54: Because I Can

54: Because I Can

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Time to Thrive

Because I Can

The only person who can pull me down is myself, and I’m not going to let myself pull me down anymore.

~C. Joybell C.

I ran in the rain today. I clocked six miles at a steady 4.5 pace. That’s nothing to write home about. But I don’t care. I am proud to shout it loud and clear, I ran six miles in the rain today, and I plan to run six miles again tomorrow.

You see, I am a former smoker who began a one-sided love affair with nicotine at the tender age of fifteen. After thirty-five years of self-induced abuse, I finally managed to kick my habit to the curb.

What does this have to do with running?

Transitioning from a smoker to a non-smoker was hard. Even simple things like watching a television show were taxing. I was so used to puffing a smoke while watching a favorite show that the first few times I watched television without a cigarette I almost felt abandoned by a loved one. It was hard to focus on the show. And that was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to the side effects of nicotine withdrawal. Other side effects can include headaches, fatigue, depression, fidgeting, restless hands, and intense cravings. But the most common complaint is weight gain, and that’s the one I struggled with the most.

I love myself as a non-smoker, but I can’t say the same about the overweight middle-aged woman I soon saw reflected in the mirror. I may be fifty-three, but I could still look and feel like a vibrant woman if I set my mind to it. So in February, I decided enough was enough and set out to regain control of my body and mind. I replaced soft drinks with water, cooked and ate healthier foods, and began to exercise.

I decided to start my exercise regimen at a local lake where a nice nature trail meanders beside the water, through the trees, and across the dam. My first day of walking was sunny and warm for February. When I arrived at the lake, I locked my car, zipped up a lightweight jacket, crammed my cellphone into my pocket, and started off at a brisk pace. After only a few feet I was winded, at the halfway mark I was sweating profusely, and by the time I reached the other end, I was convinced I was dying. My lungs burned, my chest convulsed with each short raspy breath I drew, and my legs felt like rubber. Tears streamed down my face as I leaned against the guardrail and wondered how I would ever find the strength to make it back.

Later, back at my car, I decided that I would never allow myself to become so weak again. And every day for the next four months I drove to the lake and made myself walk back and forth across the dam. By June, I could walk nine miles without stopping. My jeans became looser, my legs and stomach got firmer, but I still refused to step onto the scale.

Ecstatic about my accomplishment, I continued my daily walks and decided to see what I could accomplish next. Thus, my decision to run.

At first, I could barely run a few feet before gasping like a fish out of water. But every day I would push myself to run just a few more feet. Then one day, to my amazement, I could run a mile and still draw air into my lungs.

This elicited an intense rush like nothing I had ever experienced. I embraced the pride I felt and set out to run two miles, and then three, four, five. And it is with pride that I can now say I run six miles a day. It has been a long journey, a trying time of pain, soul searching, and meditation. But I have made it and am proud of who I have become.

So when I say I ran in the rain today, I am making a profound proclamation that I have changed my lifestyle. In a sense I am shouting to the world that I love and cherish my body the way I should have years ago.

In the beginning I ran to shed the extra pounds I had gained, and perhaps part of me hoped to reclaim some of my youth. While both of these reasons are still important to me, I now find those things are not as relevant as they once were. It delights me to say I am a healthy, happy, well-adjusted woman who no longer needs a number on a scale or a size tag in her clothing to define who she is. It’s ironic that this fifty-three-year-old woman never found herself until she decided to lose her nicotine addiction.

In the past when someone asked me why I ran, I would fumble for an answer, because I was unsure of my motive. But now I know with certainty why I run, and the reason is simple: I run because I CAN!

~Sharon Rosenbaum Earls

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