Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Courage to Start ... Again and Again and Again

“The seeds planted in our youth never die. They bide their time until it is time to bloom.” ~Mary McManus

A theme in my soon to be released book, "Journey Well"

is finding the courage to take my place at the starting line over and over and over again; to find the courage to come back after life packed powerful punches.

There was a very special person from my childhood who planted the seeds that now blossom as I toe the starting line at different races and find the courage to dig deep regardless of what conditions there are in my life. From "Journey Well":

I was reflecting on where my courage to start comes from. In reading Bill Rodgers, “The Marathon Man” and Dave McGillivray's,“The Last Pick”, they talk about the people who lit that spark within them helping them to believe in themselves. When I was 9 and 10 years old, I went to Badger Day Camp in Larchmont, New York. My physiatrist, Dr. Eugene Moskowitz, who was helping me to recover from paralytic polio, suggested the camp because of its emphasis on being an all-inclusive camp, having a low camper to counselor ratio and critical to my recovery, a strong emphasis on swimming. I learned how to swim at Badger. I always felt a part of the Camp community. Counselors created an atmosphere of acceptance for all abilities. They encouraged me to do what I could do on the athletic field. They helped me to hone my archery and riflery skills where I could easily earn medals. My time at Badger was a healing balm for the violence my body endured every night. It was also a healing balm for the bullying and teasing I endured in school as a survivor of polio.

Joseph Stetz was on his way to becoming an Olympian. Instead, he gave up becoming an Olympian to pursue his career as a doctor. I can only imagine how many lives he blessed in his career as a cardiothoracic surgeon at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Brighton, Massachusetts. He was my swimming counselor and in my 2nd and what would sadly be my last year at Badger due to health issues related to polio, he asked me to swim the butterfly in the Badger Olympics. I thought he was crazy. He explained to me that there were only two other campers signed up to compete in the butterfly in my division. He said that it didn't matter what my time was. He wanted me to go out there and swim the best that I could possibly swim. He said that I was guaranteed my place on the medal stand and that I would earn my bronze medal (which as I recall was a plaque) for having the courage to swim in a race that no one else would sign on for. How could I refuse him? He was about 6'2" tall and in amazing physical shape with an incredibly handsome face and warm brown eyes. He told me that he would help me train for the event. He coached me on my form and breathing. He helped me to find the courage to jump off the starting block into the pool and coached me on what form would give me the best start. He "got" me and what I needed in order to succeed mind, body and Spirit.

Badger Olympics Day arrived. He helped to calm my nerves. We both knew that one way or another I was going to finish the race. As I write this I can still remember the tremendous effort it took for me to finish that race. But I did it! I proudly took my place on the medal stand. Joseph gave me his address on the last day of Camp and encouraged me to stay in touch with him. I wrote to him about the medical challenges I was facing and he wrote back beautiful letters of support. He was in medical school at the time. We lost contact through the years until one day in December 2004, I was reading the Boston Globe and saw his obituary. I was stunned for so many reasons not the least of which was I worked as a psychiatric social worker at St. Elizabeth's Hospital where he was on staff as a cardiothoracic surgeon. He died at the age of 62 in a single car accident a few months after he retired.

Joseph was only 21 years old when I met him but he was a soul far wiser than his years. In his Boston Globe obituary, he was described as "an old-school doctor who didn't mind giving patients a much-needed hug," said Bernadette Trenholm, Dr. Stetz's personal administrator and close friend. "Appointments were always as long as they needed to be with him. If the patients needed two hours, Dr. Stetz would give them two hours."

I often feel his presence and will feel his presence when I toe the starting line on Thanksgiving morning at the Boston Volvo Village 5K Road Race to benefit the Greater New England Chapter's National Multiple Sclerosis Society. The course goes in front of St. Elizabeth's Hospital. You can read about my passion for running this race and helping to create a world free from MS and other neuromuscular disorders by going to my donation page. While I am hoping to PR the race next Thursday, more important than my PR goal is my fundraising goal. Please give what you can so that those living with the challenge of MS and other neuromuscular disorders can find the courage to start again and again and again.

The first 7 years of my healing odyssey are chronicled in Coming Home: A Memoir of Healing, Hope and Possibility available on Amazon. I donate 50% of royalty payments to The One Fund Boston to help survivors and their families who were affected by the tragic events of 4/15/13.

My 2nd book, "Journey Well," is coming soon. 50% of book proceeds will be donated to AccesSportAmerica to help them continue their life changing programs

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