My 3 Mile Island
I have always considered myself to be in pretty good shape. I stay relatively active year ‘round with activities like basketball, soccer, swimming, biking, and Muck-I-fighting with my kids (That’s what my kids call wrestling, still not sure where they got the name from). Also, thanks to my wife’s insistence, I eat relatively healthy, enjoying vegetables as often as possible (whether I like it or not) and reducing the amount of junk food I consume.
Now, just so you understand, I was in no way under the illusion that I was in "great" shape. Like many over the age of 40, after playing hoops or running around a soccer field for any extended length of time - more than 5 minutes - I was sore, achy, tired, and maybe a little over-heated. But, aside from the occasional joint discomfort and shortness of breath from long flights of stairs, I believed I was in good operating condition…then came two events that forced me to reconsider my standard operating procedures.
The first event, about a year ago now, started routinely enough. I was helping set up for our church carnival, carrying chairs and tables out to the front lawn, when I struck up a conversation with one of the gentleman I was working alongside. I started out the conversation, half joking, like many do in this sort of situation, “boy, we’re really getting our work-out for the day, maybe even the week!” “Naaa, I’ve got to get ready for my 5k” he said without breaking stride.
Ordinarily, this comment would have caused me NO shame or introspection; I mean, there are lots of kids out there that thrive on punishing their bodies into an early grave. However, this was no kid…this gentleman was, he was, uh…let’s just say older than I was. Furthermore, judging by the differences in our breathing rate, he was obviously in much better physical condition than I was. Physically fit, yes, but in my book, just the mention of purposely running a 5k put his mental condition in question, especially at his age! Just as a note…he mentioned several other folks that were, uh, older than I was. No doubt, to make his craziness seem more normal and try to deepen my shame... it worked.
Over the following year, I made great strides in limiting the shame - as well as the nagging thought that maybe I wasn’t as healthy or physically fit as I should be. I thought about exercising at least 3 times a week, I switched to decaf coffee, I coached soccer, and I stopped adding sugar to all my food. Yessiree, great strides indeed! I was feeling great; it’s amazing what you can do when you put your mind to it. Once again, I began to believe I was in good operating condition... no, I began to believe I was in great operating condition. The shame of a year ago was all but a memory, until the second event.
There I was, feeling quite smug, satisfied with the ease at which I had attained such Herculean health and fitness when a friend I was chatting with said, “I’ve got to get ready for my 5k,” or race, or whatever he said. The point is, there it was again, the shame, taunting me. I quickly recovered my smugness by reminding myself that my friend was younger than I was. But then it happened, something I didn’t plan for, he asked me if I wanted to join him on a short run this evening to the park and back? Before I could assess the situation and mount the appropriate response; my smugness, arrogance, instinct, or all three took over and sent a false indicator signal,” Sure, that sounds great”.
That sounds great?!?
Over the next couple hours I struggled to regain control, the answers I frantically sought, like "you’ve got to be kidding me, do you think I’m crazy or something?” coming too late to be of any use now. The final and fatal decision came when my friend showed up ready to run. I could have made any number of decisions to avoid what was coming but instead, I unwittingly took the path that would lead to partial melt down… there was no turning back now.
After one block of pounding the pavement with my; unknown to me; severely un-prepared body, I began to see the signs. My calves were the first to go, seizing up and becoming absolutely useless. Running now without the ability to bend my ankles I pushed on. Next to go was my lungs. I reasoned that since my calves went out, my need for oxygen was reduced, therefore off setting my reduced lung capacity. However, I didn’t count on my friend insisting on carrying on a conversation while we were running, a vital miscalculation that was robbing me of much needed energy and oxygen. From then on it was down hill; physically not geologically.
One after the other my systems began to shut down. But not wanting to admit defeat I limped along, sometimes convincing myself I’m ok to run only to be reduced to a Quasimodo like gate once again. I began to think about my wife and kids, how would they manage without me? Would my life insurance company consider this self inflicted, and not pay upon my passing? Finally, by some miracle I was back at my home again, waving good bye to my friend; with my last working muscle and shred of pride; while he continued to trot happily down the street to his home. As he disappeared around the corner I thought to my self, “This was a disaster, a 3 Mile disaster!" And I knew it wasn’t over yet. Much like the 1979 accident at Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island, my disaster would also bring far reaching consequences, due to my poor judgment and lack of planning.
As I crawled into my house to assess the damage, a very odd and unexpected feeling came over me, satisfaction!? Did I do such irreparable damage to my body and mind that I was now hallucinating? Was it the lack of oxygen to my brain for such an extended length of time? Or did I get the sickness; the sickness that the gentleman has, the sickness that my friend has? To my horror, I realized that it was true. I knew because, through the pain and over dramatization, one thought pulsed in my brain…next time…next time…next time…I’ll run, or limp, that three miles, as often as it takes to learn it’s lessons and put my 3 Mile island into the history books.