We’re all recovering from something, but that’s okay. Just keep stepping.
Mine was the definition of a freak accident, the kind where a moment of playfulness takes an unexpected wrong turn and things change forever, or so it seems.
It was the first at bat of the first inning of the first softball game I’d played in years, and the batter hit a shallow blooper toward me. I took off after the ball on a dead sprint, and for whatever reason—a bad step, an uneven field, fate—my right femur dislocated from its socket. The tendons that kept the leg bone connected to the hip bone snapped the head of my femur hard into my pelvis, shattering it.
What followed isn’t particularly interesting: surgeries, months lying around, wheelchair to walker to crutches to cane, and a commitment never to play softball again. The risk to benefit ratio just didn’t work for me: I didn’t care enough about softball to risk not walking for another year. But I enjoyed running, and the fact that I couldn’t do it made me want to even more. As soon as the doc let me I got back out there on my atrophied legs, putting one foot in front of the other for no practical reason beyond the pace, the cadence, the quiet.
Well, that isn’t entirely true. After my freak accident running became a protest of sorts, a way of telling both my body and fate that they weren’t in control; that I would decide when it was time to stop running. No random occurrence was going to keep me down. So I registered for my first organized event, a half marathon. That’s 13.1 miles, roughly 25,000 repetitions of femur pounding into surgically reconstructed socket. I lined up at the starting line that day afraid of so much: Will my body break down? Will I make it? Has fate already determined my destiny?
I fell into pace with a middle-aged school teacher who was running her first race, too. We passed the miles with inane conversation. I told her about my accident, and she told me about her recent divorce. We were both recovering from something. Strangers lined the course, which was nothing more than city streets blocked off for the event. They clapped and cheered as we hobbled past near the back of the pack: “Looking good! You can do it!” The more my bolted together bones ached, the more I depended on kind words from strangers. Other strangers gave us water, yelled our time, counted down the distance to the finish line.
We hit the twelve mile mark and my body didn’t want anymore. My schoolteacher running buddy pulled away, excited by the sight of the finish line in the distance. “Good luck!” She yelled. “You can do it.” And I did. It wasn’t pretty, but I crossed my first finish line while people I never met cheered for me as if I was the winner rather than the 300th person to cross that line.
You can’t make sense of a tragedy. All you can do is heal up, and when you’re ready lace them up and put one foot in front of the other again. Every finish line is just another starting line, and we’re all here cheering you on. I know you’re tired and it feels like you can’t take another step, but you can. You can do it.