comes the hard part. Pushing on when it’s not easy. Letting my thigh muscles strain against the tension. Forcing each pedal down in an even rhythm, on the left side, then the right, then back to the left. Most days I have to coach myself through it. I give myself the pep talk and visualize the good that will come from these uncomfortable moments. And then I dig deep.
I first learned to dig deep on a cold day in January, when a ten and a half pound baby was trying to make her way out of my body. We had taken the childbirth classes and been a bit deceived by the message, ‘if you just breathe correctly, you’ll do fine in labor!’
I did the breathing just as we’d practiced and it hurt like heck anyway. We ran through all the tricks, trying to find something that gave me any hope that I’d actually survive this ordeal. I changed positions, I panted, I prayed and I never could seem to find relief. For the first time in my life I had to dig deep. Very deep.
I closed my eyes and went to a place deep inside. I imagined the numbers we were chanting to get us through contractions, each in psychedelic colors, rushing toward me as I chanted them along with Jeff, much like the scene from Sesame Street when the Count is doing his thing. It was just enough of a distraction that I could survive that one contraction.
After a quick breath, another one would come and we’d start over. Closed eyes, going somewhere else, concentrating on only that moment in time until I could come up for air once again.
And despite my beliefs otherwise, she finally did arrive. We had our first baby, I’d survived giving birth to her, and even better, I’d learned a new life skill.
Unbelievably the same scene played out three more times, which explains the four tall kids who roam my house and spill juice on my couch. Soon I learned to use my labor skills for other hard things that life threw my way.
Six months after my leg surgery, when I was finally fitted with a great bionic limb, I made a bee line to the local gym. I was determined to get my strength back and see what this new limb could do. Every day I mounted a stationary bike, plugged in my headphones, and pedaled for almost an hour.
At first it was hard. Years of disability had left me with weak muscles. But soon I saw that every day I dug deep, and pushed myself on that machine, made me one tiny bit stronger. The pay off was worth it.
Now I am just a regular person on the bikes. Trying to get in better shape before my son makes me honor the promise I made to ride the bike in a triathlon he wants us to do this summer. Even though it’s easier now, with this leg I’ve had for over six years, there are days I just don’t feel like doing it. And those are the days I have to dig deep again.
The pep talks I give myself have similar themes these days. Mostly I think about my sister-in-law. She’s the woman my husband’s brother was smart enough to marry. She’s the nicest person you’ll ever meet. She lights up a room with her positive energy and thousand watt smile. And she inspires me in big ways when it comes to being fit.
Some people come to running easily. I have a son and a couple of brothers in law who fall into that category. But Terry fights for every ounce of her fitness level. Tooth and nail scrapes ahead, day by day, determined to reach the amazing goals she’s set for herself.
Because of a health condition, she has a limited diet I would not survive on for two days. She also battles asthma and has her fair share of wheezing and panting spells. She has every excuse in the world to sit on the couch and whine about what life has dealt. But she has no time for couches. She’s too busy hiking the mountain trails near her house and running long stretches of road to train for races.
Races like the Boston Marathon, which she completed last month. This is a person who knows what it means to dig deep.
So as I plug away on my simple exercise bike, trying to come up with any reason why I need to end my work out early or skip it entirely, I think of Terry and know I don’t have a choice.
If Terry can burrow into that amazing inner core she has, and pull off a marathon, I can pedal for a few extra minutes on a bike in an air conditioned gym. I don’t struggle to breathe. I have lungs that will easily take me where I need to go.
All I have to do is count my blessings, dig deep, and start pedaling.