While I was fairly physically fit in my 20's (I rollerskated about 40 miles a week until I got married), and even prior to being raped, I understood how physical activity unlocked a gateway to some degree of mental peace. Even in my teens I would go off and ride my bike just to "not think" and get away from things. But, the bike riding and skating I did back then was not to the point of my legs being sore or me perceiving it as hurting. Although maybe I was already in good enough shape that I was already doing more than most people? I really don't think skating 40 miles a week is a big deal, and I so enjoyed it! I would skate along the Chicago lakefront on the sidewalks. I remember some people being slightly annoyed on Lake Shore Drive that this skater girl was right on their home turf.
When I got married, I wanted my husband to skate with me. I offered to buy him skates, but he wanted no part of it. So I took up skiing, which is how ultimately I lost the ACL in my left knee. But skiing wasn't something we did enough to qualify as exercise, and he also didn't want to go ride bikes with me, so I found myself feeling flabby and out of shape. In my early 20's, I'd taken a bodybuilding class, and the instructor was all excited because he saw I could put on muscle pretty quickly. He said I could compete if I wanted to. Hey--maybe he just thought I was cute! I've always had trouble recognizing when someone was flirting with me. At any rate, I bought a bench and some weights and did that occasionally and really liked it.
In 1991 (I was married from 1986-1994), I had enough of being flabby, so with one of my bonuses, I bought a weight machine. I still have it:
I started using it regularly, and within 3 months, my ex said to me, "Don't you think your arms are big enough?" Holy fuck, I was puzzled by this! I mean, sure my arms got muscular again, but it wasn't like I was turning into some freak.I just quit being skinny. My clothes didn't fit me that much differently, but I felt better and looked better (to ME). Years later, I realized this was a premonition of the end of my marriage--that my ex wanted to keep me in this image that included being weak, quiet and helpless. None of which I was when he met me in the first place! 3 years later, he asked me for a divorce--in 1994.
So in 1994, I'm going through a divorce, and one day I decided to go rollerskating after drinking way too much. I hit something in the street and crashed and broke my right arm. A man scraped me off the road and asked where I lived and I was less than a mile from home and he offered to drive me. My arm hurt a lot, so he had to help me in and out of the car. When I got inside, I thought my arm might be broken. Since I was already a mental mess due to the divorce, I called Mom and Dad who were very understanding (I didn't really have any friends of my own at this time), and they came over and took me to the ER, where it was confirmed I had a broken arm. I remember one of the ER nurses asking me how much I'd had to drink, and I said, "2 or 3." Well that was a fucking lie! They didn't cast my arm for some reason and said I could go to the ortho next day and they would set it. They left my Mom with a sheet of instructions, though, because they thought I might have a concussion.
Dad went home and left Mom to stay with me overnight. I slept for a few hours, but then woke up burning up (it was August). I told my Mom to turn down the A/C. She turned it down to like 65 and I was still hot, but at least I stopped sweating. A few hours later, I was freezing, and asked Mom to turn off the A/C. Sometime around 6AM, Mom gently nudged me (she was told to wake me up every few hours), and told me to come downstairs and have some coffee. I thanked her and made it downstairs and went to sit down on one of my couches, and I blacked out and fell to the floor in a heap. Luckily, I didn't hit my head on a coffee table. I came to right away with Mom's help and drank the coffee and then laid down on the couch. She said I needed to try and stay upright now, and I was feeling better (except for my arm being broken), so I got up to walk to the kitchen to get more coffee, and as soon as I stood up, I blacked out again and collapsed into a heap. Welcome to having a concussion! After that, I was OK, and Dad came by and took me to the doctor to get my arm in a cast.
Mom and Dad took good care of me then. I was a mental and physical mess, pretty much like the time when I was raped, only this time I think they knew how to take care of me and they did. They didn't scold me for having been drunk. They knew how much mental pain I was in, and frankly, the broken arm didn't really even phase me.
The cast on my arm went up over my elbow (the break was close to the elbow on the radius) and over my wrist and onto my hand. I think they didn't want me to be able to rotate the radius/ulna. At any rate, I'm right-handed, so the cast was a pain in the ass. After about 2 weeks, I asked Dad (he was coming to visit me regularly in my divorce anguish) to cut off the piece on my hand so I could use it, and he obliged! Then in about 4 more weeks, I sawed some more of the cast off above my elbow.
Just before I got the green light to get the cast completely off, I got laid off from my job. I was devastated. I was like, "What the fuck else can happen? I'm going through a divorce, I broke my arm and now I've been laid off." On the plus side, I got 12 weeks of severance and job placement assistance. But my self-confidence was in the dumpster. I felt old (I was 38), out of shape (I wasn't that out of shape), worthless (after being told by the ex that I was intimidating and how could anyone stand to work with me?) and helpless. It was one of those times when I compared how I felt to how bad I felt after I'd been raped. You don't think you can feel any worse than after you've been assaulted, but the brain finds a way to do it. It felt like I had these extremely deep scars that had never gone away and I was getting fresh ones. There were times during the next 4 weeks where I was amazed I didn't kill myself, as I couldn't see any light at the end of the current tunnel.
But I pulled myself together, and within 3 weeks I had 3 job offers. The one I ended up taking, at PeopleSoft, was where they asked me what salary I wanted (!), and I got exactly what I asked for. In retrospect, I should have asked for more, but I was happy. Within an hour of accepting the offer and agreeing to a start date, I called United Travel and booked a one week trip to Kona. I rented a red convertible Mustang for the week, and I had the greatest time there!
