79. When Life Hands You a Lemon

79. When Life Hands You a Lemon

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners

When Life Hands You a Lemon

Win or lose you will never regret working hard, making sacrifices, being disciplined or focusing too much. Success is measured by what we have done to prepare for competition.
 ~John Smith

I grew up listening to Bill Stern, the famous sports announcer. What I remember most is how Bill Stern signed off when he finished broadcasting: “It’s not whether you win or lose — it’s how you play the game.”

Those philosophical words were a great help to me in regard to the 2009 marathon in Newport, Oregon. A fully-official marathon had been on my bucket list since both my daughter and granddaughter ran the LA Marathon. For years they’d been saying to me, “Hey, you can do it, too.”

I may be seventy-five years young, but I’ve spent my whole life keeping fit and setting goals. In my forties, I decided to run six 10Ks, just for the challenge. I discovered what “runner’s high” feels like, and I still have those six T-shirts.

I also set a goal to ride my bicycle from the Canadian border to Mexico on Highway 101 before turning fifty. Did that, too, with one gal-pal and no sag wagon. We did not plan on “sagging,” and never did.

In February 2009 I took a deep breath and signed up for the Newport Marathon. I invested in top-notch running shoes, an excellent pedometer and carefully kept track of my training miles. I found a group of women (all of whom were twenty years younger than me, but just as determined to conquer their first marathon). These women were into power-walking, as their bodies, like mine, let us know that full-out running was not going to cut it.

Power-walking felt doable and, after all, most folks of any age can put one foot in front of the other and walk. Our group met almost every day to train. We all lost weight and our bodies grew stronger. I loved the camaraderie of these women and our growing excitement about the coming marathon. Until one day the youngest and most athletic gal in our group said, “We better start taking some hills.”

Ooops. Big mistake. At least one of the women had trouble breathing and fell behind. My problem was a sudden sharp pain in my right hip. The pain was constant, relentless and eventually forced me to our doctor’s office. “Bursitis,” he said.

“Bursitis?” I exclaimed. “Isn’t that for old people?” We agreed on a cortisone shot. The pain let up and I rejoined my group. When they took to the hills, I continued to train on the flats.

The weeks were flying past and the numbers in my mileage journal were adding up. I felt pumped and ready. “Bring on that marathon,” I said to myself, ignoring the pain I felt in my toe. I didn’t look and I didn’t want to know.

And then — just two days before the marathon, I made myself look at that toe. It was bright red and incredibly painful.

“Why are you limping?” my husband asked. “Is it your bursitis again?” He’s eighty-two and I think he enjoyed the thought that his wife was somewhat normal.

“Don’t even ask,” I said, and went back to the doctor.

“Hmm,” said the doctor, examining my bright, red toe and the nail that was turning black. “You have a badly-infected toe. I’m putting you on antibiotics.”

“Huh?” I said. “But what about the marathon?”

“Well,” he said. “You can still do it, but you’ll be limping the entire way — and then your back will go out.” I gimped out of his office in tears. I drove home totally depressed.

But then, a couple of things happened: my husband, who is brilliant with numbers, asked to see my “mileage notebook,” and within seconds informed me that I had power-walked exactly 453 miles since sending in the entry form and the amount of miles figured out to be roughly seventeen marathons.

It also dawned on me that all that training had made me healthier and in better shape than I’d been in years. About then, Bill Stern’s words flashed into my brain and turned the negative feelings of “oh poor me” into “what can I do to be a positive part of the marathon?”

Voilà, I thought. They must need volunteers! Organizations and events always need volunteers.

I picked up the phone, started networking with various people and ended up with the perfect volunteer job — for me and my aching black toe. Riding in one of the vans going back and forth along the marathon route, playing cheerleader to those on the road who seemed to be floundering.

You could feel and see them perk up when those of us in the van hollered out encouragement. I forgot my own disappointment as I saw all those runners, walkers, including my own power-walking group, and several wheelchair contenders.

And there were, as happens in most major sports events, the few who could no longer go on and needed to be picked up and taken for some medical help. I also thought of the people who train four years for the Olympics and then do not make the team.

I will never forget the young Asian girl who came here from San Francisco for this marathon. Her second attempt. We found her curled up on the side of the road, in a fetal position. It was mile 22 and she had developed horrible leg cramps. We picked her up and I scooched over in the back seat of the van so she could stretch out, her head in my lap, crying from pain and frustration. I held her and told her I could understand her disappointment, that there would be other marathons and to “never ever give up on your dreams.”

This is a perfect example of what to do when life hands you a lemon — make lemonade. And if you ever know someone who has set a big goal only to not make it — remind them of Bill Stern’s words:

“It’s not whether you win or lose — it’s how you play the game.” Will I sign up for next year’s marathon? I’m thinking about it.

I can’t resist leaving you with a very old joke:

“When my grandmother was sixty, her doctor suggested she get out and walk five miles a day. She’s eighty-seven now and we don’t know where the hell she is!”

~Bobbie Jensen Lippman

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