Faith, prayer and a fitness trainer allowed her to reclaim something she loved.
Posted in , Apr 11, 2012
Deep breaths. That’s what I told myself at the starting line of the 13.1-mile, 2011 OC (Orange County, Calif.) Half Marathon. Six thousand six hundred people were about to head off through the city, past parks, the Pacific Ocean, the magnificent homes and yachts alongside Newport Harbor.
Somewhere near the finish line, I knew, my husband and three children would be waiting. I jumped up and down, trying to loosen my muscles and ease my anxiety.
I’m as ready as I’ll ever be, I thought.
Could I make it? I honestly didn’t know. I hadn’t run a race in 36 years, since I was 14. In those days, in the dawn of Title IX legislation, there weren’t many team sports available to high school girls. And fewer, still, for girls like me who were also deaf.
People were always quick to tell me all I couldn’t do. Basketball and field hockey were out, they said, because I wouldn’t be able to communicate with my teammates. But in a race all I had to do was take off when my opponents started.
I loved the freedom of sprinting out past everyone else, my nostrils filled with fresh air, my hair whipping in the breeze, alone with my thoughts.
When my family moved to a new town my freshman high school year, I told my parents I wanted to try out for the track team. “It will be a good way for you to make new friends,” my mother said.
The coach disagreed. I can read lips, so I know what he said. “You can’t compete because you can’t hear the starter’s gun.” And then, in front of the whole team he shouted, “You’re out!” and made like an umpire calling me out on strikes. To this day, I’ve never felt so humiliated.
I gave up running for pleasure. I went to college, married Ed, my college boyfriend, and with him raised three lovely children. I took a job at Disneyland as a wardrobe supervisor, responsible for dressing the resort’s 20,000 cast members.
One night last spring I plopped down on my sofa with a big bowl of ice cream and tuned to The Biggest Loser, one of my favorite TV shows. I could relate to the contestants. I hated the way I looked. Hated the oversize shirts I wore to hide my girth. I needed to drop about 35 pounds. But how?
People on the show had professional trainers. I couldn’t even find time to hit the gym. In my life, my family and my job took precedence. But I had to do something. I switched off the TV. Lord, I asked, give me the strength to change.
One evening after work, I drove to a fitness center. “I want to work with a trainer,” I said. Minutes later, this Adonis walked out, 6-foot-4 and built to the max. “I’m Matt,” he said. “I’ll be your trainer.” I couldn’t hear him, but I could read his lips.
I nearly ran for the door. But then he smiled. He was so sincere. “Are you ready to get started?” he asked. If this guy was willing to work with me, maybe there really was hope. I wanted to train every day. Matt insisted I build up slowly.
He put me on one of those cross-training machines. He had me do push-ups and sit-ups and miles on the stationary bicycle. He changed my workout every day, so I never got bored. The only thing I refused to do was get on the treadmill. I still couldn’t stomach the idea of running.
“Come on,” he urged. “I’ll get on the machine next to you.”
But I always made up some excuse. “I hurt my foot,” I told him. He never forced the issue. Instead, he focused on the things I would do, including changing my diet. Out went fatty foods, fried foods, snacks. In came fruits, vegetables and salads. Out of solidarity, my family adjusted their diets to go along with mine.
The weight started to drop off. First three pounds, then five. Matt got more work out of me than I ever thought possible. One day he asked me to teach him sign language for the word light. I showed him.
A little later I was working on an abs-strengthening machine. “Does that feel light?” he signed. Yes, I answered. He increased the weight.
After a few months, I’d lost ten pounds. Then 20. Five pounds to go. But then I stalled. No matter how much I sweated, or how carefully I stuck to my diet, my weight stayed the same.
“You must do more,” Matt said.
“But I’m doing all I can.”
“You should start running.”
I didn’t have the courage to tell him about my memories of running in high school. Matt sensed my reluctance. “Look,” he said, “there’s a team of runners from the fitness club competing in the Surf City Marathon this Saturday. Why don’t you come down and just watch them?”
Because I owed him so much, I went with my husband to see the race. I don’t know what I expected, but the instant I laid eyes on the runners, I was swept away. Thousands of entrants, all jangling their arms, sweat on their brows, stretching their legs, anxious for the race to begin. How I remembered those feelings!
Then the starting gun fired and they were off. One runner caught my eye as he sprinted down the street. He wore a sign pinned to his back. The words were from Philippians 4:13: “I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength.” A fire stirred in me.
Silently, I repeated my prayer. Lord, give me the strength to change.
The next day, I sought out Matt at the gym. “Okay, I’ll run on the treadmill,” I said.
“We’ll do it together,” he said, and he stepped onto one of the machines. I climbed on the one next to his.
“Ready?” he asked, and very slowly, we jogged a quarter-mile—my first run of any kind in decades.
That wasn’t so bad, I thought. I was about to climb down when Matt said, “Let’s stay on and walk a bit.” When we completed that, he said, “Let’s jog another quarter-mile.”
I was in love with running again. Matt kept upping my mileage on the treadmill. I could feel myself getting stronger. And miracle of miracles, the weight started dropping off again. Matt convinced me to add to my routine by running outside.
That was the biggest step. Facing those demons from high school and leaving them behind. I started running a route near my home. I’d head out along quiet roads and spot rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, even a coyote. I felt a part of nature. I was so at peace. Soon I was running four days a week.
It was Matt, of course, who convinced me to enter the annual OC Half Marathon. And Matt who helped me train. I added a weekly spinning class to my regimen.
The day of the race, the weather was Southern California lovely. Ed and the children dropped me off and made their way to the finish line. “We know you can do it,” Ed said.
Suddenly, I was on my own. I walked into the crowd of runners. The gun sounded, and we were off. The miles went by, my legs kept pumping, and I realized, I couldn’t be happier. Around mile eight, I pulled a hamstring, and not even that could stop me.
All along the route, crowds were cheering —pulling for all of us, pulling for me. I couldn’t hear them, but I know what a shout looks like.
I couldn’t tell you where in the pack I finished. That wasn’t important. What counted was that I ran. At the finish line, my family greeted me like I was some kind of hero. I’m no hero. I’d simply changed.