Within a few weeks of starting the new job, where I was looked at a little funny for wearing really nice dresses and suits that I'd sewed, while most people dressed casual (I eventually got with the program and switched out my wardrobe but would still out of the blue dress up), a guy I worked with said I should come down to the club with him and do a step class. At first I was reluctant, because I'd need to learn their "routine," but then I went and I took to it like a duck to water. So I did this plus resumed lifting weights at home (with nobody there to tell me I was GETTING TOO BIG), and started enjoying being in some kind of physical shape again.
The trainers at the small club changed regularly, but at some point, I was so good at the step class that when this one girl was sick, they would let me lead the class. Only I never thought the class was hard enough for me, so I would typically kick it up a notch. And I brought my own music that everyone really liked. After the step teacher left, a new guy started leading a circuit-style class, where you did a station for one minute then moved onto the next. It had jump rope, step, jumping jacks and some other stuff. There were 10 stations, and the class lasted 30 minutes. It was fun, but not really long enough for me. The class was M/W/F. So on Tu/Th, I went into the nice room where we did this and brought my own music tape and worked my way up to jumping rope for 30 minutes, and I really enjoyed it. So I was getting in decent shape again.
The summer of 1998, the then trainer, Mike, who really enjoyed talking to me as I was really into it, and I were talking, and I said why don't we take the class outside? So we did! And we added in sprints, running jump rope and some other really fun things. You should have seen the looks we got doing this stuff outside at the end of the parking lot! Mike and I conspired to make the class pretty challenging, and the people who could do it really liked it. We sweated our asses off. There was a crushed limestone track around the building complex, and that was where we'd do the sprints. One Tuesday, I wondered if I could run around the entire thing. So I went outside and ran around the complex once, and thought, "This isn't so bad." So I did it again. And one more time. And it took me around 30 minutes, maybe a bit less. Now, I was never a runner, never wanted to run (my ex ran maybe 2 miles 3 times a week), and here I was "running!"
When I got back to the office, I asked a runner friend, Denise, how far she thought I had gone. She said it was 2K or so around once, and so I'd done at least a 5K! She told me that if I could do that, I should go and try a race. I was like, WUT PEOPLE ACTUALLY RACE THAT DISTANCE? Why yes they do! And she told me that there were 5K races every weekend and where I could go to find out about them.
So I signed up for my first 5K and did it, and I was like holy fuck! Perfect strangers are cheering for me at the finish line even though I suck! And I was hooked. Denise was doing the Chicago marathon that fall, and at that time, there was also a 5K run before the marathon started. So I signed up for the 5K and stupidly said I'd try and run the last 5 miles with Denise. She was and still is faster than me, and she has qualified for Boston many times.
The week before that race, my brain kicked in and said YOU KNOW YOU HAVEN'T EVER RUN 5 MILES YOU IDIOT MAYBE YOU SHOULD TRY THAT BEFORE YOU GO AND TRY RUNNING WITH A "REAL" RUNNER IN A MARATHON. I'd done a 5K race, and so I thought I should go and run 2 more miles right after it. And I did, and it wasn't so bad. So I thought I was good to go, only on race day, my pace was nowhere near what Denise was running, so while I did keep up with her for 1 or 2 miles, I told her to go on ahead. I kept running, and I was IN THE MARATHON! I even crossed the finish line, and they gave me a medal (which I tried to give back but they wouldn't let me). I was still wearing my bib from the 5K so it looked like I was in the marathon. Somewhere I have a picture of us after the race, but I can't find it right now.
The day after that Chicago marathon, I flew to Kona for a vacation (I went there every year for 11 years straight). The day after I arrived, I thought I'd try and run more than 5 miles, so I ran 7. 2 days later I ran 9, and 2 days later I ran 11. I thought to myself, huh, I bet I could run a marathon! So when I got home, there was a signup for Team in Training to train for the Midnight Sun Marathon in Anchorage, Alaska. I signed up for that and also for the 1999 Chicago Marathon.
I went to Kona in April, 1999 on vacation with my BFF, Susan. I was scheduled for an 18-mile run, so I did it in Kona. Every time I would stop for water, someone would ask me if I was training for the Ironman. I felt so bad and like such a loser for saying, "No, just a marathon." But it was while killing time before my flight home (Susan lived in California at the time so we were on separate flights) that I went into a triathlon store, and the guy working there and I were talking, and he ended up saying I should do triathlons. I was like, "Fuck no--it's hard enough training for a marathon and lifting weights!" But we kept talking, and I liked what he was saying, and I did like riding a bike and I sort of knew how to swim, so the wheels started turning. By the end of the conversation, this man said that he knew I would do an Ironman someday. So I made him write it on the back of one of my business cards, that I keep on the small bulletin board in my home office/weight room:
And that summer, I started telling people that I was going to do an Ironman, but I thought it would take me 5 years to get there. Well it didn't. In the year 2000, I again went to Kona on vacation but this time I went for the Ironman, because my then coach was racing. It was painful for me to be there with so many people all over the place! I remember going to one of my favorite beaches where there were (usually men) preening and checking to see who had the bracelet on, and I thought to myself, "I hope I never am that arrogant." I volunteered for the race, and the day before rode my bike with Paula Newby-Fraser! At the time, she was riding a Griffen, and that was why I ended up buying one (and her name is Bitch)! 2 months before the trip, a guy I knew from a LISTSERV (Facebook did not exist!), Steve, had convinced me to sign up for Ironman Lake Placid in 2001. Well, I got so worn out working in T1 and then T2 as a bike catcher that I was like WTF how the fuck am I going to finish one of these things if I'm tired not even racing?
But I finished that first Ironman in 2001, and while I wasn't ecstatic at the finish line, I had already signed up for Ironman #2--the inaugural Wisconsin. In 2004, I got into the Kona lottery, and that was the last time I've been to Kona.
MUST GET BACK TO KONA
...to be continued