Friday, December 5, 2014

On Being a Dark Horse - Against All Odds-Never Underestimate the Heart of a Champion

Before I ran a PR in the 2014 Tufts 10K, I harnessed the image of Seabiscuit. As I was reflecting on my journey after Wednesday's treatment at Sollievo Massage and Bodywork, I realize that I was quite the long shot; a dark horse in the race of life. Contracting paralytic polio at age 5 in a chaotic and dysfunctional family was quite the challenge for me. Running away was not an option. I was dependent on my family for ongoing medical care and physical therapy. I did the best I could with what I had and I honed my intellectual skills. I was high school valedictorian; my investment in my intellect paid off in big dividends as I was awarded scholarships that gave me almost a free ride for my freshman year at Boston University. I had the heart of a champion that kept me moving forward despite losing my father to suicide a month before I went off to college and that gave me the strength and courage to weather going through bankruptcy proceedings on my mother's behalf at the age of 18.

I paid a steep price for focusing solely on my intellect at the expense of investing in my physical well-being.

A wake up call eight years ago with the diagnosis of post polio syndrome forced me to pay attention to and take care of my long neglected and despised body.

Running called to me; running the Boston Marathon came from deep within my soul. It was sheer will and determination that kept me going and the heart of a champion that helped me cross the finish line of the 2009 Boston Marathon. It is the heart of a champion that helped me to run 8 races in 8 months with two PR's after a two year running hiatus.

During my marathon training, I remembered a scene from gym class. In "Journey Well," I write a letter to my 5-year-old-self recalling that moment:

Dear Mary,
Let me begin by saying you made it! You made it through this mess. You are healing in ways that defy what the medical community said would happen to your body after being diagnosed with post polio syndrome. But the physical manifestation is not as important as the healing of your heart and soul although they of course cannot be separated out from one another or separated out from your physical form.

I now know the terror you felt lying paralyzed with no one to care for you. At times your body still quakes in the wake of those moments when your mother smoked a cigarette and glared at you strung out on prescription pain medication. How blessed to have a mind/body therapist who could allow you to process this experience in a safe space and even help us experience moments without any tremors at all! You were blessed by the earth angel Miss Holly, a physical therapist. She introduced you to the healing cadence of Dr. Seuss that planted the seeds for poetry to blossom in your soul to help you heal and bring love, light and inspiration to others through your gift of poetry.

Experiencing "touch that feels good is a move toward health," as Zero Balancing offers. For you to experience touch that feels good with clear boundaries focused solely on helping you to heal was a reminder of those moments of being left alone with no one to care for you. And so you spoke your truth yesterday. I weep for you and what you had to go through but I also celebrate you. I celebrate your strength and your determination to not let those looks kill you. I celebrate your courage to return to school and hone your intellectual skills since athletics did not seem to be an option for you at the time. How amazing that you went to gym class and withstood the taunting of "easy out Alper". How miraculous that one day, when the outfield moved in because they knew you couldn't kick a ball worth a damn, you connected with that ball and it ended up being a home run because there was no one in the outfield to play it. I am so happy that you chose life even though you faced death many times over in the years that followed.

Although growing up was not easy by any means, just look at the life you have had. You spent 25 years in service as a social worker, 19 of those at the Department of Veterans Affairs serving those who served. When it came time to leave because it was a life or death decision, your husband told you it was a no brainer and has supported you through every one of your, at times, crazy ideas including running the 2009 Boston Marathon.

Never underestimate the heart of a champion you may meet and never ever underestimate your own heart as a champion. Believe in your strength and how precious and perfect you are.

No matter what conditions life presents to us, we can always find a way to journey well.

The Thoroughbred

A dark horse
dark past
finishing last
ready to quit
battered and bruised
a foal fouled
yet Spirit unbroken
a thoroughbred deep inside
despite appearances
all she needed was a chance
someone to believe in her
a horse whisperer
in the mist
amidst fog and foliage
she runs
breaking free
into the champion she was always meant to be.

"Journey Well" is available in Paperback and Kindle edition on Amazon

We are having a Book Release Party on January 10th from 5:30-7:30pm at the birthplace of Journey Well, Sollievo Massage and Bodywork, 2285 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA. Hope you can join us if you are in the greater Boston area.

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