Yes, the Great Columbia Crossing came and went again a couple of weeks ago. Wouldn't it be nice if Crabby McSlacker weren't so behind in putting up guest posts? The timing would have worked out way better, so sorry.
Anyway, while the host of this blog may be slothful, many of you readers are not. So if you're contemplating a race or other athletic endeavor that seems daunting, here is some inspiration! You can find Jan's book “Back from Obesity: My 252-pound Weight-Loss Journey” either in print or as an ebook on Jan's smashwords page. --Crabby McSlacker
On Sunday, October 10, 1999, one year after I committed to weight loss, for real, my friend New York David had challenged me to define my long-term goals. “Dare to dream big,” he told me. “In your wildest imagination, what would you like to see?”
I had thought for a long moment before replying. “I want to be healthy. I want to lose a significant amount of weight. I want to be active and fit. I want to go dancing with you in a red sequined dress.”
“Is that it?”
“And,” back then I had taken a deep breath, “today’s the Great Columbia Crossing, otherwise known as The Bridge Walk. It’s 10 kilometers, which is 6.2 miles. In my wildest imagination, I want to do The Bridge Walk.”
“Why? What kind of a question is ‘why’?”
“Why is this important enough to put on your list of goals? You must have a reason,” he said.
I did have a reason, and not a very pretty one. A couple years before, a friend and I were out walking on some Leadbetter Point State Park trails and we had gotten the signs confused. We walked a mile or two in the wrong direction before we discovered our mistake, and had to turn around and walk the same dune trail all the way back.
It was 80-something degrees at the time, we had no water with us, no hats to keep off the sun, and I was more than 200 pounds overweight. Before we arrived back at the parking lot, I nearly collapsed twice. My friend had suggested going on alone and calling for medical assistance for me from the parking lot, but I had struggled on. My face turned deep purple, and as I gasped for air, I felt certain that heat stroke, and perhaps even death, was imminent.
I swore at the time that by the following year I would be able to trot right along those trails, but by the following year my weight had climbed even higher. I was no longer in contact with my friend, so I rationalized that there was no need to go walking those dune trails ever again.
But although my weight-loss efforts for several years had been less than whole-hearted attempts, I never lost the desire to someday be able to walk where and when I wanted to walk.
I tried to explain all this on the phone. New York David had listened attentively. “How far are you able to walk right now?” he had asked.
“I have to rest between the car and the house.”
NY David didn’t hesitate. “Then go for it,” he had said. “I’ll be rooting for you.”
In 2000, my attempt at the Bridge Walk had been thwarted by a heel spur, but a year later, six-months and two days post-surgery, I was ready to try again.
I awoke on Sunday, October 7, 2001, at 3:08 a.m. (The curse of digital clocks is knowing exactly what time sleep eludes you.) I tossed and turned for over an hour, reciting over and over my practiced litany: “Defeat is not an option. Forward is the only viable direction. Hope springs eternal. I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…”
At 9 a.m. I stood at the starting line in the Megler Rest Area with over 2,000 others. An all-day coastal drizzle failed to dampen my spirits. I had two hours to cross the bridge or the “sweeper bus” would load me up with the rest of the stragglers. Six and almost a quarter miles, with a “challenging incline” near the five-mile mark.
In my borrowed fanny pack I carried various “tokens” as proudly as a medieval knight carried his beloved’s handkerchief into the tournament games. I had 15 small metal “Angels of Hope” tucked in there, along with gum, breath mints, a disposable camera, a small rock with “Patience” written on it, another that said “Gratitude,” and of course, my original marbled purple “Hope Rock.” The angel-coins I planned to give away to others in my support group who were walking the bridge with me “in spirit.”
On my rainbow-colored sweater I wore a button that said, “I’m having fun now!” and I was determined to keep that idea uppermost in my mind. I had shown up, suited up, and the outcome was not up to me. I was, I reminded myself one more time, already a winner.
My first mile clocked in at 14 minutes, 35 seconds. Amazing! At the end of the second mile my time was 31:30. The third mile registered 47 minutes and some-odd seconds. Then came the hill–six tenths of a mile with a steep uphill grade. Mile four was only a third of the way up the incline. Sixty-one minutes, 15 seconds.
I felt my resolve, along with my knees, begin to weaken. I didn’t know if I could make it. I began walking slower and slower, my breathing becoming more labored as each second passed.
From among the throng surging ahead, a woman suddenly fell back and into step with me. She had curly long blonde hair and a cheery smile. “You can do it,” she said. “I’ll walk with you to the top.”
She chatted merrily along as I struggled with each step. “I live on your side of the river,” she told me. “I know who you are. I know you’ve lost a whole lot of weight. This walk is a big deal for you, isn’t it?” I could only nod, tears threatening to mix with the still-falling drizzle.
God had sent me another angel to help me along. Right when I most needed confirmation of His love, this woman had appeared to hold my hand as I tackled the biggest physical challenge of my recovery. I thought, as my angel continued to talk, about the story of the “Footprints in the Sand,” and how, when there were but one set of prints along the beach, that was when Jesus was carrying the load for His walking partner.
At the crest, I stopped long enough to throw my arms in the air while my angel snapped a picture reminiscent of Sylvester Stallone in “Rocky.” I considered the enormity of my 220-pound release, and I imagined hefting 16 14-pound frozen turkeys up and over the side of the railing while screaming, “Fly, little birdies, fly!”
I felt totally happy, joyous, and free for the first time in over a decade. It felt good to be so giddy.
And then gravity took over. My feet began to fly out from under me. I whizzed by walker after walker. At mile five the clock keeper called out 77 minutes, and suddenly I became obsessed with finishing “in good time.” I quickened my stride and gave that last mile and a quarter everything I had.
A couple hundred yards from the end, Michael, a former student of mine, appeared at my side. Another angel? I wondered, as he shouted his encouragement: “You can do it, Ms. B., you can do it!”
I smiled at him. “Of course I can do it!” I said. “Let’s run!” And we ran the best I could, which wasn’t pretty, but it was a little faster than my race-walking. I felt like I was galloping on bloody stumps instead of feet, but I kept going. The pain could wait.
Loud clapping and raucous cheers greeted me as I soared across the finish line. My feet hardly touched the ground; I felt like I’d won the whole darn thing. The clock registered 1:34:15.
By the grace of God, and with the unfailing support of NY David and many, many others, I had done it—we had done it. Together we had done what I could never have done alone.
Somewhere along the route, the drizzle had turned to a steady rain. I collected my coveted “Great Columbia Crossing 10K Walk/Run” neck ribbon and medal, then headed for the car, where I had stashed a towel and a change of clothing.
As I unlocked the driver’s side door, I looked up and over the top of my vehicle at the arch of the bridge in the distance. Many walkers still struggled with the incline on their own personal journeys. An enormous lump filled my throat and tears threatened once again.
“Thank you, God!” I called out in loud, clear voice. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” And from all over the parking lot, I heard a chorus of other wet but happy runners and walkers calling out a hearty “AMEN!”