I have been through a few dark periods in my life. I literally did not think I would make it through them. There have been at least three that I can count off the top of my head in which I felt suffering outweighed living and I didn’t know how long I could continue. The message I always want to convey to people is that even when things are at their worst, you must have confidence that there is something grand awaiting you on the other side if you keep going. You will be rewarded. It may take months, it may take years, but it will happen. At least that is what my life experience has taught me.
With my injuries on the island I barely made it through each day. It was physical misery. When I knew my daughter was on the way, I had to rise to the occasion somehow. It had been over three years since my injury and it didn’t seem like things were getting any better. In August of 1994, we bought our first house in the valley town of Orting, Washington with the help of my father. I was lucky to have that support. Orting is a beautiful town that had a population of around 2,000 people and had the Carbon River on one side and the Puyallup River on the other. The view of Mount Rainier from there is exceptional. It is a town that is supposed to be destroyed when Mount Rainier erupts again, so there are warning sirens all around town. The house can be another story at another time.
In late August, the school year began. I had not told the school about my injury and wanted few to know. I had to have janitors move chairs and desks because I could not and in fact had to have students collect their books from the shelves as I could not carry even one heavy textbook without feeling the strain. Somehow, I made it through the first weeks. Each day was exhausting and trying, but I was making a little progress it seemed only to have setbacks when I moved incorrectly or tried to move something.
My daughter Sierra Danielle was born on January 4, 1995. It was a magical thing. It was hard to believe we had this new being in our life. She is 25 now as I type and a brilliant, independent thinker. I will write about her in depth at some point.
Unfortunately, I was injured so badly that I could only hold her for short periods unless she was laying on me on the couch. It was incredibly frustrating and depressing at times. It was cold and each day after work I would come home and wrap her in blankets and take her out in our front yard to feel the fresh air. I started to walk on the sidewalk, but could not even make it out of our yard before having to turn back due to pain. For whatever reason I continued to do this daily. Soon I made it to the edge of our property, then the next house and then to the corner. From there I eventually crossed the street and made it to the next corner. Something was happening. I was getting better!! I did this for months, sometimes having to sit down in somebody’s yard because I could not go any further.
I began to have a little hope. The next August of 1995, I was asked to be the cross-country running coach for the high school. I knew nothing about the sport and of course couldn’t run, but agreed to do it. The team was so small that single digit number of athletes (male and female combined) showed up at the first practice. I will write about this experience in depth at some point, but for now, suffice is to say I became well-read about coaching and running and eventually had a team of 50 athletes and was awarded coach of the year for our league. I was so very passionate about the sport and what it could do for young people. I began to be able to jog a little at practice. Soon I was able to run a couple of miles. The captain of the team, Justin Miller and I would enter data after meets and work on our web site. One day I said, ¨wouldn’t it be amazing if I could run a marathón (26.2 miles-42 km) one day?¨ He turned my coaching psychology on me and said,¨It is not a matter of if you will, but when you will.¨ The seed had been planted. I will detail my progresssion in marathoning at another time, but almost eight years later, I would not only qualify for and run the Boston Marathon, but I would break the magical three-hour mark for the marathón in another race, running a 2:55:52 in Olympia, Washington and placed third overall. I had never worked so hard for something for so long in all of my life. I still had significant back issues at the time, but I was able to accomplish something few people have. To think that I felt that my life was over and there was no hope. There is a big lesson there. Keep trying, keep making the next step, keep learning new ways to do things and have faith that something positive remains around the corner waiting for you. If it were not for my daughter, this never would have happened. A newspaper interviewed me to write an article about this and I could not keep from crying when I told the story. Thank you, Sierra for saving my life. More running stories to come.