66. Running for My Life

66. Running for My Life

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners

Running for My Life

Prayer may not change things for you, but it for sure changes you for things.
 ~Samuel M. Shoemaker

I reached my hands out towards the ceiling. “God, please give me a diagnosis, just a diagnosis. That can’t be too hard for a great and wonderful God like you.” I was desperate. I had been dealing with health issues for years, but the last four years had been spent chained to a crutch and leg brace or imprisoned in a wheelchair.

The initial diagnosis was MS but soon changed to “MS-like symptoms.” Thankfully all the neurological tests had come back negative but no one could discover why I lurched around with a gait that Frankenstein’s monster would envy. I lost so much strength that some days I couldn’t even lift a coffee cup. Now, I had sunk so low that I was trying to coerce God into giving me a diagnosis. I felt utterly hopeless not knowing what was making me so ill.

That dark, silent night, the most wondrous thing happened. As I lay there crying I heard a voice that filled my bedroom. “You’re praying for the wrong thing.” With that pronouncement came the understanding I longed for.

I sank deeply into the bed, the weight of the world floating off my shoulders and fluttering away.

“God, give me the strength, courage and tools to deal with my life exactly the way it is. Change me, not my situation.”

Over the years, I had become my illness. That changed in that single moment. I began to focus on my abilities, whatever they might be, rather than on my limitations. Desperation was no longer my continual companion.

That was the first miracle. The second came six months later when I received the diagnosis that once seemed so crucial for my survival. I learned that I suffered from a rare vitamin deficiency that was causing the main symptoms of my illness.

I immediately threw away the brace. I was confident that I wouldn’t need it in the near future. I used the crutch alone for another month until I gained back some strength, but I walked every day. I was determined to use my body as the vitamins started to flow into it and gave it renewed strength.

The first day I timidly trudged around the block with my cane. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it as my legs shook and wobbled horribly. However, the second day I traveled two blocks. When I reached a kilometer, I threw away the cane. Soon I could march two and three times that distance.

You couldn’t wipe the smile from my face when I was walking. Who knew that the simple action of putting one foot in front of another could inspire such crazy joy? My face hurt from smiling so widely!

It wasn’t long before I knew that walking wasn’t going to be enough for me. I wanted to run — just because I could! So, I started on the treadmill, praying that my newly able body wouldn’t let me down. It didn’t.

I ran the first mile almost as slowly as most people walk it, but I ran a whole mile on the first day. I felt as though I had just won the Boston Marathon! Soon I was jogging two and then three miles, five or six times a week. One day the thought came to me that I should run in a race. It was less than a year since I’d received the diagnosis that changed my world and I was running regularly. I knew that I could run a 10K, a quarter of a marathon.

It was a rainy June morning when I set off in the crush of people that were excitedly tackling the streets to run and walk in a local race. I held my breath for the first block, fighting back tears. I, the disabled woman, was running with hundreds of other people. Thank you God! It was a phrase that I would repeat often during that morning.

My goal was to run ten kilometers without walking a step, just because I could. I had trained as hard as I was able to and I thought I was ready… until I arrived at the last kilometer. As I was coming around the bend into the stadium, I heard my weary legs telling my mind, “It’s okay to walk a bit. Who will know?”

God heard my legs trying to betray me and set to work.

“Chris!” A familiar voice cried.

One of my colleagues was waving excitedly as she snapped a picture of me.

I smiled and waved back to my friend gratefully.

“I’ll know!” I told my legs. “I’ll know if I walk!”

Somehow, I found the energy to step it up a notch. I could see the finish line. It came closer and even though my legs kept complaining, I overruled them.

As I stepped over the line, tears spilled down my cheeks.

Three attendants hurriedly approached me. “Are you all right?” each of them inquired with concern.

I had no words to tell them how “all right” I was.

One year, almost to the day, from sitting in a wheelchair and using mobility aids, I had run a 10K. Winning the Boston marathon couldn’t have felt as good as that did.

I don’t feel as alive as when I’m running. I never take it for granted, being mobile, walking and jogging. Every time I achieve a mile I celebrate and feel exactly as I did the very first time I ran one. The awe and gratitude remains in my life daily.

I was lucky. I never felt useless again after the night of my epiphany. I still pray for God to change me, not my situation. He always gives me the tools I need to run the marathon of life and I sprint the whole way! I show my gratitude with each and every step I run and each person that I smile at today. I truly am running for my life.

~Chris Salstrom

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